Elevation Gain: Leafly’s Guide to the Best High Hikes in California

Published on June 1, 2017 · Last updated July 28, 2020

Welcome to Elevation Gain, where we’ll pair cannabis with hiking, backpacking, camping, and all the greatest aspects of the great outdoors … all summer long. Check out all Elevation Gain articles here.

Ahh, California: the land of golden sunshine and incredible hiking. From the lush Redwood forest to the sandy shores of the So-Cal coast, the state offers a plethora of scenic views and breathtaking landscapes, and whether you want to climb mountains or descend into deep valleys, there’s something for everyone in this drop-dead gorgeous state.

Want to truly reach new heights? All you need is a bit of cannabis. So crank up California Dreamin’, make a pit stop at your favorite pot shop, and hit the trail as we list some of the best hikes from north to south and everywhere in between. Gone hiking? Tell us about your favorite California trails in the comments below.

Northern California

Lassen Peak Trail

If standing on top of an active volcano is a part of your bucket list that you haven’t checked off, visit Lassen Peak Trail. This stunning hike offers gorgeous views and bits of volcanic history within Lassen National Forest. Attempt this trail on a partly cloudy day; you won’t find much shade between the spectacular sites.

Difficulty: Moderate/hard

Distance: 5 miles

Elevation Gain: 1,957 ft.

Eagle Lake

We lost physical energy but we earned a lot of mind energy. 😅💖#eaglelaketrail #southlaketahoe #summerintahoe #instatravel

A post shared by Rachapong Sawangpaew Amaya (@notez_rachapong) on

With sweeping views of waterfalls and near-magical woods leading up to a gorgeous mirror-like lake, the Eagle Lake Trail is a quick yet stunning hike in South Lake Tahoe. Remember to fill out the required wilderness permit before entering the trail and keep in mind the trail’s popularity—you’ll want to get an early start to nab a parking spot.

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Difficulty: Easy/moderate

Distance: 1–2 miles

Elevation Gain: 450 ft.

Sierra Buttes Fire Lookout

Throwback to this unforgettable first date 🙌🏽

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Sierra Buttes Fire Lookout holds a breathtaking view of wildflowers, rocky terrain, and fresh blue lakes all on the same hike. The trail leading up to the lookout even shares a portion with the famous Pacific Crest Trail! Acrophobes take note: The lookout juts out over a 600-foot drop.

Difficulty: Easy/moderate

Distance: 5.2 miles

Elevation Gain: 1,594 ft.

Cataract Falls

#California #fairfax #cataractfalls #trails #hiking #redwoods #waterfalls

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For a hike filled with sounds of bubbling, babbling water, your best bet is to check out the Cataract Falls Trail, punctuated with cooling streams and gorgeous waterfalls. Close to Fairfax, California, this popular trail showcases lush greenery along a thick wooded path.

Difficulty: Moderate

Distance: 2.7 miles

Elevation Gain: 1,282 ft.

Fern Valley Trail

#fernvalleytrail #bigredwoods #moss #mendocino #fortbraggca

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Fern Valley Trail is so magnetic that it has served as a backdrop for movies—including Jurassic Park II! This easy yet exceptionally gorgeous hike is also chock-full of wildlife—if you’re lucky you’ll spot a giant salamander or two and plenty of creek-roaming creepy crawlers such as centipedes. It’s an excellent hike to explore and discover.

Difficulty: Easy

Distance: 1 mile

Elevation Gain: 155 ft.

Salt Point Trail

I spent my Saturday climbing #tafoni and watching monster waves hit the shore. What about you?

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Salt Point is filled with scenic hikes that deliver a true Northern California coastal experience, and the Salt Point Trail remains true to that California-cool vibe. You’ll have the opportunity to see wildflowers, vibrant sandstone formations, and, of course, the deep blue ocean. At times the trail can get a bit confusing, so to avoid having to backtrack make sure you bring a clear and updated map with you on this seaside adventure.

Difficulty: Easy/moderate

Distance: 3 miles

Elevation Gain: 40-50 ft.

Feather Falls

Feather Falls near Oroville, CA. First big hike of the year #featherfalls #plumasnationalforest #oroville #california

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410 feet of waterfall cascade to meet the ground below at one of Northern California’s favorite hiking trails. The scenic trail to Feather Falls offers a smorgasbord of natural beauty with the shining waterfall acting as crown jewel of the entire hike. Best time to see these sparkling waters is mid-spring to early summer, after winter’s snow has melted and the wildflowers are in full bloom.

Difficulty: Moderate/hard

Distance: 8.8 miles

Elevation Gain: 1,100 ft.

Southern California

Mishe Mokwa Trail to Sandstone Peak

The Mishe Mokwa Trail in Malibu can send you to a variety of peaks, but Sandstone is among the most gorgeous for views. You’ll have the opportunity to see a lush green landscape with a stunning ocean backdrop in the distance. You can also leave your mark at the registry on the peak and be forever remembered betwixt the hills of California.

Difficulty: Moderate

Distance: 6 miles

Elevation Gain: 1,656 ft.

Mt. Baldy (Mt. San Antonio)

Hiking Mt. Baldy (real name: Mt. San Antonio) is not recommended for beginners. That said, this little-over ten-mile hike offers incredible views and a variety of natural scenery. If you’re strapped for time, consider hiking to the ski lifts first, which operate as lifts for hikers during the summer months. You’ll be able to shave off four miles and 1,300 feet of elevation from start to summit.

Difficulty: Hard

Distance: 10.2 miles

Elevation Gain: 3,900 ft.

Torrey Pines State Reserve

The Torrey Pines State Reserve includes trails to Red Butte, Yuca Point, and Razor Point that deliver incredible splashes of wildflowers and natural seaside spectaculars. If you’re looking for an amazing Southern California ocean hike, you’ve found it at Torrey Pines. Be sure to watch your feet as you travel through—rattlesnakes have been spotted in the area. But don’t let that deter you from exploring this incredible reserve.

Difficulty: Easy/moderate

Distance: 1.7 miles

Elevation Gain: 269 ft.

Telescope Peak

Happy #summitsunday from the top of Telescope peak (11,120) #deathvalley #findyourpark #nationalparks #stayoutside

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You’ll want to make sure you have a relaxing bath waiting for you at home after tackling Telescope Peak! This mammoth hike winds a long way to its summit, but the work is worth it, and cannabis will help soothe your sore muscles. You’ll feel like you’re on top of the world by the time you’re surrounded by sweeping views of the Southern California hills and mountains.

Difficulty: Hard

Distance: 12.4 miles

Elevation Gain: 3,559 ft.

Lost Palms Oasis

Lost Palms Oasis is a classic desert hike that perfectly encompasses the heat-drenched landscape of Southern California. Fill up as many water bottles as you can carry and discover all kinds of desert plants as you make your way through Joshua Tree National Park.

Difficulty: Moderate

Distance: 7.1 miles

Elevation Gain: 450–600 ft.

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Big Laguna Trail

The Big Laguna Trail is a long yet easy hike with myriad wildlife to see. This trail spans multiple landscapes—it’s lined with gorgeous pines and sometimes a refreshing lake appears when it rains. You’ll love the greenery along the way, as well as the feeling of truly experiencing nature as you hike.

Difficulty: Easy

Distance: 10 miles

Elevation Gain: 900-1,000 ft.

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Hannah Meadows
Hannah Meadows
Hannah Meadows is an associate editor at Leafly, where she contributes to lifestyle content.
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