6 Epic Northern California Hikes Worth a Road Trip From SF
Second Lake, on the epic North Fork Trail along Big Pines Creek in Inyo National Forest, is a destination worth driving for. (Courtesy of @zjmthsn)

6 Epic Northern California Hikes Worth a Road Trip From SF


While we’re fortunate enough to have tons of excellent hikes right here in the Bay Area, you’ll have to hit the road to get to some of the absolute best that Northern California has to offer.

From Yosemite to the Trinity Alps, these six destination hikes are adventures worth driving for.

Yosemite National Park: Half Dome (14-16 miles out-and-back)

(Courtesy of Pixabay/cyndipadilla/CC)

If there’s one California hike you’ll never regret driving several hours for, it’s Half Dome. The trail, an insane 4,800 foot ascent that ends by snaking up fixed metal cables along the rock’s face, is nothing short of iconic. Hiking Half Dome isn’t as easy as just showing up at Yosemite, however. To protect the world-class route and ensure the safety of Half Dome’s hikers, only 300 trail permits ($20 each) are issued daily between Memorial Day and mid-October (225 for day hikers, 75 for backpackers). Day hikers can apply for the permit lottery in the preseason or 48-hours in advance. Just remember, this 14- to 16-miler is one of the most challenging, dangerous hikes in the country. Once you start climbing those cables, there’s no going back.

Distance from SF: 4.5 hours (193 miles)

// nps.gov/yose

Big Pine Creek, Inyo National Forest: North Fork Trail (9.5 miles out-and-back)

First Lake on the North Forks Trail in Inyo National Forest.

(Courtesy of @wandering.se)

Nestled between Mammoth and Sequoia-Kings Canyon, the North Fork Trail of Big Pine Creek is a stunningly gorgeous Sierra landscape of glacier-fed lakes and stony peaks. The 9.5 mile out-and-back winds through canyon and forest, gradually ascending to the first of the trail’s seven crystalline pools. From First Lake, the route continues on to Second Lake, a body of water somehow more beautiful than its predecessor, positioned at the foot of Temple Crag. If you want to spend more time exploring—a few more miles ahead are Third Lake and the fast-shrinking Palisade Glacier—get an $11 overnight wilderness permit from Inyo National Forest before you go.

Distance from SF: 7 hours (322 miles)


Lassen Volcanic National Park: Lassen Peak Trail (4.9 miles out-and-back)

(Courtesy of @johnaheywood)

President Teddy Roosevelt once said that nothing in the world is “worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty.” He wasn’t talking about the Lassen Peak Trail, but he may as well have been: This hike is steep, rocky, and sometimes snowy into the summer months. But views from the 8.500 foot summit of the national park’s namesake are unrivaled: A panoramic feast of stark mountains and volcanic craters bejeweled with alpine lakes and evergreen groves. Just keep reminding yourself that the Lassen Peak Trail is only five miles long, and once you reach the top, the return is blissfully downhill.

Distance from SF: 4.5 hours (243 miles)

// nps.gov/lavo

Bridgeport, CA: Travertine Hot Springs (2.4 miles out-and-back)

(Courtesy of @epic.backpack.adventures)

Travertine Hot Springs isn’t just a destination hike, it’s a hike to an epic destination. The short, well-maintained trail is easy enough to attract crowds on summer weekends but, if you explore a bit once you reach the natural, travertine-edged pool a little over a mile from the parking lot, you’ll find that there are more places to soak the day away than first meets the eye (rumor has it there are 10 pools altogether). Located near the town of Bridgeport, the views of the distant Sierra are lovely and, in the spring and fall, the already beautiful landscape is transformed into something truly magical by wildflowers and changing colors.

Distance from SF: 5.25 hours (230 miles)

// alltrails.com

Trinity Alps Wilderness: Canyon Creek Trail (17 miles out-and-back)

(Courtesy of @joelhuntmusic)

Arguably the most stunning trail in California’s most underrated recreation area, the Trinity Alps, the Canyon Creek Trail is an adventurer’s playground. Surrounded by jagged granite peaks, punctuated by cool-blue lakes, running along a vicious snow-fed river with multiple waterfalls, this hike is pretty much picture-perfect. With 17-miles of often challenging terrain, the Canyon Creek Trail pushes the limits of a day hike (camping permits are free if you want to stay overnight) but, honestly, it is well worth the drive.

Distance from SF: 5.25 hours (282 miles)


King Range Wilderness: Lost Coast via Horse Mountain Creek (9.5 miles out-and-back)

(Courtesy of @lonestarhiker)

For a coastal hike as spectacular as those at the Point Reyes National Seashore but with only a tiny fraction of the traffic, you want the Lost Coast. Best known for its multi-day backpacking trail, you can actually reach the best part on this 9.5-mile day hike through the King Range Wilderness. From an unpaved gravel road, the trail slowly descends through forest groves that gradually give way to coastal dunes and a beach so secluded, you’ll be one of a select few to see it up close. The return is mostly uphill so take some time at the water’s edge to recharge before tackling it.

Distance from SF: 4.75 hours (232 miles)

// blm.gov/visit/king-range-wilderness

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