25 Amazing Adventures For Your California Bucket List

Load up your backpack and head to the Golden State.

By: Anna Cohen
November 16, 2015

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California is a big state, in fact, it is the third largest in the country. Most people associate California with movie stars, avocados, and tech. But for an adventurer, it is so much more. Head to the eastern side of the state and you will run into California’s crowning glory: the Sierra Nevada. This region is an explorer’s dream. From Yosemite to Mammoth, you will find breathtaking vistas and challenging hikes. You’ll see turquoise mountain lakes and stunning cliff-faces. The possibilities are endless. Oh and did we mention the redwood forests, out-of-this-world desert landscapes, hot springs, rugged coastline, or dreamlike campsites? If you're ready to have an epic adventure-of-a-lifetime (and snag some sick beautiful photos while you’re at it), then load up your backpack and head to the Golden State.

1. Backpack in Redwood National and State Parks

Photo: Austin Trigg

There’s nothing like exploring the redwood forests in California. These are the tallest trees on the planet and spending a few days and nights among them is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Learn more.

2. Camp at Wild Willy Hot Springs

Photo: Greg Balkin

Take a soak in this hot spring with stunning views of the Eastern Sierra. The tub is large enough to fit approximately 30 people so bring the whole crew! Learn more.

3. Hike to Burney Falls

Photo: Lisa Bao

Theodore Roosevelt referred to these falls as the “eighth wonder of the world”. Head out on this short hike to see for yourself. Learn more.

4. Backpack to the Ventana Wilderness Hot Tub

Photo: Blake Maitoza

This is a longer hike at 10 miles each way but the reward is so worth it. Go during the off season (not summer) for smaller crowds. Learn more.

5. Camp at Joshua Tree’s White Tank Campground

Photo: Tiffany Nguyen

Joshua Tree is one of California’s most unique and completely awe-inspiring landscapes. The rock formations are out of a science fiction movie and camping at White Tank Campground is a perfect base camp for adventuring around the park. Learn more.

6. Hike Torrey Pines

Photo: Bill Gracey

Exploring this popular hiking destination is always a treat and a local favorite for stunning views over the pacific. Learn more.

7. Hike the Full John Muir Trail

Photo: Bo Baumgartner

There are a few thru hikes in California worth adding to this list and the JMT is one of the most coveted. Check out Kristen Bor’s Top 10 Campsites on the John Muir Trail to learn about the best places to set up camp on your trek. Learn more.

8. Hike to the Summit of Mt. Baldy

Photo: Brenda Lin

Just an hour outside of LA is the tallest mountain in LA County, Mt. Baldy. The drive is the easy part...at 13 miles and nearly 6,000 ft of elevation gain, this one is not for the faint-of-heart. Learn more.

9. Hike and Camp in the Meadows on Mt. Shasta

Photo: Justin Ritucci

The free campsite has 10 sites with a fire ring and a table. The elevation of the campground is 7,500 ft, making it the highest campground on Mt. Shasta. Learn more.

10. Hike Half Dome

Photo: Eddie Jo

The star of Yosemite, Half Dome is truly out of this world. One of the most dangerous day hikes you can do, hiking to the top of Half Dome is at the top of most adventurers’ to do lists. It’s a long, challenging hike, that’s well worth the work and risk involved. Learn more.

11. Hike to the Summit of Mt. Whitney

Photo: Gregg Boydston

Standing at over 14,500 ft tall, Mt. Whitney is the highest peak in the contiguous United States. So, it’s easy to see why summiting this peak is one of the top adventures you can have in California. The trip is about 22 miles roundtrip, with an elevation gain of 6,100 ft. It can be done in a day, just make sure you get an early start. And by early, read before the sun comes up. Views of lakes, rivers, cliffs, and waterfalls await you. Sign your name in the log, and hike back down with bragging rights. Learn more.

12. Backpack Ansel Adams Wilderness

Photo: Greg Owens

Named for the well-known landscape photographer and environmentalist, the Ansel Adams Wilderness consists of over 230,000 acres. It is located near Mammoth Lake in the Eastern Sierras. Wildlife is abundant, including black bears, so don’t forget your bear canister! Immerse yourself on this multiple day adventure, and you will experience some of the most stunning terrain that California has to offer. Learn more.

13. Camp and Kayak at Catalina’s Two Harbors

Photo: Kathleen Buenviaje

An island camping escape is a mere 50 minute boat ride away from the southern California coast. Two Harbors campground is unique with the ample ocean views, running water and access to a plethora of hikes and trails. Learn more.

14. Soak In The Travertine Hot Springs

Photo: IdleTheoryBus

After you’ve bagged an Eastern Sierra peak, you deserve a little soaking to soothe your aching feet and tired muscles. Luckily, Travertine Hot Springs provides exactly that. Even if you haven’t bagged any peaks, you still deserve a little relaxation. Learn more.

15. Hike to Alamere Falls

Photo: Brian Heifferon

Hike to a beautiful and rare waterfall (tidefall), plummeting 40ft until it reaches the ocean. Enjoy stunning views of the Pacific combined with varying terrain through forests, tall brush, and exposed dirt trails. If you hike to falls during the summer, take a swim in Bass Lake on the way back to the trailhead. Learn more.

16. Hike and Rock Climb at Saddle Peak

Photo: Cameron Gardner

This hike is super easy, yet beautiful and a perfect place to get away from the city. If you’re into rock climbing and slacklining...you’ll love this place even more. Learn more.

17. Backpack To Sentinel Dome

Photo: Kyle Frost

In the summer, this hike is a piece of cake. But if you want to experience Yosemite in a whole new light, try this trip in the winter time. Snow makes the hike much more challenging, but the views at the end are breathtaking. You will have a front row seat to some of the most spectacular sunrises and sunsets over the mountains. Seeing Yosemite in the snow is a must on any California bucket list. Learn more.

18. Camp at Death Valley’s Wildrose Campground

Photo: Cameron Gardner

If you’re looking for wide open spaces, Death Valley has them. There's a ton to see and do here from the casual family camping trip to more extreme backpacking. You can see even more if you have a 4 wheel drive and a lot of time. Either way you will definitely enjoy it! Learn more.

19. Explore Muir Woods

Photo: Katch Silva

Muir Woods is quintessential redwood groves. Although not as massive as the redwoods up north, the trails here are unbelievably serene. Learn more.

20. Camp at the Pots

Photo: Jake Young

Do natural granite waterslides and swimming holes do it for you? Just an hour south of Lake Tahoe, this is a summer camping trip paradise. Learn more.

21. Hike to the Goat Canyon Trestle

Photo: Juan Moreno

The main attraction of this hike is the wooden trestle. This engineering marvel was built in 1932 and still remains the tallest and longest curved wooden trestle in the U.S. Learn more.

22. Hike to Cone Peak in Big Sur

Photo: Josiah Roe

Cone Peak is the most spectacular coastal mountain in the Lower 48 States. At 5,155' high and less than 3 miles from the ocean, the average gradient from summit to sea is 33%, which is steeper than Mt. Whitney to Owens Valley. Learn more.

23. Hike to the end of Point Reyes at Tomales Point

Photo: Jake Young

Keep an eye out for wildlife! This hike will take you through the Tule Elk Preserve in Point Reyes National Seashore, and offers fantastic views of Bodega and Tomales Bay, as well as the Pacific Ocean. Learn more.

24. Hike To Deadman Lake

Photo: Anna Cohen

This is a challenging hike, but so worth it for what lies at the top. Deadman Lake is the epitome of the gorgeous, turquoise, mountain lake. If you’ve been looking for that picture perfect Sierra Nevada scene, you should put Deadman Lake at the very top of your list. This can be done as a day hike, or there is room for camping near the lake if you’d rather spend the night. Learn more.

25. Oceanview Camping at San Elijo

Photo: Jake Bothe

It doesn't get much more California than grabbing your surf board and walking to the beach from your campsite. Go to sleep and wake up to the sound of the waves then spend the day playing in them. Learn more.

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Remember to always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and be sure to brush up on LNT principles for backcountry fires as well.

Please respect the places you find on The Outbound.

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph.