The Ultimate Backpacking Bucket List for California

Wilderness as far as the eye can see.

By: The Outbound Collective + Save to a List

Did you know that California is home to over 14 million acres of wilderness. You read that correctly. Over 14 million! Even the most driven explorer with all the time in the world couldn’t hike every trail in California in a single lifetime. But that doesn’t mean you can’t try. If you’re able to carve out the time for one of the classic thru hikes like the JMT or the PCT, then get after it! For those of you who can only make time for a long weekend trip, this list of 50 backpacking trips in California is just what you need to fuel your next adventure to the backcountry.

Northern California

From the rugged Pacific coast to the dense redwood forests to the summit of Mt. Shasta, Northern California has no shortage of diverse backcountry terrain. Tackle the Lost Coast or spend a couple days relaxing in Redwood National and State can’t go wrong.

1. Backpack Devil’s Punchbowl, Six Rivers National Forest

Photo: Joshua Contois

2. Climb Mt. Shasta via Clear Creek Route

Photo: Daniel Sherman

3. Hike to Etna Mountain Summit

Photo: Greg Balkin

4. Backpack the Sky High Lakes in the Marble Monutains

Photo: Chaney Swiney

5. Backpack Redwood National and State Parks

Photo: Austin Trigg

6. Backpack to Canyon Creek Lakes

Photo: Dan Loch

7. Backpack the Lost Coast: Mattole to Black Sands Beach

Photo: Whitney Whitehouse

8. Backpack the Stuart Fork Trail to Emerald and Sapphire Lakes

Photo: Joshua Contois

Bay Area

Living around the Bay Area is ideal for anyone who wants to live a city life but needs to have quick access to the wild. You can drive anywhere from 1-3 hours from San Francisco and find some truly stunning landscapes. Beach camping, epic summits, and more redwoods await.

9. Backpack to King’s Peak from Shelter Cove

Photo: Aja Pete

10. Backpack to Pt. Reyes Coast Campground

Photo: Josiah Roe

11. Backpack the Glen Camp Loop via the Palomarin Trailhead

Photo: Jeff Driscoll

12. Backpack to Point Reyes Wildcat Camp

Photo: Miranda Leconte

13. Backpack Sam McDonald Park

Photo: Ashley Chang

14. Backpack the Bear Valley to Coast Camp Loop

Photo: Jeff Driscoll

15. Backcountry Camp at Big Basin Sunset Trail Camp

Photo: Christian Arballo

16. Backpack to Redfern Pond

Photo: Ashley Chang

17. Backpack to Pat Springs

Photo: Max Berger

18. Backpack the Pine Ridge in Big Sur, North Coast Ridge Loop

Photo: Chris Diantonio

19. Backpack to the Ventana Wilderness’ Sykes Hot Springs

Photo: Blake Maitoza

20. Climb Cone Peak in Big Sur, Sea to Sky Route

Photo: Josiah Roe

21. Backpack to Goat Camp in Big Sur

Photo: Andrew Conway

The Sierra Mountains

The mighty Sierra are a major draw for people around the world. Early explorers like John Muir and Ansel Adams had obsessions with these mountains and made them famous with their writing and photos. But even the best writers and photographers can’t do these mountains need to see them for yourself.

22. Backpack to Ropi Lake

Photo: Emily Kent

23. Backpack to Leavitt Lake in Stanislaus National Forest

Photo: Jake Young

24. Backpack to the Waterfall Camp in Desolation Wilderness

Photo: Jake Young

25. Backpack to Middle Velma Lake

Photo: Christian Arballo

26. Backpack to Susie Lake in Desolation Wilderness

Photo: Miranda Leconte

27. Backpack to Gilmore Lake in Desolation Wilderness

Photo: Jake Young

28. Hike and Climb to Mt. Conness

Photo: Alex Souza

29. Backpack to Vogelsang and Merced Lake High Sierras Camp

Photo: Julie & Brian

30. Backpack Tuolumne Meadows to Yosemite Valley

Photo: Kevin Abernethy

31. Backpack Cathedral Lakes

Photo: Addison Klinke

32. Backpack atop Donohue Pass

Photo: Alex Souza

33. Backpack Lower & Upper Relief Valleys and the East Flange Rock

Photo: Josiah Roe

34. Backpack Sunrise Lakes to Clouds Rest

Photo: Nathaniel Polta

35. Backpack to Duck Lake

Photo: Sierra Joy

36. Backpack Agnew Meadows to Tuolumne Meadows

Photo: Jeff Driscoll

37. Backpack Ansel Adams’ Banner Lake

Photo: Addison Klinke

38. Backpack to Ediza Lake

Photo: Tobin Akehurst

39. Backpack to Crater Lake, Sierra National Forest

Photo: Emily Rudger

40. Backpack from Onion Valley to Mt. Whitney

Photo: Jeff Driscoll

41. Backpack the Rae Lakes Loop

Photo: Kevin Kaminski

42. Backpack to Mount Silliman, Sequoia NP

Photo: Debra Alison

Southern California

Explore the desert expanse of Joshua Tree and Death Valley National Parks or charge the trails on the sunny California coast. Down south, the water is warmer and beach camping is that much better...not sold yet? Check out these adventures.

43. Backpack to Panamint Dunes

Photo: Sarah Eichstedt

44. Backpack the Boy Scout’s Trail in Joshua Tree

Photo: Ian Buchanan

45. Backcountry Camp in Joshua Tree

Photo: Lauren Shusterman

46. Beach Camp on Santa Rosa Island

Photo: Michael Wigle

47. Backpack Mt. Williamson from Shepherd Pass

Photo: Jack Brumbaugh

48. Backpack Eaton Canyon to Idlehour

Photo: Alan Leung

49. Backpack the Trans-Catalina Trail

Photo: Drew Robinson

50. Backpack Zaca Ridge

Photo: Michael Wigle

Add these backpacking trips to your bucket list and let us know how you do. The truth is, this list only scratches the surface of the wealth of amazing backpacking you can find in California. But just because you’ve been told you can’t explore all of California’s wilderness in a lifetime, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try.

Cover photo: Josiah Roe

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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