The 5 best backpacking trips along California’s coast

The California coast is my refuge in winter when it’s too cold to hike in the Sierra Nevada. Luckily, the coast has stayed relatively undeveloped, and it offers some of the best backpacking trips in California. Here are 5 hand-picked backpacking trips from NorCal to SoCal.

DurationFrom LAFrom SF
1. The Lost Coast Trail2–4 days11 hr5 hr 30 min
2. Point Reyes: Coast Trail & Bear Valley Trail Loop2–3 days7 hr1 hr 30 min
3. Big Sur: Sykes Hot Springs2 days5 hr 30 min3 hr
4. Santa Cruz Island: Scorpion Anchorage to Prisoner’s Harbor2 days1 hr 30 min6 hr
5. The Trans-Catalina Trail2–5 days30 min7 hr

1. The Lost Coast Trail

It’s the most iconic beach trail in California. It’s also one of the wildest. You will spot elephant seals relaxing on the beach, encounter bears, and go through tricky low tide crossings. This trip is hard to plan, so check out my guide for help.

Driving time

Los Angeles11 hr drive
San Francisco5 hr 30 min drive

Reservations

Wilderness permit required year-round.

See itinerary

2. Point Reyes: Coast Trail & Bear Valley Trail Loop

Explore the refreshing Northern California coast. This trail traverses the forests, grasslands, and dunes of Point Reyes National Park. The trailhead is just 40 miles north of San Francisco, which makes it the perfect weekend trip.

Driving time

Los Angeles7 hr drive
San Francisco1 hr 30 min drive

Reservations

Campground reservations required year-round.

See itinerary

3. Big Sur: Sykes Hot Springs

A classic Big Sur weekend trip reopens after a 5-year closure. Climb up through dense coastal vegetation and get rewarded with hot springs, right by your campsite! There are no reservations, so expect crowds on weekends.

Driving time

Los Angeles5 hr 30 min drive
San Francisco3 hr drive

Reservations

No requirements. Campsites available on a first-come-first-served basis.

See itinerary

4. Santa Cruz Island: Scorpion Anchorage to Prisoner’s Harbor

Hike on the site of a historical ranch on the desolate Santa Cruz Island. The island is part of the Channel Islands National Park off the coast of Santa Barbara. The place has no water, so check the NPS website for more information.

Driving time

Los Angeles1 hr 30 min drive
San Francisco6 hr drive

Reservations

Campground and ferry reservations required year-round.

See itinerary

5. The Trans-Catalina Trail

Thru-hike the popular Catalina Island off the coast of Los Angeles. The trail starts in the resort town of Avalon, but you will quickly find peace and wilderness as you travel north. Look out for the bison and foxes that roam the mountainous island.

Driving time

Los Angeles30 min drive
San Francisco7 hr drive

Reservations

Campground and ferry reservations required year-round.

See itinerary
Jordan Vincent

Hi! I’m Jordan and I create tools for busy backpackers.

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