Best Backpacking in California

A happy couple backpacking together in Yosemite National Park
Shaman Mountain is reader-supported. We may earn a small commission on certain links, at no additional cost to you. Learn more.

California is a backpacker’s dream, offering a myriad of breathtaking destinations that promise unforgettable adventures. From the iconic granite cliffs of Yosemite National Park to the majestic sequoia forests of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, this diverse state boasts a treasure trove of natural wonders waiting to be explored. Whether you’re seeking challenging alpine trails or tranquil coastal escapes, California has it all. Get ready to discover the top backpacking destinations that will immerse you in awe-inspiring landscapes, wildlife encounters, and the freedom of the great outdoors.



Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park, a gem of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California, enthralls visitors with its awe-inspiring waterfalls, iconic granite cliffs, verdant meadows, and abundant wildlife. A true natural wonder, Yosemite promises an unforgettable adventure, captivating all who venture into its breathtaking landscapes. Get ready to explore the heart of the wilderness and be immersed in its unparalleled beauty.

Reasons To Go Backpacking in Yosemite National Park:

  • Breathtaking Scenery: Yosemite’s iconic waterfalls, towering cliffs, and lush meadows offer a visual feast for backpackers seeking natural beauty.
  • Diverse Trails: With a variety of trails, from easy walks to challenging treks, Yosemite caters to backpackers of all experience levels.
  • Wildlife Encounters: Spotting deer, black bears, and other wildlife in their natural habitat adds an unforgettable element to your backpacking experience.
  • Iconic Landmarks: Explore famous landmarks like Half Dome and El Capitan, witnessing the grandeur that has captivated generations of travelers.
  • Stargazing Paradise: Yosemite’s dark night skies provide a perfect backdrop for stargazing, making it a magical experience under the celestial canopy.

Recommended Gear: Backpack, Hiking Boots, Tent, Sleeping Bag, Water Filter, Headlamp, Trail Map


Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks stand tall in California’s rugged Sierra Nevada, showcasing nature’s towering marvels. These sister parks, known for their giant sequoia trees and deep canyons, offer an enchanting escape into the wild. With vast wilderness to explore, awe-inspiring vistas, and diverse wildlife, adventurers can revel in the untamed beauty of these captivating national parks.

Reasons To Go Backpacking in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks:

  • Giant Sequoia Trees: Experience the wonder of standing amidst the world’s largest trees, including the General Sherman, a behemoth among giants.
  • Scenic Canyons: Hike down into Kings Canyon and explore its deep gorges, rugged cliffs, and picturesque riverbanks.
  • Breathtaking Views: Enjoy panoramic vistas from high-altitude trails, offering stunning views of the Sierra Nevada mountains.
  • Abundant Wildlife: Encounter diverse wildlife, from black bears to mule deer, making for unforgettable wildlife-spotting opportunities.
  • Remote Wilderness: Embark on backcountry treks, escaping the crowds and immersing yourself in the tranquility of the remote wilderness.

Recommended Gear: Backpack, Hiking Boots, Water Filter, Tent, Sleeping Bag, Bear Canister, Map/Compass


John Muir Trail

The John Muir Trail, a 211-mile-long trek through the stunning Sierra Nevada Mountains, offers an epic journey for hikers seeking an immersive wilderness experience. Named after the renowned conservationist, John Muir, the trail takes adventurers through some of the most awe-inspiring landscapes in California. From towering peaks to serene alpine lakes, this iconic trail promises an unforgettable backcountry adventure.

Reasons To Go Backpacking on the John Muir Trail:

  • Scenic Beauty: Traverse breathtaking landscapes, including majestic mountains, alpine meadows, and pristine lakes.
  • Wilderness Immersion: Experience true solitude and connection with nature as you venture through the remote backcountry.
  • Iconic Landmarks: Encounter renowned landmarks like Mount Whitney, the highest peak in the contiguous United States.
  • Trail Diversity: Enjoy a diverse range of terrains and ecosystems, making each section of the trail a unique adventure.
  • Epic Adventure: Embark on a challenging yet rewarding journey, following in the footsteps of John Muir himself, and create memories to last a lifetime.

Recommended Gear: Backpack, Hiking Shoes, Tent, Sleeping Bag, Water Filtration System, Portable Stove, Trekking Poles


Desolation Wilderness

Desolation Wilderness, a rugged and captivating expanse in Northern California’s Sierra Nevada, beckons adventurous souls seeking remote backcountry exploration. With its pristine alpine lakes, granite peaks, and lush forests, this designated wilderness area promises an escape into untamed nature. Offering solitude and tranquility, Desolation Wilderness invites backpackers to immerse themselves in its wild beauty and discover hidden gems at every turn.

Reasons To Go Backpacking in the Desolation Wilderness:

  • Untouched Beauty: Explore a wilderness area untouched by roads and commercial development, offering an authentic backcountry experience.
  • Scenic Alpine Lakes: Encounter a multitude of stunning alpine lakes, perfect for swimming, fishing, and tranquil camping.
  • Challenging Hiking Trails: Embark on challenging trails that lead to breathtaking viewpoints and rewarding vistas.
  • Abundant Wildlife: Spot various wildlife species, including marmots, deer, and even black bears, thriving in their natural habitat.
  • Solitude and Serenity: Revel in the peace and quiet of this pristine wilderness, away from the hustle and bustle of modern life.

Recommended Gear: Bear Canister, Hiking Boots, Backpack, Sleeping Bag, Camping Stove, Water Filter, Tent


Big Sur

Big Sur, a mesmerizing stretch of coastline along California’s Highway 1, captivates visitors with its rugged beauty and dramatic landscapes. This iconic destination boasts towering cliffs that plunge into the Pacific Ocean, ancient redwood forests, and pristine sandy coves. A haven for outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers, Big Sur offers breathtaking hiking trails, picturesque views, and a sense of serenity that lingers long after your visit.

Reasons To Go Backpacking in Big Sur:

  • Coastal Beauty: Experience the awe-inspiring beauty of the rugged coastline, with dramatic cliffs and stunning ocean views.
  • Redwood Forests: Venture into ancient redwood forests, immersing yourself in the magical ambiance of these towering giants.
  • Scenic Hiking Trails: Discover a plethora of hiking trails offering diverse landscapes, from coastal bluffs to lush canyons.
  • Remote Wilderness: Escape into the remote wilderness, enjoying a sense of solitude and connection with nature.
  • Stargazing Delight: Witness the night sky come alive with stars, making Big Sur a prime stargazing destination.

Recommended Gear: Backpack, Sturdy Footwear, Headlamp, Tent, Water Filter, Camping Stove, Binoculars


Trinity Alps Wilderness

Trinity Alps Wilderness, a pristine and remote expanse in Northern California, offers a rugged escape for avid adventurers seeking solitude and natural beauty. With its rugged granite peaks, glacier-carved valleys, and numerous alpine lakes, this wilderness area beckons backpackers to immerse themselves in its unspoiled landscapes. From challenging backcountry trails to the serene tranquility of its wilderness, Trinity Alps invites explorers to embrace the untamed allure of nature.

Reasons To Go Backpacking in the Trinity Alps Wilderness:

  • Spectacular Scenery: Explore stunning granite peaks, alpine lakes, and pristine wilderness that leave a lasting impression.
  • Secluded Wilderness: Enjoy the serenity and solitude of a less-visited wilderness area, perfect for reconnecting with nature.
  • Diverse Trails: Find a variety of trails, catering to both novice and experienced backpackers, offering a range of hiking options.
  • Abundant Wildlife: Encounter various wildlife, including deer, bears, and a variety of bird species, adding to the wilderness experience.
  • Photographer’s Paradise: Capture breathtaking landscapes and stunning vistas, making every moment a photographer’s dream.

Recommended Gear: Backpack, Hiking Boots, Tent, Sleeping Bag, Water Filter, Trekking Poles, Camping Stove


Channel Islands National Park

Channel Islands National Park, located off the Southern California coast, is a breathtaking haven renowned for its untouched islands and abundant marine life. Comprising five distinct islands, this remote park offers a distinctive backpacking experience. From exploring sea caves to encountering playful dolphins and hiking along coastal trails with stunning ocean vistas, Channel Islands promises an unforgettable adventure in a pristine marine wilderness.

Reasons To Go Backpacking in Channel Islands National Park:

  • Island Exploration: Discover the unique beauty and diverse landscapes of five distinct islands.
  • Marine Wildlife: Snorkel, kayak, or dive to encounter an abundance of marine life, including seals, whales, and colorful fish.
  • Secluded Camping: Enjoy the solitude of camping on isolated islands, immersing yourself in the peaceful surroundings.
  • Breathtaking Ocean Views: Hike along scenic coastal trails and witness stunning vistas overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
  • Rich History: Explore the park’s cultural heritage, including ancient Chumash sites and historical artifacts.

Recommended Gear: Backpack, Snorkeling Gear, kayak/SUP, Tent, Sleeping Bag, Water Filtration System, Hiking Shoes


Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park, located in Southern California, is a captivating desert wonderland that mesmerizes visitors with its otherworldly landscapes. Renowned for its unique Joshua trees and fascinating rock formations, this national park offers an extraordinary backpacking experience. From exploring hidden oases to stargazing under the vast night sky, Joshua Tree promises an unforgettable journey into the surreal beauty of the desert.

Reasons To Go Backpacking in Joshua Tree National Park:

  • Otherworldly Landscapes: Experience the surreal beauty of unique Joshua trees and mesmerizing rock formations.
  • Stargazing Paradise: Witness the awe-inspiring night sky and its countless stars in one of the best stargazing locations.
  • Hidden Oases: Discover hidden desert oases and unexpected lush spots amidst the arid landscape.
  • Peaceful Wilderness: Escape the hustle of everyday life and find tranquility in the vast desert wilderness.
  • Diverse Hiking Trails: Explore a variety of hiking trails, ranging from easy walks to challenging treks, catering to all levels of backpackers.

Recommended Gear: Backpack, Hiking Boots, Tent, Sleeping Bag, Headlamp, Sun Protection, Water Bottle


Ansel Adams Wilderness

Ansel Adams Wilderness, a majestic expanse nestled within the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California, pays tribute to the iconic photographer and naturalist, Ansel Adams. This pristine wilderness area captivates adventurers with its awe-inspiring landscapes, including rugged peaks, alpine lakes, and lush meadows. A haven for outdoor enthusiasts, the Ansel Adams Wilderness invites backpackers to immerse themselves in its untouched beauty and discover the magic of the natural world.

Reasons To Go Backpacking in the Ansel Adams Wilderness:

  • Stunning Scenery: Explore breathtaking landscapes, including majestic peaks and pristine alpine lakes.
  • Photographer’s Paradise: Capture the beauty of the wilderness that inspired Ansel Adams himself.
  • Tranquil Solitude: Enjoy the peacefulness of a less-crowded wilderness area, perfect for quiet reflection.
  • Abundant Wildlife: Encounter diverse wildlife, from marmots to deer, in their natural habitat.
  • Diverse Trails: Find an array of trails, ranging from easy day hikes to challenging backcountry routes, catering to all skill levels.

Recommended Gear: Camping Cookware, Hiking Boots, Tent, Water Filtration System, Trekking Poles, Sleeping Bag, Backpack


Mount Shasta

Mount Shasta, an imposing stratovolcano in Northern California, stands as a symbol of natural grandeur and spiritual significance. Its majestic presence attracts outdoor enthusiasts and mountaineers alike, offering a diverse range of experiences, from challenging summit climbs to serene alpine hikes. Surrounded by pristine wilderness, Mount Shasta beckons adventurers to explore its breathtaking landscapes and immerse themselves in the awe-inspiring beauty of this iconic mountain.

Reasons To Go Backpacking at Mount Shasta:

  • Epic Summit Ascent: Experience the thrill of conquering a challenging stratovolcano, rewarding you with panoramic views.
  • Alpine Adventure: Explore picturesque alpine meadows, glacial lakes, and enchanting forests on scenic hikes.
  • Wilderness Solitude: Escape into the tranquility of pristine wilderness, away from the hustle and bustle of daily life.
  • Geological Wonder: Marvel at the geological wonders of a dormant volcano, surrounded by volcanic landscapes.
  • Spiritual Vibe: Embrace the spiritual significance of Mount Shasta, revered by various cultures for its mystical energy.

Recommended Gear: Backpack, Hiking Boots, Climbing Gear, Tent, Sleeping Bag, Water Filtration System, First Aid Kit


Related Posts:

Dad and son paddleboarding at a lake

Best Paddle Boarding in California

California is a haven for paddle boarding enthusiasts, offering a plethora of breathtaking locations that cater to every level of expertise. From serene lakes cradled

Group of fishermen surfcasting the shoreline.

Best Shore Fishing in California

California’s vast coastline offers you an array of locations for shore fishing, where you can cast a line into some of the richest waters along

Pacifica pier jetting into the Pacific ocean.

Best Pier Fishing in San Francisco

San Francisco, with its picturesque coastline and bustling cityscape, hosts a variety of pier fishing opportunities that draw anglers from across the region. The iconic