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4 Off the Beaten Path Backpacking Routes To Explore in California

36.7783° N, 119.4179° W



With more than 339 different trails in the whole state of California, totally an amazing 2,158 miles, it is easy to get a little overwhelmed with the backpacking options available. Luckily, we have found four trails that give you the best bang for your buck. A nice mix of biomes: alpine lakes, coastal dunes, hot springs, and even a 14-er.

Keep reading for some of the best backpacking routes in the state of California, then grab your gear and hit the trail for an adventure you won’t soon forget!

1 | The Rae Lakes Loop

Spanning two national parks, Kings Canyon and Sequoia, this 37-mile trail is worth every foot of elevation gain (a total of 7,500 feet). We tackled it early in the season, which had its perks but also some pretty big (or small in this instance) drawbacks.

You should probably plan for four to five days on the trail, with the last day being a half-day (meaning plenty of time for a nice filling meal and maybe a beer or two). For us, we decided to go hard on Day 1 and 2 and then spend the last two days going a bit easier aka more time for photos and taking in the scenery. You can go either clockwise or counter-clockwise, depending on the permit you get at the ranger station before starting out. Many people recommend clockwise, but we went counter-clockwise and though day one was almost all uphill, it was not too bad (tough but bearable). Either way you go you will see the same stunning scenery.

Because we went early in the season, we did have to deal with a couple “negatives” mostly in the form of vicious, ravenous mosquitos that made cooking outside unbearable. The first night was the worst - we quickly had to set up camp and take refuge inside before we were completely overrun by the awful creatures. As someone who gets attacked more often than others (yay) it was pretty terrible. The scenery was outstanding, but the fact that we had to deal with thousands of tiny blood-sucking bugs did take away from the overall enjoyment.

The other negative was not actually that bad - just something to be aware of. If you are planning to go early in the season like we did be prepared for snow up at the pass. There is still a clear trail going up and down to follow, but it does get slick and can be a bit dangerous if you aren’t paying attention.

But honestly, besides the little flying demons and the snow, we loved going early in the season: everything was green, there were lots of flowers and it didn’t seem nearly as busy.

The Rae Lakes are stunning and this trail is definitely worth doing. Be prepared for bugs, the sun, and some sore legs afterwards, but all in all it will be a trip you won’t forget.

Want to learn more about the trails? Then check out this website.



39 miles loop


7,670 feet



2 | The Lost Coast Trail

While many backpacking routes take you along singletrack or maybe even doubletrack trails, the Lost Coast Trail way up in Northern California has very little set trail at all. Instead, be prepared to hike almost solely on the beach. For three days you will cross different but always stunning terrain - from coastal grassland bluffs to boulder-strewn, slippery beaches. You’ll see lots of birds and if you are lucky, the much larger (and smellier) elephant seals.

We did the trip over the 4th of July weekend with a couple of our good friends. The five of us started out early on the 5th, after a night of surprising fireworks over the ocean dunes, and quickly got into a nice rhythm of walking along the rocky coastline. Even though the trail is not exactly long - just under 25 miles in total - it does take time and can definitely take a toll on your body (by the end all five us were feeling it in our arches and knees). This trail also requires a bit more planning, mostly to do with the tides (the trail is along the beach, meaning twice a day there is no trail), and where all the primitive campsites are in case you get stuck.

Honestly, this trail is one of the best ways to get out and experience a stretch of nature that is otherwise difficult to see (the King Range National Conservation Area is one of the roughest pieces of coastline on the Pacific, so rugged that Highway 1 has to veer inland to bypass it). It is a stunning area of California that really reveals itself after being walked on by your own two feet.

Learn more about the beautiful hike here.



25.3 miles total (this trail requires a shuttle)


1,578 feet


2-3 days, the tides can really slow you down

3 | Sykes Hot Springs

At only 20 miles in length, this route might not be as intense as others in the state, but it might just have one of the best payoffs. Start the hike at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park and head out on the Pine Ridge Trail, there you will cross the river twice - if it looks like it is rushing too fast or is too high, be smart and turn around.

If you are planning to do the hike in two days, which we recommend - why rush it? - then you will have to stop and pitch a tent at one of the three designated campsites: Terrace Creek (5 miles down the trail, Barlow Flat, the largest of the three and 7 miles away and finally, Sykes Campground which sits right next to the hot springs.