Rainbow Falls at Mammoth Lakes
Photo by Priyadarshini Rajendran

Top hiking trails under 5 miles in California

California is a blessed state with abundant natural beauty. The state encourages everyone to explore the outdoors and get recharged in nature by providing amazing hiking trails and facilities.

Get lost in Jurassic World, drink in the beautiful views from mountain-tops, wade through shallow streams, chase waterfalls, get exploring nature!

Here are the best hiking trails in California that are recommended by top travel bloggers.

1) Fern Canyon, Orick

Jac from Weekend Path blog recommends: Fern Canyon

Hiking trail name: Fern Canyon
Hike length: 1 mile
Location: Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park
Difficulty level: Easy
Doable with kids: Yes!
Best Season: Summer; access can be limited in the winter and after rains
Best accommodations/hotel to stay: The Gold Bluffs Beach Campground is just down the road from the trail-head or Elk Meadow Cabins.

Fern Canyon trail
Photo by Jac

The Fern Canyon Trail is one of the best short, easy hikes in Northern California. This 1-mile “lollypop-loop” trail takes you through a lush, green mini-canyon enveloped in ferns. In fact, Fern Canyon is so stunning that it was used as a filming site for the 1997 movie The Lost World: Jurassic Park.

Make sure to wear waterproof shoes, because you’ll need to cross a stream in order to do this hike. In the summertime, there may be seasonal footbridges in place, but you’ll likely still need to get your feet wet!
Note that because this trail is so popular, permits are required from May 1st to September 30th. Permits are free and should be booked ahead online. There is a $12 day-use fee to park at the trail-head. Apply for a Fern Canyon hike permit here.

2) Eagle Rock, Lake Tahoe

Sierra Schmidt from Island + Alpine blog recommends: Eagle Rock

Hiking trail name: Eagle Rock
Hike length: 0.7 miles out and back
Location: Homewood, California (Easy Shore Lake Tahoe)
Difficulty level: Easy/Moderate
Doable with kids: Yes, but not stroller-friendly
Best Season: Any season, but Fall is lovely!
Best accommodations/hotel to stay: Meeks Bay Resort or The Lodge at Obexer’s

Eagle Rock trail at Lake Tahoe
Photo by Sierra Schmidt

Lake Tahoe’s Eagle Rock trail is a quick hike with a fantastic payoff. Beautiful in all seasons of the year, fall in Tahoe is especially lovely with crisp, fresh air, and the beautiful aspens changing colors below. You’ll also want to keep your eye out for the eagles who make their nests in the rocky peaks at the top.

Carefully park in one of the spots along the road and make your way up the mountain. The trail is a bit steep, but is short, safe, and only slippery when wet. The trail takes less than a half hour round trip if you don’t stop at the top – but that would be a bit of a tragedy!

The views from the highest point are 360 degrees of stunning blue Lake Tahoe vistas, aspens and evergreen forests, the winding road below, and majestic rocky peaks. Take your camera and stay awhile!

Also read: 22 Bay Area Road Trips to take this Spring (Within 5 hours from San Francisco)

3) Broken Hill, San Diego

Kristin Lee from Global Travel Escapades blog recommends: Broken Hill

Hiking trail name: Broken Hill
Hike length: 3.3 miles
Location: Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve
Difficulty level: Moderate
Doable with kids: Yes
Best Season: Year-round
Best accommodations/hotel to stay: The Lodge at Torrey Pines

Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve, Broken Hill Trail
Photo by Kristin Lee

If you’re in San Diego and looking for something to do other than surfing the city’s beautiful waves, consider heading to Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve.

The area has several trails that range from easy to moderate, and they’re all doable with kids. For example, a popular trail is Broken Hill, which is a 3.3 mile loop that can be comfortably completed in 1.5 hours.

Along this trail, you’ll be able to admire gorgeous views of the coastal bluffs and surrounding beaches. And if you want to avoid paying parking fees for the main parking lot, be sure to park along Torrey Pines Road!

4) Bumpass Hell, Mineral

Francesca from Homeroom Travel blog recommends: Bumpass Hell

Hiking trail name: Bumpass Hell
Hike length: 2.6 miles
Location: Lassen Volcanic National Park
Difficulty level: Moderate
Doable with kids: Yes
Best Season: Early summer or Fall to avoid overheat
Best accommodations/hotel to stay: Stay in the park at the Manzanita Lake Cabins or the Drakesbad Guest Ranch. In Redding, the Red Lion Hotel is a popular option.

Bumpass Hell trail at Lassen Volcanic National Park
Photo by Francesca Makana

The Bumpass Hell trail in Lassen Volcanic National Park is one of the best hikes under 5 miles in California. Lassen Volcanic National Park is located about two hours from Redding in Northern California.

The Bumpass Hell trail is located in the Southwest portion of the park and is easily accessible from the main entrance. This trail is 2.6 miles round trip and is one of the most popular trails in the park. It takes visitors through the hydrothermal features of the park.

This is a moderate trail with a few uphill parts, but nothing too strenuous. Make sure to take the frying pan loop in order to get the best views of the features. It can easily be hiked in under two hours.

It is doable with kids, but make sure to keep an extra eye on them so they do not stray from the trail into the thermal pools. You will want to hike this trail in early summer or fall to avoid the heat. It can be closed in the wintertime due to the snow, so make sure to check the park conditions before visiting.

5) Mount Hollywood, Los Angeles

Catrina from 24 Hours Layover blog recommends: Mount Hollywood

Hiking trail name: Mount Hollywood
Hike length: 2.4 miles
Location: Hollywood Hills, Los Angeles
Difficulty level: Easy/Moderate
Doable with kids: Yes
Best Season: Year-round
Best accommodations/hotel to stay: Stay in a hotel in the Hollywood neighborhood, like The Prospect Hollywood

Mount Hollywood Trail
Photo by Catrina

No trip to Los Angeles is complete without seeing the iconic Hollywood sign – one of the most Instagrammable places in LA. Located in the Hollywood Hills, you’ll need to do a bit of a hike to get close to the sign.

There are several hikes you can do, but the easiest is the Mount Hollywood Trail. This 2.4 mile loop trail offers stunning views over downtown Los Angeles and the Hollywood Sign and is one of the best hikes in LA!

Start from the back corner of The Griffith Observatory parking lot, follow the signs and make your way to the summit of Mount Hollywood, enjoying views of the Hollywood sign along the way. Make sure to arrive early (ideally on a weekday) as the car park fills up quickly, plus parking is only free in the morning! The hiking trail is open from dawn to dusk year round.

When you are here for the hike, you can also check out the many awesome day trips from Los Angeles too!

Also read: 10 stunning places to see fall colors in California

6) Runyon Canyon, Los Angeles

Nick Rosen from The World Overload blog recommends: Runyon Canyon

Hiking trail name: Runyon Canyon
Hike length: 4 miles
Location: Los Angeles
Difficulty level: Moderate
Doable with kids: Yes
Best Season: Spring or Summer
Best accommodations/hotel to stay: Hollywood area

Runyon Canyon is an iconic hiking trail in the heart of Los Angeles. It is a beautiful 160-acre park where you can find all the aspects of the LA culture. Locals, tourists, influencers, even celebrities spend part of their time here working up a sweat, which makes it one of the most popular hiking destinations in the city.

The great thing about Runyon Canyon is that you have options on how much hiking you want to do. There is an easy, moderate, and tough trail that you can take depending on what you feel like doing. Each one is luckily under 4 miles and what you are really getting in terms of difficulty is mainly because of the elevation.

The trails are flat, wide, and easy to navigate. This is a kid friendly and especially dog friendly hiking area so feel free to bring who you would like. You will find plenty of others in the same situation. There are plenty of picturesque areas here of the city like Inspiration Point or Clouds Rest where you can just soak in the atmosphere.

The recommended time to come must be spring and summer with that amazing California weather. If you are visiting, you are right down the road from Hollywood which has plenty of stellar accommodations for you.

Enjoy your workout!

7) Yucca Point, San Diego

Laura from A Piece of Travel blog recommends: Yucca Point

Hiking trail name: Yucca Point
Hike length: 1.2 miles
Location: Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve, San Diego
Difficulty level: Easy
Doable with kids: Yes
Best Season: Spring
Best accommodations/hotel to stay: The Lodge at Torrey Pines & Estancia La Jolla

Photo by Laura Olds

Yucca Point Trail is one of several trails at Torrey Pines. You can park for free at the base of the reserve if you wish, adding more distance to this hike. People explore Yucca Point in flip-flops, but sneakers are ideal for protecting your feet from rocks and the occasional snake.

Spring is the best time to hike Yucca Point Trail because many flowers are in bloom, including that of the yucca plant, which the trail is named after.

You’ll be rewarded with stunning ocean views and rock formations at the end of the trail. Should you wish to hike to the ocean, Beach Trail intersects with Yucca Point.

8) Lands End, San Francisco

Anu Agarwal from Destination Checkoff blog recommends: Lands End

Hiking trail name: Lands End
Hike length: 3.4 miles
Location: San Francisco
Difficulty level: Moderate
Doable with kids: Yes
Best Season: Year-round
Best accommodations/hotel to stay: San Francisco Marriott at Fisherman’s wharf

Land's End trail in San Francisco
Photo by Anupama Agarwal

Lands End Trail is a moderate 3.4 miles trail on the west coast of San Francisco and promises fantastic views of the Pacific Coast and Golden Gate Bridge. This is a great hike to try if you have a week in San Francisco to take in all the sights and explore some hiking in the area. There is some elevation of around 500 feet which makes it a moderate hike.

The hike starts at the historic Sutro bath ruins and continues on a coastal trail. There is occasionally a man made labyrinth of stones at a coastal clearing. You can explore the nearby Mile Rock beach and Fort Miley. This is a very popular hiking trail for families. Kids love to play in the tide pools on the Mile Rock Beach. 

San Francisco is a popular destination in any season and you can do this hike anytime of the year. It might be windy due to it being a coastal hike, it is advisable to carry a jacket even in summer. 

Fisherman’s wharf is a popular area to stay when exploring San Francisco. San Francisco Marriott at Fisherman’s wharf is a good hotel that is walking distance to a lot of nearby attractions. 

9) American River, Sacramento

Ossama Alnuwaiser from Awesome Traveler blog recommends:

Hiking trail name: American River
Hike length: 1 mile or how much ever you wish to hike
Location: Sacramento
Difficulty level: Easy/Moderate
Doable with kids: Yes
Best Season: Year-round
Best accommodations/hotel to stay: Hilton Garden Inn

American River Hike in Sacramento
Photo by Ossama Alnuwaiser

The American hike trail is one of the best hiking trails in Sacramento, so gather your hiking gears for an experience of a lifetime. The trail is rich in flora and fauna, which adds to your experience. It is surrounded by lush green meadows and several species of plants. You can spot species of Conifer, Oaks, Shrubs, and broad-leaved herbs. Be in the lookout for deer, western rattlesnakes, woodpeckers, and coyotes.

The American river hike trails passes through many important landmarks in Sacramento. It starts at Discovery Park and ends at Folsom Lake. It also passed through Old Sacramento. You can spot by to try some delicious ice cream, and international food.

10) Castle Lake Trail to Heart Lake

Nina and Garrett from California is for Adventure blog recommend: Castle Lake Trail to Heart Lake

Hiking trail name: Castle Lake Trail to Heart Lake
Hike length: 3 miles
Location: Mount Shasta, California
Difficulty level: Moderate
Doable with kids: Yes
Best Season: July through October (if you come later, bring snowshoes and microspikes!)
Best accommodations/hotel to stay: Lake Siskiyou Camp Resort – This is a great spot to set up camp with your tent or if you have a van. The hike is just 15 minutes away from this campground, and you’ll also enjoy Lake Siskiyou when you return to your site!

Photo by Nina and Garrett

The Castle Lake Trail to Heart Lake is no secret! This popular hike in northern California is one of the best things to do in Mount Shasta—and for good reason!

This is a relatively easy 3-mile round trip trail that takes you to two lakes with beautiful vistas of Mount Shasta.

The hike name is a bit misleading as the first lake you’ll come upon is Castle Lake. You can even put your kayak in and paddle around to cool off after the hike here!

The trail then leads you to Heart Lake, which, when full, does kind of look like a heart. However, it’s Castle Lake from above that you want to see because when viewed from overhead, it REALLY looks like a heart!

Once you make it to Heart Lake, you’ll want to start hiking a bit toward the right, which quickly becomes a rock scramble.

From here, you’ll see Castle Lake from above (which looks like a heart) and Mount Shasta looming majestically in the distance.

Also read: Top 7 easy hikes to do with kids in Yellowstone National Park

11) Sentinel Dome & Taft Point Loop, Yosemite National Park

Caleb and Sarah Pasiuk from The Pazook Travel Journal blog recommend:

Hiking trail name: Sentinel Dome & Taft Point Loop
Hike length: 5 miles
Location: Yosemite National Park
Difficulty level: Moderate
Doable with kids: Yes
Best Season: Spring/Fall
Best accommodations/hotel to stay: Tenaya Creek Lodge

Hiking Taft Point and Sentinel Dome in Yosemite National Park
Photo by Caleb and Sarah Pasiuk

One of the best short hikes in California is the Sentinel Dome & Tafe Point Loop. This 5-mile trail leads past two of the most iconic landmarks in Yosemite National Park.

Starting at the Taft Point Trailhead along Glacier Point Road, visitors can choose to hike the loop either clockwise or counterclockwise. The two main attractions on this hike are each roughly 1 mile from the trailhead, while the path between them is three miles along the edge of the canyon, offering beautiful views of El Capitan and Yosemite Valley. 

The difficulty of this hike is moderate, but with well-maintained trails and little elevation gain, it is doable for families with children or beginners. If it’s your first time in Yosemite, this hike is a great way to get a birds-eye view of the National Park.

12) 49 Palms Oasis, Joshua Tree National Park

Monica from This Rare Earth blog recommends: 49 Palms Oasis

Hiking trail name: 49 Palms Oasis
Hike length: 3.1 miles
Location: Joshua Tree National Park
Difficulty level: Moderate to Difficult
Doable with kids: Yes, but not in summer
Best Season: Winter
Best accommodations/hotel to stay: Camping within the park

49 palm oasis
Photo by Monica

The 49 Palms Oasis Trail in Joshua Tree National Park is a 3.1 mile out and back hike that you can’t miss. It is found in the northern section of the park, close to many other trails and campgrounds. It is a well-marked hike that crosses over rugged hills and ultimately leads to a secluded desert oasis with towering palm trees overhead.

Hikers can climb down under the trees to enjoy the water and shade, but tread carefully – it can be slippery! This hike is not recommended for summer days; there is no shade. If you have never experienced a trek in the desert before, make sure you bring all of the essentials. Pack plenty of water and sunscreen, proper clothing and shoes. Start early, even in the winter.

13) Congress Trail, Sequoia National Park

James Ian from Parks Collecting blog says: Congress Trail

Hiking trail name: Congress Trail
Hike length: 2 miles
Location: The Giant Forest in Sequoia National Park
Difficulty level: Easy
Doable with kids: Yes
Best Season: Summer
Best accommodations/hotel to stay: The Wuksachi Lodge

Sequoia National Park
Photo by James Ian

The Congress Trail starts at the largest tree on the planet – the General Sherman Tree – and loops on a fairly flat and easy-to-follow trail through a stunning forest of lodge-pole pine trees and enormous sequoia trees. 

The largest sequoia trees have been named for historical and political figures – hence the name of the trail.  There are even two small, rare groves of sequoias, which normally grow alone, called the Senate and the House.

Some of the highlights include the President Tree (the fourth largest tree in the world), Chief Sequoya Tree, the McKinley Tree, the Lincoln Tree (the fifth largest tree), and the General Lee tree.  Don’t miss the Room Tree, which is hollowed out inside – and so big that you can go inside it.

If you hike only one trail in Sequoia National Park, this is the one to do!

14) Hidden Valley Nature Trail, Joshua Tree National Park

Sam from Find Love and Travel blog recommends: Hidden Valley Nature Trail

Hiking trail name: Hidden Valley Nature
Hike length: 1 mile
Location: Joshua Tree National Park
Difficulty level: Easy
Doable with kids: Yes
Best Season: Fall through Spring
Best accommodations/hotel to stay: Courtyard by Marriott Palm Desert

Hidden Valley Nature Trail in Joshua Tree National Park
Photo by Sam Oppenheimer

Located near the Western Entrance of Joshua Tree National Park, Hidden Valley Nature Trail is a must-do hike – even with just one day in Joshua Tree.

This short 1-mile loop hike provides the best things you’d expect to see in Joshua Tree. giant boulders, rock climbers, and tons of Joshua Trees. This trail even sees big horn sheep occasionally. 

Since the trail is relatively flat (with some squeezing through boulders) and short, it makes it an easy hike to do with kids and is known as one of the best trails to experience in Joshua Tree National Park.

15) Lady Bird Johnson Grove

Candice, CS Ginger blog recommends: Lady Bird Johnson Grove

Hiking trail name: Lady Bird Johnson Grove
Hike length: 1.5 miles
Location: Redwood National and State Parks
Difficulty level: Easy
Doable with kids: Yes
Best Season: Summer
Best accommodations/hotel to stay: Roosevelt Base Camp Motel and Lodging and Elk Meadows Cabins

Lady Bird Johnson Grove Trail
Photo by Candice

The Lady Bird Johnson Grove Trail is one of the many great trails throughout the National Parks in California. If you are traveling Hwy-101, the trail is only a short 2.6-mile detour down Bald Hills Road. The Bald Hills Road is not recommended for RVs or large vehicles because of the small windy nature and the proximity of the redwood trees to the road.

The trail is easy to access and winds through the old-growth redwood forest with amazing views of the huge redwoods. Parking is easy but not large enough for RVs and trailers. If you have a large RV, you will want to park at the Elk Meadow Day Use Area, which is 4.5 miles away from the trail.

16) Black Hole of Calcutta Falls, Auburn

Emilie from Love Life Abroad blog recommends: Black Hole of Calcutta Falls

Hiking trail name: Black Hole of Calcutta Falls
Hike length: 2.2 miles
Location: Auburn Recreational Area in Northern California
Difficulty level: Easy
Doable with kids: Yes
Best Season: Spring
Best accommodations/hotel to stay: Holiday Inn Auburn

Photo by Emilie Brillon

The Black Hole of Calcutta Falls is a nice short hike to do in Northern California. Located in Auburn State Recreation Area, it’s a great day trip from Sacramento.

It’s a 2.2 miles out-and-black trail that is considered an easy hike, which makes it suitable for hikers of all levels, including families. This trail is open all year-round, but is best in the spring when the water flow is at its strongest and the weather is not too hot.

Most of the trail is on a dirt path with really limited shade. If hiking this trail in the summertime, it’s important to start really early in the morning and plan for lots of water.

The Black Hole of Calcutta Falls passes on the No Hands Bridge to cross the American River and ends at the small Calcutta Falls. It’s possible to enjoy the water before heading back to the trailhead.
There is free parking at the entrance of the trailhead, but there is a parking fee on the main road.

17) South Plateau Trail to Bird Island, Point Lobos

Alyssa at An Apple a Plane blog recommends: South Plateau Trail to Bird Island

Hiking trail name: South Plateau Trail to Bird Island
Hike length: 1.6 miles
Location: Point Lobos State Natural Reserve
Difficulty level: Easy
Doable with kids: Yes
Best Season: Mild temperatures year-round, but weather can change drastically in this region throughout a given day so be prepared with a change of clothing
Best accommodations/hotel to stay: Hyatt Carmel Highlands are a highly rated luxurious option boasting sensational views

Photo by Alyssa

Big Sur is a California gem in its own right.  Glittering turquoise waters beneath cliffside with secret beaches only seems to come from a fairytale.  After hiking a relaxing afternoon, visitors can sit at one of the many benches along the trails for a calm picnic taking in the natural views. 

The park is open year-round daily from 8:00am-5:00pm.  It costs $10 to park inside of the park but is free to park on the street.  Parking inside of the park is limited.

18) Zabriskie Point, Death Valley National Park

Jessica from Uprooted Traveler blog recommends: Zabriskie Point

Hiking trail name: Zabriskie Point
Hike length: 0.4 miles
Location: Death Valley National Park
Difficulty level: Easy
Doable with kids: Yes (even stroller friendly!)
Best Season: Head here in the spring- you’ll get to enjoy warm, but pleasant temperatures and desert wildflowers in bloom
Best accommodations/hotel to stay: The Inn at Death Valley is the definition of an oasis in the desert, with gorgeous palm trees, a swimming pool, and air conditioning, if you happen to be visiting while the park is showing off its record-breaking heat

Photo by Jessica Schmit

Zabriskie Point is one of the most popular things to do in Death Valley National Park and one of its most accessible hikes (including for wheelchair hikers), clocking in at just 0.4 miles roundtrip. You’ll take a paved ramp that gently slopes upwards for 0.2 miles, reaching an overlook. Here, you’ll have incredible views over the surrounding sea of badlands, with stunning brown and caramel striations. 

The eponymous geological feature, Zabriskie Point, is a unique pointed formation, towering over the nearby rolling hills. Its iconic appearance has led to the Point being featured on everything from the cover of a U2 album to multiple movies, including Spartacus. To see the formation in all its splendor, try to hit the trail at sunrise- the pink glow on the badlands and beyond, the Black Mountains, is nothing short of breathtaking.

19) Rainbow Falls, Mammoth Lakes

Priyadarshini from Glorious Sunrise blog recommends: Rainbow Falls

Hiking trail name: Rainbow Falls
Hike length: 5 miles round-trip
Location: Mammoth Lakes in Devil’s Postpile Monument
Difficulty level: Easy
Doable with kids: Yes
Best Season: Summer. The hike is open for a particular date range in summer that changes depending on snow levels in Mammoth Lakes. Always check the park conditions before planning this hike
Best accommodations/hotel to stay: Camping at the Old/New Shady Rest Campgrounds is a good idea. If not, The Westin Monache Resort, The Village Lodge Mammoth are nice options

Photo by Priyadarshini Rajendran

Rainbow Falls is a beautiful waterfalls plunging straight down with a 101-foot drop into San Joaquin River and is a showstopper with multiple rainbows in the pleasant summer days.

The falls hike is not accessible during winters and is usually open at the end of May once the snow is manageable at higher elevations. You will have to take a shuttle from the Mammoth Lakes town to Reds Meadow to start the hike. But you can take your car if you enter the road to Reds Meadow before 7 in the mornings. The hike is beautiful with cool views of the river and there is a steep stairs set down to the falls if you want to play in the water.

Also read: Top 7 places to visit in California this summer!

20) Devil’s Postpile, Mammoth Lakes

Priyadarshini from Glorious Sunrise blog recommends: Devil’s Postpile

Hiking trail name: Devil’s Postpile National Monument
Hike length: 0.8 miles
Location: Mammoth Lakes
Difficulty level: Easy
Doable with kids: Yes
Best Season: Summer. The hike is open for a particular date range in summer that changes depending on snow levels in Mammoth Lakes. Always check the park conditions before planning this hike
Best accommodations/hotel to stay: Camping at the Old/New Shady Rest Campgrounds is a good idea. If not, The Westin Monache Resort, The Village Lodge Mammoth are nice options

Photo by Priyadarshini Rajendran

Devil’s Postpile National Monument is a cool hike passing through meadows and beautiful nature. These unusual rock formations were forged by glacial ice and motlen lava! It is a very short hike to the base of the hexagonal rock structure. After marveling at the gorgeous formation of rocks, if time permits take the stairs to the top to stand on these hexagonal rocks and look at them right from the top of them.

There is a junior ranger program for kids to participate and get a badge at the end of this cool hike. The shuttle stops here as well as at Rainbow Falls.

21) Bear Gulch Caves, Pinnacles National Park

Priyadarshini from Glorious Sunrise blog recommends: Bear Gulch Caves

Hiking trail name: Bear Gulch Caves
Hike length: 2.5 miles
Location: Pinnacles National Park
Difficulty level: Easy
Doable with kids: Yes
Best Season: Spring/Fall
Best accommodations/hotel to stay: Inn at the Pinnacles, The Ranch House, Fairfield Inn Suites Hollister. There are campgrounds inside the park closer to the caves, but advanced reservations are needed.

bear gulch caves pinnacles national park
Photo by Priyadarshini Rajendran

Bear Gulch Caves Hike is an interesting hike through talus caves which are cool rock formations created by volcanic activity. Check the status of the caves on the park website before planning the hike. Sometimes, for bat activity, they are closed.

Make sure that you have a good head lamp or a flashlight for this hike because it is dark in the caves. Stick to the marked path and use guard rails for the steep steps if you come from the reservoir side.

There is a shuttle from the main parking lot to the caves if the parking lots next to visitor center are full.

22) Ladder Canyon and Painted Canyon Loop, Chuckwalla

Deanne from Scenic and Savvy blog recommends: Ladder Canyon and Painted Canyon Loop

Hiking trail name: Ladder Canyon and Painted Canyon Loop
Hike length: 4.9 miles
Location: Mecca Hills Wilderness
Difficulty level: Moderate
Doable with kids: Yes
Best Season: Late fall, winter, or early spring
Best accommodations/hotel to stay: Andreas Hotel and Spa in Palm Springs

Ladder Canyon and Painted Canyon Loop
Photo by Deanne Haines

One of the most fun hikes in California is just under 5 miles roundtrip and includes ladders, wide open panoramas, and colorful canyon walls. The Ladder Canyon and Painted Canyon Loop Trail is in Mecca Hills Wilderness, just south of Joshua Tree National Park, about an hour east of Palm Springs. This interesting trail travels up and over big boulders, through a slot canyon, up and down ladders, and along the top ridge of the canyon. The variety of experiences makes this loop trail popular with adventurous hikers, while the beautiful landscape creates the perfect backdrop for a stunning trek.

23) Methuselah Trail, Inyo National Forest

Shannon from Adventuring With Shannon blog recommends: Methuselah trail

Hiking trail name: Methuselah trail
Hike length: 4 miles
Location: Inyo National Forest
Difficulty level: Moderate (High altitude hiking)
Doable with kids: Yes, but may be a struggle for young children
Best Season: Summer, this area is closed during the winter months
Best accommodations/hotel to stay: The closest town is Big Pine and the best accommodation there is the Starlight Lodge

Methuselah tree hike
Photo by Shannon Lee

One of the best hiking trails in California that is under 5 miles is the Methuselah Trail in Inyo National Forest in eastern California. This trail is located in the heart of the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest and is a truly unique hike.

The trail is home to some of the oldest living trees in the world. Some are measured at over 4000 years old! The Methuselah trail takes you on a path to see some of the most unique bristlecone pines in the forest.

These trees survive at altitudes of over 10,000 ft. and can survive extremely high winds. Because of this, the trees are warped, twisted, and uniquely colored. The trail is a great way to see many of these truly amazing trees.

24) Vernal Falls, Yosemite National Park

Kassidy from The Hiking Helper blog recommends: Vernal Falls

Hiking trail name: Vernal Falls
Hike length: 4 miles
Location: Yosemite National Park
Difficulty level: Tough
Doable with kids: No
Best Season: Summer
Best accommodations/hotel to stay: Yosemite Valley Lodge

Vernal Falls
Photo by Kassidy Olson

This popular hiking trail, found in Yosemite National Park features a 317-foot waterfall that drops over a tall granite cliff.

Your journey will begin along the John Muir trail, which is a long-distance trail that leads through the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California. Eventually, the trail turns into the Mist Trail, and you’ll understand where it got its name very soon. This trail is actually the start of the trail to Half Dome as well.

After about 1.25 miles of hiking, you’ll get your first views of the falls, which you can hear roaring from fairly far away. Continue on up the set of stairs near the falls and you’ll find yourself at the top of Vernal Falls, looking down. This is a nice spot to stop and eat a quick hiking lunch.

While you admire the falls, you’ll feel a cool mist on your face and you may even spot a rainbow.

25) Potato Chip Rock, San Diego

Maria from San Diego Explorer blog recommends: Potato Chip Rock

Hiking trail name: Potato Chip Rock
Hike length: 4.1 miles
Location: Yosemite National Park
Difficulty level: Tough
Doable with kids: No, kids can try if they are fit
Best Season: Spring
Best accommodations/hotel to stay: Hampton Inn & Suites Poway

Photo by Maria Haase

Potato Chip Rock is one of the most iconic hikes in San Diego. The unique stone formation makes for some very instagram-able photos and offers stunning views over San Diego North County. There are several trails that lead to Potato Chip Rock. This one starts on HWY 67 and is the shortest (and steepest).

The trail is only 4.1 miles, but climbs 1220 feet. Many sections on the trail have over 8% grade, mostly on a paved surface road, so hiking poles with a rubber feet make it easier on the joints. To get the famous shot, you will have to climb up and down some large boulders which can be a bit tricky, especially if you are short or not used to climbing.

It gets really hot in the summer, so please visit early in the morning or in the evening and bring plenty of water. The best time to go is on a late weekday afternoon in spring. The hills will be lush and green, you will see wildflowers and if you time it right, catch the sunset. Remember to bring a flashlight or headlamp for your descent in the dark.

26) Arch Rock, Joshua Tree National Park

Christine from Live, Love, Run, Travel blog recommends: Arch Rock

Hiking trail name: Arch Rock
Hike length: 0.6 miles
Location: Joshua Tree National Park
Difficulty level: Easy
Doable with kids: Yes
Best Season: Spring/Fall
Best accommodations/hotel to stay: Best Western Joshua Tree Hotel and Suites

Photo by Christine Wheeler

Joshua Tree has several great short hikes in the park. This is great for anyone wanting to take a Joshua Tree day trip as you can fit in a few different hikes in the park within a few hours.

One of the best hikes in Joshua Tree is the hike to Arch Rock. The hike is only about 0.6 miles (or 1000 meters) round trip. The hike is an easy one although you can choose to make it longer or explore more of the area.

It would be a fun hike with kids who would enjoy climbing on some of the rocks along the trail. Since it is such a short hike with not much elevation change, it is even doable with younger hikers.

This hike is best conquered in the spring or fall. If you go in the summer, make sure to go early in the morning when it is cooler out as there is no shade on this trail. Because it is such a short hike, you can still hike it in the heat of the summer, but use sun protection and take plenty of water.

Best Western Joshua Tree Hotel and Suites is a great option if you are staying overnight in the area. There are also lots of Airbnbs and vacation rentals in the area if you want a more unique stay.

27) Pinecrest Lake, Tuolumne County

Victoria from Bridges and Balloons blog recommends: Pinecrest Lake loop

Hiking trail name: Pinecrest Lake loop
Hike length: 3.9 miles
Location: Tuolumne County
Difficulty level: Moderate
Doable with kids: Yes. But it does require some stamina and isn’t possible with a stroller
Best Season: Spring/Summer
Best accommodations/hotel to stay: The Pinecrest Lake Resort is directly next to the lake and offers basic cabins and motel rooms. It also has a restaurant, café, snack bar, and various shops and rental places

Pinecrest lake
Photo by Victoria Watts Kennedy

Pinecrest Lake in California’s Tuolumne County is a gorgeous place to visit, and the best way to explore it is by doing the Pinecrest Lake Loop. This trail loops the lake and takes you through lush pine woodlands, over granite boulders and past little beaches that edge the lake.

The views across the lake are stunning. The elevation is small, but the path is challenging in places due to the uneven ground and the boulders you need to navigate. It requires some stamina so might be challenging for very little kids. There’s a restroom half way. The trail is well signposted, but beware that the trail splits half way through, so you need to stay left to keep on the lake loop. Or you could also detour right and visit Cleo’s Bath swimming hole.

At the end of the trail, spend some time at the recreation area, enjoying all the lake has to offer. They even have an outdoor cinema during the summer months.

28) West Lake Vista, Westlake Village

Rina from LA Family Travel blog recommends: West Lake Vista

Hiking trail name: West Lake Vista
Hike length: 1.33 miles
Location: Westlake Village
Difficulty level: Easy. Not great for strollers as it’s a dirt path but walkers should have no problem!
Doable with kids: Yes
Best Season: Year-round
Best accommodations/hotel to stay: The luxurious Westlake Village Inn has a wine bar called Stonehaus, a Mediterranean restaurant called Mediterraneo, and even a nightclub named Bogies

Leaving behind the sprawl of Los Angeles and heading west toward Ventura County, the city transforms into hills and wide skies. The landscape quiets down and large family yards replace skyscraper office buildings and strip malls.

In Westlake Village, tucked into the side of an upscale neighborhood, is a wonderful, pet and kid-friendly hike that meanders into hills and passes by a fenced-off reservoir. This is a great, convenient hike, close to the 101 Freeway but not too close.

29) Inspiration Point, Santa Barbara

Daria Bachmann from The Discovery Nut blog recommends: Inspiration Point

Hiking trail name: Inspiration Point
Hike length: 3.4 miles
Location: Santa Barbara
Difficulty level: Moderate. Most of the hike is flat but there are some sections that require uphill walking!
Doable with kids: Yes
Best Season: Year-round
Best accommodations/hotel to stay: Hotel Californian in downtown Santa Bárbara

Image by Tina P. from Pixabay

The best reason to hike to Inspiration Point, Santa Barbara is to see grand vistas of the city, the Central California Coast and Channel Islands National Park in the distance. But you can also see some incredible fall colors as the trail has some mixed vegetation.

30) Convict Lake, Mono County

Priyadarshini from Glorious Sunrise blog recommends: Convict Lake

Hiking trail name: Convict Lake
Hike length: 3 miles
Location: Mono County
Difficulty level: Easy
Doable with kids: Yes
Best Season: Spring/Summer. Avoid winter’s freezing weather
Best accommodations/hotel to stay: Convict Lake Resort or McGee Creek Lodge

Photo by Priyadarshini Rajendran

Convict Lake is a beautiful spot to relax at by drinking in the beautiful views of the turquoise-blue water and Mount Morrison. The water is so clear, you can see the smooth rocks at the lake bottom. Take the loop around the lake to really enjoy all the gorgeous views while getting exercise. The path can get narrow at spots and there are some side paths down to the lake, be mindful of slipping at these parts.

Also read: 5 Most beautiful beach camping spots in California

Top hikes in California that are 5 miles and under!
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Top 30 hikes in California under 5 miles
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About Priyadarshini Rajendran 206 Articles
Priyadarshini Rajendran is a travel enthusiast, avid reader and a passionate writer. She has a few of her books published and is writing more books. Before becoming a full-time writer, she worked as a software consultant taking breaks for her travels. Her blog is her passion and she writes about travel, books and food on the blog. She offers customized itineraries for South Indian destinations.

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