Travel

The Top 20 Must-Do Adventures In California

With the Sierra Nevada Mountains, redwood forests, pristine beaches, and out-of-this-world desert landscapes, there are more than enough reasons to pack your bags and head to the Golden State.
12/09/2015 09:31am ET | Updated December 3, 2016

Written by Anna Cohen, Contributor and Explorer for The Outbound Collective

When you think of California, the first things that come to mind might be movie stars, avocados, and tech. But if you love outdoor adventure, then California has so much more to offer. With the Sierra Nevada Mountains, redwood forests, pristine beaches, and out-of-this-world desert landscapes, there are more than enough reasons to pack your bags and head to the Golden State. Check out these 20 must-do adventures and start making your plans today.

There's nothing like exploring the redwood forests in California. These are the tallest trees on the planet and spending a few days and nights among them is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Learn more.

Take a soak in this hot spring with stunning views of the Eastern Sierra. The tub is large enough to fit approximately 30 people so bring the whole crew! Learn more.

Theodore Roosevelt referred to these falls as the "eighth wonder of the world". Head out on this short hike to see for yourself. Learn more.

This is a longer hike at 10 miles each way but the reward is so worth it. Go during the off season (not summer) for smaller crowds. Learn more.

Joshua Tree is one of California's most unique and completely awe-inspiring landscapes. The rock formations are out of a science fiction movie and camping at White Tank Campground is a perfect base camp for adventuring around the park. Learn more.

There are a few thru hikes in California worth adding to this list and the JMT is one of the most coveted. Check out Kristen Bor's Top 10 Campsites on the John Muir Trail to learn about the best places to set up camp on your trek. Learn more.

Just an hour outside of LA is the tallest mountain in LA County, Mt. Baldy. The drive is the easy part...at 13 miles and nearly 6,000 ft of elevation gain, this one is not for the faint-of-heart. Learn more.

The star of Yosemite, Half Dome is truly out of this world. One of the most dangerous day hikes you can do, hiking to the top of Half Dome is at the top of most adventurers' to do lists. It's a long, challenging hike, that's well worth the work and risk involved. Learn more.

Standing at over 14,500 ft tall, Mt. Whitney is the highest peak in the contiguous United States. So, it's easy to see why summiting this peak is one of the top adventures you can have in California. The trip is about 22 miles roundtrip, with an elevation gain of 6,100 ft. It can be done in a day, just make sure you get an early start. And by early, read before the sun comes up. Views of lakes, rivers, cliffs, and waterfalls await you. Sign your name in the log, and hike back down with bragging rights. Learn more.

An island camping escape is a mere 50 minute boat ride away from the southern California coast. Two Harbors campground is unique with the ample ocean views, running water and access to a plethora of hikes and trails. Learn more.

After you've bagged an Eastern Sierra peak, you deserve a little soaking to soothe your aching feet and tired muscles. Luckily, Travertine Hot Springs provides exactly that. Even if you haven't bagged any peaks, you still deserve a little relaxation. Learn more.

Hike to a beautiful and rare waterfall (tidefall), plummeting 40ft until it reaches the ocean. Enjoy stunning views of the Pacific combined with varying terrain through forests, tall brush, and exposed dirt trails. If you hike to falls during the summer, take a swim in Bass Lake on the way back to the trailhead. Learn more.

13. Hike and Rock Climb at Saddle Peak

Photo: Cameron Gardner

This hike is super easy, yet beautiful and a perfect place to get away from the city. If you're into rock climbing and slacklining...you'll love this place even more. Learn more.

If you're looking for wide open spaces, Death Valley has them. There's a ton to see and do here from the casual family camping trip to more extreme backpacking. You can see even more if you have a 4 wheel drive and a lot of time. Either way you will definitely enjoy it! Learn more.

Muir Woods is quintessential redwood groves. Although not as massive as the redwoods up north, the trails here are unbelievably serene. Learn more.

Do natural granite waterslides and swimming holes do it for you? Just an hour south of Lake Tahoe, this is a summer camping trip paradise. Learn more.

Cone Peak is the most spectacular coastal mountain in the Lower 48 States. At 5,155' high and less than 3 miles from the ocean, the average gradient from summit to sea is 33%, which is steeper than Mt. Whitney to Owens Valley. Learn more.

Keep an eye out for wildlife! This hike will take you through the Tule Elk Preserve in Point Reyes National Seashore, and offers fantastic views of Bodega and Tomales Bay, as well as the Pacific Ocean. Learn more.

This is a challenging hike, but so worth it for what lies at the top. Deadman Lake is the epitome of the gorgeous, turquoise, mountain lake. If you've been looking for that picture perfect Sierra Nevada scene, you should put Deadman Lake at the very top of your list. This can be done as a day hike, or there is room for camping near the lake if you'd rather spend the night. Learn more.

It doesn't get much more California than grabbing your surfboard and walking to the beach from your campsite. Go to sleep and wake up to the sound of the waves then spend the day playing in them. Learn more.

Don't see your favorite California adventure on The Outbound? Show us by creating an adventure.

Remember to always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and be sure to brush up on LNT principles for backcountry fires as well.

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