The Best California Trails to #OptOutside on This Black Friday

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Forget long lines and pre-dawn shopping. We've got a better way to spend the day after Thanksgiving.

Sure, you could camp out to get a deal on that new big-screen, but wouldn't you rather pitch your tent at a campsite or trailhead than in a big box store parking lot? If you're one of the Californians lucky enough to have November 25 off this year, you know what to do: spend it in the great outdoors.

When it comes to hiking trails in the Golden State, diversity is king. From top to bottom, California offers an immense range of terrain, weather conditions, and difficulty—which gives you a smorgasbord of options to choose from. From lush forests to volcanoes, here are eight perfect ways to #OptOutside in California this year.

Lake Siskiyou Trail

Location: Shasta National Forest
Length: 7 miles
Difficulty Rating: Easy

Lake Siskiyou Trail can be summed up in one word: pleasant. Use your day off to take a leisurely, seven-mile-long stroll down a wide, well-maintained, and fairly flat path. Follow as it wraps around Lake Siskiyou and crosses the suspension bridge. You’ll easily spot Mount Shasta and its surrounding mountains. The trail can be completed in whole or explored in smaller loops, and although well-traveled, it’s usually quiet. Lake Siskiyou Trail is open all year, but it tends to see snow in cooler months.

Maps and essential beta here.

Eagle Creek and Yosemite Falls

Location: Yosemite National Park
Length: 11 miles
Difficulty Rating: Difficult

Yosemite Falls with Half Dome in the background | Photo: Ray Bouknight under CC BY-SA

This combo hike hits you almost immediately with continuous switchbacks. Starting off on Yosemite Trail, be careful as you ascend; there are some severe drops along the way. When you hit Colombia Rock, stop and take in the beauty of the Valley and Yosemite Falls, and take a breather—although not overly technical, the trail is quite steep from there on out. Eagle Peak Trail eases you up onto one of northern Yosemite’s most expansive vantage points, and one of the most unique in the park. Find solitude here, even on a holiday weekend, as few visitors take the time to trek to the top.

Maps and essential beta here.

Saratoga Gap Trail

Location: Castle Rock State Park
Distance: 3.6 miles
Difficulty Rating: Easy/Intermediate

Saratoga Gap Trail is short, sweet, and family friendly. The mostly-singletrack path gives you a little bit of everything: ups and downs, light scrambling, and varied terrain. During the first part of the hike, you’ll be surrounded by a forest of tall pines and oaks. Make your way through lichen-covered boulders, and eventually the trail breaks out of the forest, hugging a ridge. There, you'll see a spanning view of the Santa Cruz Mountains.

Maps and essential beta here.

Mt. Whitney, the Mountaineer's Route

Location: John Muir Wilderness
Distance: 9.2 miles
Difficulty Rating: Extremely difficult

At a little over nine miles and reaching more than 14,000 feet in elevation, hiking Mt. Whitney is no small feat, especially via the mountaineer's route. This technical trail is a fantastic entry into the world of high-elevation hikes. Pass several lakes and check out views of the surrounding peaks throughout the entire Class 3 route. Eschew the popular (and often crowded) Mt. Whitney trail for this more adventurous route—just be sure to secure a permit before you head out.

Golden Canyon

Location: Death Valley National Park
Length: 2.8 miles
Difficulty Rating: Easy/Intermediate

Yosemite Falls with Half Dome in the background | Photo: Ray Bouknight under CC BY-SA

 

As a short, easier trail in the intensely hot climate, Golden Canyon is a prime hike to get a good glimpse of Death Valley and still have plenty of time left over to explore other areas of the park. Though only a few miles long, the out-and-back trail ascends for nearly the entire first half. The smooth path cuts right through the bright, harsh environment, classic of the badlands. Golden Canyon isn’t a hard hike, but it’s still in Death Valley, so bring plenty of water—even in November.

Maps and essential beta here.

Mist Trail

Location: Yosemite National Park
Length: 1.6 miles
Difficulty Rating: Intermediate/Difficult

Short and steep, the Mist Trail is one of Yosemite's most iconic trails. Its 1,466 feet of vertical climbing in only 1.6 miles makes it challenging but worth it for the vantage points of both Vernal (317 feet tall) and Nevada Falls (594 feet tall). True to its name, be prepared to get a bit wet; the trail takes you close enough to the falls to walk through their mist. While the falls flow heavier in the spring due to melting snow, the crisp temperatures in the Valley during late fall months make for perfect hiking weather.

Maps and essential beta here.

Chantry Flats, Mt. Wilson Loop

Location: Angeles National Forest
Length: 15.3 miles
Difficulty Rating: Intermediate/Difficult

Mount Wilson is a hallmark of southern California. The long loop out of Chantry Flats has a steady, strenuous incline, taking you past small creeks and falls over 15 miles of the Big Santa Anita Canyon. You'll gain a total of 4,234 vertical feet on your hike, and your route takes you right by the Mt. Wilson Observatory. Stop there for a guided tour of the facilities once used by Harlow Shapley and Edwin Hubble before heading back to the parking lot.

Bumpass Hell Trail

Location: Lassen Volcanic National Park
Length: 3.2 miles
Difficulty Rating: Intermediate

A look at the boardwalk as it passes through Bumpass Hell | Photo: Hiking Project contributor David Hitchcock

If you have kids, wow them by leading them on this family-friendly hike through an active volcanic park. Bumpass Hell Trail passes by steaming sulfur vents, simmering mud pots, and boiling pools. The thermal pools glitter bright blue—a stunning contrast against the light dustings of snow that are common beginning in late November. Along the boardwalk, you’ll get a great look at remnants of the Mount Tehama, a volcano that erupted 400,000 years ago.

Maps and essential beta here.

Still looking for the perfect way to #OptOutside? Find a trail near you:

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