Best Autumn Hikes In California

One of the many reasons we love California is that it’s perfect for hiking all year. Every season has some specialties to offer though and there’s some extremes which is good to know about. We’ve started this series to show you our favorite California hikes for all the seasons. Let’s start with autumn, so you can make use of it immediately!

California’s weather

Best Autumn Hikes In California: Pinnaces National Park, California, USA

It’s hard to say anything in general about California’s weather because there are high mountains as well as deserts or ocean coast in this big state. Actually, that’s why we could find perfect hiking places in each season because there’s so much variety. If I really have to say something in general I’d say it’s usually sunny and warm (or hot), it rarely rains and only in the winter. No wonder that Californians love beings outdoors.

What about autumn?

Best Autumn Hikes In California: Palm Canyon Trail, Southern California, USA

A lot of places which are too hot during late spring or summer become pleasant by autumn – typically southern and continental parts of California and the deserts. It’s funny but the contrary is equally true: places which are too windy and foggy during the summer become pleasant by autumn – typically coastal hikes.

Pinnacles National Park

Best Autumn Hikes In California: Pinnaces National Park, California, USA

Pinnacles is the newest national park in the US and it’s a real gem hidden in California’s continental areaWe found its amazing rock formations unique in the whole US! Actually, probably this park is more well-known among rock climbers than hikers, because the rock formations are paradise for them – and they were paradise for our eyes, especially while hiking Condor Gulch and High Peaks Trails.

We loved hiking the trails leading through caves – just make sure you have flashlight. It’s not hard to get through the caves and it’s a lot of fun!

Best Autumn Hikes In California: Pinnaces National Park, California, USA

With its highest peak being only 3304 feet (1007 metres) Pinnacles is hot in spring and summer. Damn hot. If you want to enjoy your hike we recommend to plan it in late autumn or winter. We prefer autumn because you can see beautiful fall colors – no, not compared to East Coast or Colorado fall colors but compared to California fall colors which bearly exist. 🙂

Hikes that we loved
Short hikes:

  • Balconies Cave Trail (from West Entrance)
  • Bear Gulch Cave Trail (from East Entrance)
Day hike: Condor Gulch Trail – High Peaks loop

  • starting on Condor Gulch Trail from the Bear Gulch Day Use Area
  • to High Peaks
  • then return to Bear Gulch Day Use Area on Bear Gulch Cave Trail
  • optionally to North Chalone Peak and back from Bear Gulch Reservoir if you want to make it even longer

Read more about our hikes in Pinnacles National Park here!

Indian Canyons, Palm Springs

Best Autumn Hikes In California: Indian Canyons, Palm Springs, CA, USA

I would have never thought that I would enjoy hiking in a desert. Neither that I would water my hat during a hike in late November – I’m very inexperienced, I know. 🙂 Both happened and a lot more in the Indian Canyons near Palm Springs in Southern California. We already have a post about these amazing hikes in the palm canyons that you can read for further details.

Late autumn and winter are definitely the best seasons to go. Oh, and we enjoyed very much that we could feel like it’s peak of the summer in November.

Hikes that we loved
Short hikes:

  • Andreas Canyon
  • Murray Canyon
Day hike: Palm Canyon Trail

Our best information source was: Indian Canyons Homepage

Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve

Best Autumn Hikes In California: Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve, California, USA

We love Torrey Pines! We’ve hiked a lot along the California coastline and we’ve seen such awesome places. Torrey Pines is one of our favorites with its deep ravines, high broken cliffs and the beautiful Torrey Pines Beach. Though it’s one of those places which are perfect to visit all year, probably hiking is the most pleasant in autumn or winter since it’s located in Southern California.

Best Autumn Hikes In California: Torrey Pines State Beach, California, USA

Most of the hikes are short, but we could easily spend a day visiting several trails and chilling out on the beach.

Hikes that we loved
Short hikes:

  • Razor Point Trail
  • Yucca Point Trail & Beach Trail

Our best information source was: Torrey Pines Homepage

Point Lobos State Natural Reserve

Best Autumn Hikes In California: Point Lobos, California, USA

Point Lobos is a park located in the Monterey Bay area – if you don’t know what that means let us help: seals, sea lions, sea otters, seabirds, dolphins and whales close to the shore! The Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary has a unique ocean environment with incredible variety of marine life. We could see a lot from that even from the shore. Not to mention the coastal scenery itself…

And what is special in autumn?

October is the start of the grey whales migration from the Arctic feeding grounds to Baja California, Mexico. At Monterey Bay they really come close to the shore so you have good chances to spot grey whales even from the shore – we did and not only once during our coastal hikes.

Best Autumn Hikes In California: Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, California, USA

I don’t remember the name for any trail in Point Lobos but these are short trails following the shoreline, they sometimes lead to hidden coves. I don’t think it’s possible not to find your way in this small park – and you get a map at the entrance anyway. Even though it’s small we could spend a day there not even noticing the time passing by while observing seals, sea otters and whales. Binoculars is an incredibly useful thing you can have here!

Our best information source was: Point Lobos Homepage

Muir Woods National Monument

Best Autumn Hikes In California: Muir Woods National Monument, CA, USA

Autumn is also a great time to start your hikes in the San Francisco Bay Area that looks and feels like a desert from late spring until autumn. Muir Woods is just north of San Francisco and is one of the most popular places to see the tallest trees on Earth: redwoods. It’s definitely the most easily accessible redwood forest.

The short Redwood Creek Trail is fully accessible and if you are up to a longer hike you can follow the trails leading to Mount Tamalpais State Park. Just be prepared to arrive early to Muir Woods or use their park & ride shuttle because it’s popular and parking is limited.

Hikes that we loved
Short hike: Redwood Creek Trail
Day hike: trails in Mount Tamalpais State Park

  • Stinson Beach via Ben Johnson, Steep Ravine and Dipsea Trails

Our best information source was: NPS Muir Woods Homepage

Big Sur

Best Autumn Hikes In California: Big Sur, California, USA

California Highway 1 is a very famous scenic drive – and for a good reason! It has breathtaking ocean vistas and if you are lucky you can even see dolphins and whales jumping out of the water or seals lying on the shore. Big Sur is a section of Highway 1 – the most beautiful section in our opinion.

And not only you can stop at the pullouts to admire the panoramas but there are also a lot of hiking opportunities along the coastline and in the mountains.

Best Autumn Hikes In California: Big Sur, California, USA

We’ve done a lot of short, very scenic trails in this area: picturesque bays, redwoods, small creeks and waterfalls, huge cliffs… It’s a place to return every time you want to recharge in nature’s beauty. There’s often dense fog along Big Sur’s coastline in the morning (especially in summer) but if you are lucky it will be gone by noon.

Hikes that we loved
Short walks:

  • McWay Waterfall Trail
  • Partington Cove Trail
Short hikes:

  • Ewoldsen Trail
  • Salmon Creek Trail
Day hike: Andrew Molera Loop (Beach Trail – Bluffs Trail – Panorama Trail – Ridge Trail)

Our best information source was: Hikingbigsur

Santa Rosa-San Jacinto Mountains National Monument

Best Autumn Hikes In California: Santa Rosa-San Jacinto Mountains National Monument, CA, USA

Located in Southern California this desert and mountain park is another place to visit for hiking from late October until early spring. We haven’t hiked too much in this park but the loveliest hike we found here was a short trail to Lake Cahuilla that is a great spot to hang around all day long.

Best Autumn Hikes In California: Lake Cahuilla, Southern California

By the way, the lake is also accessible by car directly but it’s just more fun to take the short trail through the desert.

Hikes that we loved
Short hikes:

  • Cove To Lake Cahuilla
  • Bear Creek Trail

Our best information source was: La Quinta hiking

Now this was what we’ve found. Do you have a favorite autumn hike?

What to wear

Best Autumn Hikes In California: Muir Woods National Monument, CA, USA

We don’t think we need to tell you how to dress up on a pleasant autumn day. Or how to dress up for a casual hike. But we have some suggestions that can surely make your autumn hikes in California more enjoyable:

  • A pair of comfortable waterproof hiking boots: that’s the most important thing when you go hiking! We prefer those types that support our ankles, too – like this one for men, this one for women -, but the downside is that they are a bit heavier, too. Well, to each his own (and we are strong, anyway 😀 ).
  • Windbreaker (for men, for women): no matter the season, the ocean coast can be quite windy. An easily packable windbreaker is always useful, and if it’s waterproof, as well, even better.
  • Cap (for men, for women): even though we always use sunscreen on our hikes, we like protecting our head and face from the sun by wearing a cap
  • Trekking poles: some of these terrains are easier, some are more challenging, but none of them are flat. Trekking poles can help reduce the strain on your knees, especially when walking downhill. They also improve your balance when hiking on rough terrain or crossing a wild mountain stream.
  • Hiking socks: any kind of comfy socks, because you need to spoil your feet when hiking. 🙂 Merino wool is a good material because it keeps your feet warm and fresh, you can benefit from it both in cold and warm weather.
  • Insulated water bottle: it keeps your drink cold, and you can refill it, so you treat our planet well

More seasonal hikes in California

We’ve started this series to show you our favorite California hikes for all the seasons. You can get ideas for the best early spring, late spring, summer and winter hikes, too.


Autumn hikes in California

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By Beata Urmos

Bea is the co-founder of Our Wanders. She’s the writer and the trip organizer, and she’d love to help you plan your own amazing trips! She likes hiking, good novels and chocolate, as well. Her motto is: “A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.” (John A. Shedd)


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