. A northern California hiking guide and photo essay : Budget Travel Adventures

A northern California hiking guide and photo essay

Red Lake Fall colors hiking Hope ValleyMountains, trees, lakes, waterfalls, warm sunshine, and some of the best natural beauty in the world.  While this isn’t the Swiss Alps and you won’t hike to Mount Everest, northern California hiking trails offer some of the best scenery and views in the world.

A northern California hiking guide

Picture a canvas with brushstrokes of green and brown going to the top.  Painted alongside is a dark blue color washed in mystery.  Above is a wisp of white and gray which casts a silhouette over the dark blue abyss.  At the bottom we see a golden color stretching across as a tapestry of colors comes together in the distance creating a bright, glorious city.

Welcome to Muir Woods National Monument and Mt Tamalpais State Park!

Northern California hiking trails offer a variety of landscapes and colors.  Enjoy the hillsides above the San Francisco Bay or hike along the cliffs of a beach enshrouded in fog.

Head to the northeast and escape to the tranquil mountains of the Sierra Nevadas.  Lake Tahoe is one of the most pristine lakes in the world.  Its deep blue color is surrounded on all sides as the mountain peaks of Mount Tallac and his brethren keep a watchful eye to preserve its innocence and beauty.

Get away from Tahoe and enter the back roads and highways where trees and lakes are tucked away.  There you will discover the Fall colors and small town charm in towns like Hope Valley and Markleeville.

California has hot springs, caves, and a number of lakes as you embark on a journey to discover her hidden beauty.  Get the view from above from one of the highest peaks in the area as you look out over the mountains and creation.

Round Top will test your stamina and legs but will reward you with some of the most beautiful lakes in the area, including a long distance view of Lake Take.  Just a few miles from South Lake Tahoe, Horsetail Falls may be the most spectacular waterfall not found in Yosemite.

For those who love North Lake Tahoe, the Mt Judah trail offers panoramic views of Donner Lake, the Sierra Nevada Mountains, and plenty of lakes and trees from high atop Mt Judah.

Nearby, you can relax with friends or family for a casual stroll through Apple Hill to enjoy some food, easy hikes, and a sense of community.

There’s so much of California to explore when it comes to hiking.  Some of the most famous places in the world are here as Yosemite National Park welcomes tourists every year to waterfalls, fertile valleys, and mountain top experiences.

Heading up north, you head towards the highest peak in California – Mount Whitney.  Or you can head to the coast and enjoy coastal towns along Highway 1 as you journey to Fort Bragg and Mendocino.

Any time of year is great for visiting California.  For me, Fall is my favorite time of year.  Many weekend getaways in northern California will allow you to escape and see a different side of this state – far away from the movie stars, beaches, and world famous city by the bay.

Without a doubt, California offers hikers every type of scenery you could imagine.  And if a few photos of these places aren’t enough to convince you, come see the canvas of colors and creation that northern California hiking trails have to offer.

Where are you favorite places to hike in northern California?

Lake Tahoe hiking Round Top

Round Top – view of Lake Tahoe
Round Top peak Lake Tahoe hiking

Jeremy Branham Round Top

Woods Lake Round Top lake Lake Tahoe California hiking

(L to R) Woods Lake (large), Round Top lake, Lake Tahoe (right)

Round Top Lake California hiking Lake Tahoe

Round Top lake

Three Sisters Round Top Lake Tahoe hiking

Three Sisters – Round Top

Woods Lake Round Top Lake Tahoe hiking

Woods Lake – Round Top


Muir Woods National Monument hiking trees

Muir Woods National Monument

Muir Woods National Monument California hiking Hillside trail

Muir Woods National Monument

Muir Woods California hiking Redwood trees

Muir Woods National Monument

Mt Tamalpais California hiking in the fog

Mt Tamalpais hiking in the fog

Mt Tamalpais State Park Redwood trees fog San Francisco hiking

Mt Tamalpais State Park – Redwood trees in the fog

Mt Tamalpais hiking trail in the fog San Francisco hiking

Mt Tamalpais hiking trail in the fog

Mt Tamalpais hiking trail in the fog San Francisco hiking

Mt Tamalpais State Park


Mt Tamalpais fog over San Francisco California hiking

Mt Tamalpais State Park – fog over San Francisco

Apple Hill hiking in the woods hiking

Apple Hill hiking in the woods

Apple Hill hiking mountains hiking

Apple Hill

Hope Valley creek Fall colors Lake Tahoe hiking

Hope Valley

Hope Valley Fall colors mountains valley trees Lake Tahoe hiking

Hope Valley

Hope Valley California hiking cabins Fall colors

Hope Valley

Hope Valley Fall colors California hiking

Hope Valley

Red Lake Hope Valley Fall colors California hiking

Hope Valley – Red Lake

Hope Valley hiking Fall colors

Hope Valley

Markleeville Fall colors Lake Tahoe hiking


Markleeville creek Fall colors Lake Tahoe hiking


Markleeville creek trees Fall colors Lake Tahoe hiking


Markleeville Fall colors mountains Lake Tahoe hiking


Grover Hot Springs creek Fall colors Lake Tahoe hiking

Grover Hot Springs

Grover Hot Springs trees mountains Lake Tahoe hiking

Grover Hot Springs

Grover Hot Springs mountain trees Lake Tahoe hiking

Grover Hot Springs

Mount Tallac Lake Tahoe hiking

Lake Tahoe – Mount Tallac

Baldwin Beach Lake Tahoe hiking

Lake Tahoe – Baldwin Beach

Horsetail Falls waterfall Tahoe hiking

Horsetail Falls is one of the best waterfalls in California

Horsetail Falls Lake Tahoe hiking Yosemite views

Horsetail Falls offers views similar to Yosemite

Donner Peak Donner Lake Mt Judah Trail Truckee Tahoe hiking

Donner Peak and Donner Lake views from the Mt Judah Trail

Mt Jduah trail Sierra Nevada Mountains Tahoe hiking

Mountain views from another planet – views from the top of Mt Judah trail

Related posts:

Filed Under: CaliforniaDestinationsHikingnorthern CaliforniaUSA


RSSComments (31)

Leave a Reply | Trackback URL

  1. Northern California has so many gorgeous hiking trails. I love to go out to Point Reyes and do one of the beach hikes in the summer. Last week, I was hiking the beautiful Palomarin trail in Bolinas and passed a naked hiker! Needless to say, he didn’t have any tans lines :)

    • The sad thing about these photos is that I’ve been to so many other places but I didn’t take any pictures! Some of these were years ago, including Point Reyes.

      There are SO many places I want to visit and hike. I’ve hardly done the Bay area at all but still love Tahoe the best. As for a naked hiker, that wouldn’t surprise me at all.

      Do you have a favorite hike in the area?

  2. Jenna says:

    LOL about the naked hiker. Yikes.
    These photos are a great inspiration for me to explore these areas when we have nice weather. I love these areas but haven’t done much hiking, which is the best way to really see the area.

    • A naked hiker in the Bay area? Wouldn’t bat an eye! :)

      I want to do more hiking this year. As I told Annie, I’ve been to more places but didn’t have a camera with me. Hoping I will do more this year.

      Have you done any hiking trails around here? Do you have a favorite area (that doesn’t involve some wine)? :)

  3. Barbara says:

    Wonderful pictures!!! I LOVE Northern California hiking… although Baldwin Beach looks divine for lingering. I’ll be checking out Lassen this summer, which is apparently the least requested park in California. We’ll see, but I’m happy to see that there’s an endless amount to explore.

    • Thanks Barbara. I’m always looking for more places to explore so maybe I will have to go to Lassen this summer as well. I just checked the directions to see how far it would be. When are you going there? Maybe you could give me a report on what you like. Are you going by yourself? It’s a long drive for me so I want to do a little planning for this. Thanks for the idea!

      If I don’t make it, I will try and find some other places this summer. Do you have a favorite hiking/outdoors place in California?

  4. What a gorgeous photo essay. The lead photo from Hope Valley reminds me of Lake in the Clouds in Michigan, which is perhaps the most beautiful overlook in the Midwest.

    • I wish I had more photos than this. I’ve been to a few more places but didn’t have a camera or can’t find the photos.

      Hope Valley is one of my favorite places to go in the Fall. I hope I can make it back again this year. I need to venture out a little more and explore some areas beyond Hope Valley. As for Lake in the Clouds, I will have to check it out. I’ve yet to visit Michigan.

      I know you love Quetico but other than that, do you have a favorite hiking trail? I know you had your bucket list killers that you listed but what about one that you didn’t list on there?

  5. Mike Collins says:

    Jeremy I have to say that is a really fantastic photo essay! Not only are the pictures really inviting but the colors alone just make you want to be there.

    It must have been a great time!

    • Thanks Mike. I love hiking in the area and wish I had even more photos and went to even more places. I hope to check out more hiking spots this year. And now that I have a better camera, I look forward to taking more photos with better quality than those! :)

      Do you enjoy hiking? Do you have any favorite spots?

      Congrats on the new site. I will have to check it out when I get a spare minute. I will try and take a look at things this week. I know you said you were looking for some guest posts. I think I read on food. What was the idea behind the new site?

  6. Mike Collins says:

    I hiked the A. Trail a few years ago and that was pretty amazing. The best spots for hiking for views (for me anyway) is coastal Maine. Mt. Katahdin is really awesome.

    My new blog is called Couch Crack. I have so many friends that always tell me if they had the money they would travel. So I decided to write a blog about great travel you can do cheap. Not the normal “budget travel” niche but more of an alternative travel blog that focuses on things like Street Food (which is often better than high priced restaurants) and free or cheap activities that are just as great as the things so many people pay a lot of money for.

    Like hiking is certainly one of the things that costs very little to do compared to “touristy” activities.

  7. You’re right, Jeremy, it might not be the Alps or Everest, the trails are so beautiful. Your photos are like postcards. Makes me want to lace up my boots and hike!

    • Thanks! Taking photos like these isn’t hard when you’ve got scenery like this to work with! :)

      Do you have any favorite hiking trails in California? Do you have a favorite place elsewhere that you like to get away?

  8. Barbara says:

    Let me know if you get up to Lassen, Jeremy! I’m going in June to beat the crowds and I want to see it because of all the volcanic activity. After that, I heard the Redwoods up north are divine. Then I want to hit Death Valley… and on and on…. :)

    • I just read that the road to Lassen is closed right now. By June, I hope it will be open. I am not sure where my hiking and travels will take me this summer in California.

      As for your travels, this all sound great. I don’t think I would do Death Valley in August though. :)

  9. What a beautiful photo essay. Northern Cali is definitely on my bucket list now!

    • Thanks! There is still WAY more than I have covered. I feel bad that I haven’t done more. You could spend months hiking around California.

      Is there a specific place that you want to see?

  10. Ahhh, Lake Tahoe – one of my favorite places in California! We haven’t done much hiking there, but we did get a chance to go off-roading a bit two years ago. We even saw a black bear!

    • Christy, I make a trip to Lake Tahoe every year. I LOVE IT!! Tahoe is my escape from the noise and I enjoy the peace and quiet in a cabin not far from the lake. Unfortunately, a black bear broke into the cabin we normally stay in a couple of years ago and smashed things up pretty good. Thankfully, no one was there.

      So while the bears are cute they are definitely something to watch our for!

      When is the last time you were in Tahoe? Do you have a favorite area up there?

  11. Sadly, all I’ve seen of California is LA. And Alcatraz. :(

    • You haven’t experience the real California then! There is definitely more to California than LA and San Francisco. There are actually some surprising numbers about California that most people would find interesting. However, I would just encourage you to see more of it now! :)

      Is there a place you really want to visit here in California?

  12. Phil says:

    Ahhh. So many people have told me I need to go to Northern California. Their reasons don’t include photos like this, though!! Now it’s just a matter of figuring out when I can make this trip happen!

    • I used to take where I live for granted. Not any more. I love this area. I am going hiking again this weekend and I think the scenery on this one may be the most beautiful yet.

      If you make it out this way, let me know. Are there any places you really want to see?

  13. Robb714 says:

    Beautiful, breathtaking, remarkable! Such a great place to see nature at its best! I loved these pictures and the memories they bring back, thanks for sharing.

    • Thanks Robb! Glad you liked the photos. Are you from here or have you just visited some of these places?

      I plan on doing another beautiful hike this weekend. California has so many beautiful areas!

  14. What a fantastic post. I love California, yet unfortunately made it only to some of its southern areas despite earlier plans. The rest of it is still on my bucket list, and even more so after this post.

    • You definitely need to check out northern California. I did another hike this weekend (I posted a few photos but will post more later this week) and the scenery here is spectacular. I like southern California two but both are very different. Aside from San Francisco and maybe Big Sur/Carmel/Monterey and Tahoe, many people ignore this area. I’ve lived here for 11 years now and think it is beautiful.

      I know I am a little biased but the more I explore and discover, the more I love the beauty of this area. There are still LOTS of places I want to see but if you love the outdoors, northern California has a lot of diversity.

  15. Laurel says:

    You definitely inspired me to want to hike in Northern California! I’ve only hiked in John Muir Woods which was fabulous.

Leave a Reply

If you want a picture to show with your comment, go get a Gravatar.

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.