Best Hiking Trails in Southern California

The state of California offers some of the most exciting outdoor adventures that anyone can enjoy. You do not have to look far to find activities to fill your day with outdoor fun here! One of the most rewarding activities to do here is check out one of the many hiking trails in Southern California.

Between the deserts and mountains, you can find many rewarding views and trails to satisfy your taste for adventure. So, come along with Shannon from FitLifeTravel as she shares the California hiking experience by taking you to the best hiking trails in southern California.

Hiking through history and stunning hiking trails in Southern California

Indulge yourself in these best hiking trails in southern California with plenty of amazing adventure, historical sites, and beautiful nature!

The most rare feature that you may encounter at some of these southern California hiking trails is waterfalls. You may also notice some of the waterfalls on the trails may be dry during certain times of the year. During winter and spring seasons, the falls usually have more water flowing.

Of course, however, the climate in southern California is perfect for any type of outdoor adventures throughout the entire year.  

See also: Gear Guide: Must Haves for Camping and Hiking

Los Penasquitos Canyon Preserve Trail

Located near the middle of the city of San Diego is an interestingly diverse little trail. At first it gives the impression that there is not much to it. As you proceed into the trail, the path begins to change from dirt and mud to gravel rocks then you will find yourself climbing up large boulders.

Along the trail, there is a historical burial grave. The late Prince John Joseph Eichar, one of the areas early pioneers; is said to be buried here. 

Historical Feature in Los Penasquitos Canyon Preserve Trail

Although several folks lived in this canyon during the late 1800s, Eichar is the only known person to have been buried and lived in this canyon. This hiking trail consists of a distance of 6.8 miles round trip with a mostly flat and scenic route. The ending of the trail will take you to a higher elevation and here is where you will see a few small waterfalls. Surrounding these small waterfalls are large boulders projecting from the earth.

Los Penasquitos Canyon Preserve Trail. Best Hiking Trails in Southern California
Los Penasquitos Canyon Preserve Trail. Best Hiking Trails in Southern California

Exploring Three Sisters Falls Trail

The best time to enjoy this awesome trail in Southern California is during the winter and spring rainy seasons. It consists of a beautiful trek with lots of trail variation and lovely rolling hills along the way. You will find this trail in the eastern part of San Diego County, in the Cleveland National Forest in California, Pine Valley. There are no facilities out here, so remember to come prepared with the essentials like water, sunscreen, and snacks.

Three Sisters Falls Trail in Southern California
Three Sisters Falls Trail

Tahquitz Canyon Trail

Palm Springs is probably more known as a second Hollywood hangout for actors, actresses and other artistic enthusiasts. But you would be surprised to know that it is home to one of the most pretty hiking trails in the area. Although the trail is quite short at a distance of two miles, the Tahquitz Canyon trail offers pretty landscapes and a rare 40 plus foot waterfall.  

Many outdoor enthusiasts discover and know the Tahquitz Canyon as a pleasant hiking spot. But it is actually the ancestral home of the Aqua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians of which they stewarded for many years.    

Tahquitz Canyon waterfall
Tahquitz Canyon waterfall

Hiking through Annie’s Canyon

A short trail offering beautiful geological features is located in the heart of the San Diego area. This narrow hiking trail is quite unique and offers some pretty views. But it can also be very challenging for some people. It has extremely interesting earthly characteristics surrounding it and is, essentially, a unique steep slot canyon.

The trail is so narrow that you must go through them only one way because there is no room to pass another person in the slot zone. You will also find yourself climbing on a steel ladder to pull yourself up near the highest part of the trail. The views will be worth the efforts on this hiking trail.

Enjoying Boucher Hill Summit

If you are looking for a trail to see some of the best colors in the fall season, then this is a sensational outdoor path to enjoy. This trail is located at Palomar Mountain State Park. You will find the smell of autumn, colorful leaves and shrubs with a little similarity to the Sierra Nevada landscapes.

Potato Chip Rock at Mount Woodson

You will find plenty of fitness training on the hiking trails at Mt. Woodson near Poway, California. This one will get your heart pumping. There are two different trailhead locations. One is longer and the other is shorter but steeper.

The trail starting at the highway 67 location has a distance of about 4.1 miles round trip. Whereas the other trailhead location at Lake Poway and is 7.3 miles round trip. The popular feature of this hike is Potato Chip Rock, a thin rock layer that looks like a potato chip. 

See also: The Best Sunglasses for Hiking & Outdoor Activities

Potato Chip Rock at Mount Woodson hiking trail
Potato Chip Rock at Mount Woodson

The Perfect Moonlight Hike at Iron Mountain

Hiking at night can be an exhilarating experience. Iron Mountain is located just down the road from the Potato Chip Rock trail. There is quite a bit of elevation and switchbacks on this trail, so you must take caution when hiking this trail. It is recommended to wear a headlamp or use a flashlight when exploring in the dark.

The daytime hiking experience here will offer you lovely views from the top. The evening hike consists of peaceful serenity by the light of the moon. The distance on this trail is approximately 5.2 miles round trip and 1,102 elevation gain.

Trekking on the Beautiful Bernardo Mountain Summit Trail

On this trail you must always be listening and watching for bikers. When you reach the summit, you will enjoy pretty views of Lake Hodges. Be aware there are some residential homes along some parts of the trail. The trail distance here is 7.2 miles round trip. There are bountiful nature settings, defined trail paths, and a picnic area to enjoy lunch.

Black Mountain Nighthawk Trail

The 5.3 mile trail at Black Mountain has an elevation of 1,210 feet and is located nearby the Hilltop Community Park. This is where you can park in a paved parking lot and you will find restrooms here as well. This hike is quite scenic but is somewhat noisier.

Once you have hiked about a mile into the trail, the sounds from the freeway and the recreational park become further in the distance. I consider it a moderate hike with gradual switchbacks leading to the summit. However, much of the trail is comprised of lose rocks and intersecting routes.

Archeological trails in Southern California | Santa Fe Valley and Del Dios

The following two hiking trails are located very close to one another. These beautiful trails offer more than just adventure and views. The entire area has a historical significance. The flood of 1927 apparently exposed numerous artifacts of those early inhabitants who resided here.

The Santa Fe Valley and Del Dios Gorge hiking trails are both segments of the Coast to Crest Trail, which expands 55 miles from the ocean to the Pacific Crest.

Santa Fe Valley Trail

In the early sections of the trail, you will be walking along a chain linked fence. As you continue on, you will be walking along the beautiful Crosby Golf Course and will possibly find a few balls on the way. The Santa Fe Valley trail is not only great for hikers but you can also bring your bikes on the trail.

Biker tip: There is a bicycle repair station along this trail.

Del Dios Gorge Trail

Three pre-historic cultural periods describe this region and it portrays a peek into how Native Americans traveled throughout this valley.

Hiker tip: Be sure to take some time to enjoy the unique trail feature here at Rattlesnake Viewpoint.

The spectacular views of the rolling hills and landscapes are not the only interesting features here. As you trek along this trail, you will encounter the Rattlesnake Viewpoint area. While looking out upon Lake Hodges, you can also look into the center of the viewpoint sculpture. This is the apex of the snake’s tail (on the sculpture). The idea is to line up your view with another spot. You can match the items on the scope to the line up with point A, B or C. The purpose of these marked spots is to help you identity the spillway, the bulwarks of the dam, and the river below.

Rattlesnake Viewpoint. Best Hiking Trails in Southern California
Rattlesnake Viewpoint. Best Hiking Trails in Southern California

Slot Canyon Trail Anza Borrego

Anza Borrego is full of dramatic colorful canyons, big horn sheep, and stunning desert landscapes. And Anza Borrego Desert State Park is a Paleontologists’ dream! But the petro glyphs and fossils are not the only extraordinary thing here.

Slot trail is an amazing trek that takes you through some of the most earthly tall and narrow pathways. Once you’ve slithered through the narrow wash, there is a large open area. In front of you is the result of water and erosion of earth faults that caused hardened sediments to rise up and tilt. This natural activity occurred over millions of years causing mountains to shift and become higher.

The Slot Trail in Anza Borrego. Best Hiking Trails in Southern California
The Slot Trail in Anza Borrego. Best Hiking Trails in Southern California

Ryan Mountain Trail at Joshua Tree National Park

The California desert consists of some of the most diverse and stunning landscapes in the west. The popular Joshua Tree National Park offers endless outdoor recreation. Ryan Mountain Trail is short in distance and includes some truly amazing open desert viewpoints.

As you begin hiking on the rock steps you will slowly begin to breathe a little heavier the further you go. It is one of the highest peaks in the park. This trail includes a vast diversity of foliage and desert shrubs that accompany you along the route.

Hiking trails in Joshua Tree National Park
Hiking trails in Joshua Tree National Park

The Southern California best hiking trails experience

Describing the hiking experience in California is not difficult to explain. Although its trails can be some of the most diverse, unique and spectacular to explore, they all do have a few features in common.

These characteristics include the following: leaves fluttering in the wind, birds singing from above, and the smell of eucalyptus in the air. Together with its pleasant climate, rolling hills, and stunning mountains; California is the perfect place to experience amazing outdoor hiking! 

Make sure to also check out our post on Hiking Along the San Andreas Fault in Southern California


Hiking Along the San Andreas Fault in Southern California

Southern California is full of amazing hiking opportunities, but perhaps few are as interesting as those that run along the San Andreas fault in the Colorado Desert of the Coachella Valley.

One of my favorite hikes along the fault is Pushawalla Palms Loop.

This hike offers different and amazing landscapes that were formed by earthquakes and tectonic plate movement along the fault.

Quick Primer on the San Andreas Fault Network

Scientists have learned that the Earth’s crust is fractured into a series of “plates” that have been moving very slowly over the Earth’s surface for millions of years. Two of these moving plates, the Pacific Plate and North American Plate meet in western California; the boundary between them is the San Andreas fault. This fault forms a continuous narrow break in the Earth’s crust that extends over 1,000 km from northern California southward to the Mexico border. Usually, these plates slowly collide, separate and grind past each other at a rate of about 50 mm per year. However sometime the plates lock in position until the stress created by the plates overcomes the strength of the rock. At that point, the rocks fracture along the fault and seismic waves radiate in all directions, causing the Earth to vibrate and shake. An earthquake occurs as the plates move feet or tens of feet in just seconds.

Since this scenario has been repeated time and again over 40 million years, it’s easy to understand that land on either side of the fault have slid in opposite directions over 450 km since the plates first came in contact with each other. Over the millennia, these quakes have pulverized rocks, changed the flow of rivers, ground down mountains, and created new mountains, hills, canyons, and valleys. Here’s a close-up view of the San Andreas fault area. The red line marks the San Andreas fault, and the small black circle shows the location of the hike.

General Desert Hiking Safety

Even though this is a relatively short hike, remember you are in a desert environment. Being prepared will increase the chance that you have an enjoyable excursion.

Here are a few basic safety tips if you are new to desert hiking:

  • Start early. Don’t hike during the hottest part of the day.
  • Know the weather forecast. You don’t want to be hiking in the desert during a thunderstorm due to flash flood concerns.
  • Stay hydrated; drink a lot of water. General rule of thumb is 4-6 liters/person/day
  • Know the signs of heat stress.
  • Cover your skin. Dress appropriately in light weight loose fitting clothes, hat, and proper shoes/boots.
  • Watch for plants and wildlife and keep your distance. Remember this is rattlesnake territory. Also, removing cactus needles isn’t pleasant and something you want to avoid.
  • Carry a trail map. Consider downloading an app such as AllTrails or MapMyRun or even better a GPS app to track your path.
  • Bonus Recommendation: Keep extra water and snacks in your car. Even hot water is better than driving home thirsty after a long desert hike.

Pushawalla Palms Loop Trail: 5 miles

Pushawalla Palms Loop is a well-marked trail located within the 17,000-acre Coachella Valley Preserve Area near Thousand Palms, California. The trailhead is located less than 15 miles from Palm Springs on Thousand Palms Canyon Rd. There’s plenty of parking on the main road but be prepared for crowds on weekends. The trailhead is open year-round and there are no fees or permits required.

The trailhead is the starting point for several area hikes, so make sure to follow the Pushawalla Palms trail signs. For the first 0.5 km, the path winds its way through a dry stream bed know as a wash. During the brief fall and winter rainy season, washes like this provide drainage channels for surrounding hills and mountains. These rains help to disperse wildflowers seeds which root in the sandy soil as the water slowly evaporates. Come spring when the grounds warms, the seeds sprout and the trail is lined with purple, yellow, and white wildflowers. This is not the image most people have of the desert. The wildflowers draw large crowds in the Spring, but fortunately, most people only hike a short portion of the trail to view the wildflowers.

After walking through the wash, the trail begins climbing Bee Rock Mesa. This mesa and the surrounding hills are wedged between two faults that have squeezed and uplifted the rocks and gravel to create this straight line of sharply defined hills along the fault.

The trail winds its way along the ridge of the mesa. Although this is not a knife edge, be careful since there is a 90-100 meter drop off on either side of the trail. Enjoy your walk on the mesa; take in the sweeping views knowing that 3+ miles directly beneath your feet is the San Andreas fault.

After hiking 1.6 km, the Horseshoe Palm grove appears on the right-hand side of the trail at the base of the hill. This long string of palm trees extends over 1.5 km. These palms flourish in the middle of the desert because the fault beneath us has pulverized the bedrock allowing groundwater to seep close to the surface and nourish these trees. It’s not uncommon to see a straight line of palm trees or other vegetation growing along sections of the San Andreas fault.

The path follows the ridgeline for 2.5 km. By now the crowd will have significantly thinned out with most people returning to their cars. Unfortunately, these people assume the wildflowers in the wash are the best part of this trail – they are so wrong.

Over the next 1.25 km, the trail begins a gradual descent to the floor of the Pushawalla Canyon. A section of the trail has been heavily eroded by recent rainstorms. This isn’t a difficult area to navigate but it does require more careful footing.

After 3.2 km of hiking, you emerge on the floor of Pushawalla Canyon and are almost immediately surrounded by a lush green environment. In both directions, for as far as the eye can see, there are the Pushawalla Palms. Why is it called Pushawalla? Legend has it that Pushawalla was the name of a local Native American who lived to be over 100 years old. Allegedly he died when a summer cloudburst flooded the canyon he was in and swept him away. The canyon where he was found is called Pushawalla Canyon.

The California Fan Palms are the only palm tree native to the United States. The telltale sign of the California Fan Palm is the “skirt” of old dead palm fronds that cascade downwards around its trunk (rather than dropping off like other palms). Be careful walking around the fallen palm fronds. They’re often used by rattlesnakes for cover and shade; snakebites have been reported in the Pushawalla Palms area. It’s worth repeating, respect desert wildlife.

You can explore Pushawalla Canyon in both directions. Underground fissures caused by the San Andreas faults provide groundwater in the canyon an easy route to the surface. You’ll notice a small stream flowing on the ground. The stream often mysteriously disappears into the sand and then reappears further down on the trail. Be on the look-out for rabbits, coyotes, and all kinds of birds who are drawn to the water.

Often it feels more like you are walking through wetlands with tall grasses and vegetation encroaching on the trail. It’s strange that this beautiful desert oasis was created by faults and earthquakes that we normally only associate with damage and destruction.

After exploring the palm oasis, it was time to head back. There are several options you might want to explore. For our return we chose to climb out of the canyon via the rock gully that we had used to descent from the ridge and then follow a trail to the base of the hills. Walking on the desert floor provides a new perspective of the terrain. As we passed the Horseshoe Palm grove, we had a clear view of several people hiking on the ridge trail above us.

As we hiked further away from the hills, the vegetation became sparser. But remember, the interesting thing about the desert is that it hides its beauty so well.

If you are hiking in the late winter or spring be sure to move slowly and look carefully. You will find a variety of small and large flowering plants and maybe even a lizard or two along the trail.

After hiking on the desert floor for slightly more than 1 km, we climbed back up to the ridge and made our way to the car.

For this hike we logged 10 km, but various maps indicate typical lengths ranging from 6-8 km. Our excess mileage was due to our extensive exploration of Pushawalla Canyon. Even with a stop for lunch and photos, we completed the hike in 3.3 hours. In the satellite image below, the red dot marks the trailhead, and the green dot marks the intersection where we rejoined the ridge from the desert floor on our return route.

Hiking along the San Andreas Fault in the Coachella Valley is not about finding the “giant crack in the ground”. Millions of years of erosion have piled upwards of 3 miles of gravel and rock debris on top of the fault. Although the fault is buried, you know now that it’s easily visible by following the strip of green vegetation that runs in a straight line against an otherwise bare series of hills and brown desert washes. Hopefully, this information will encourage you to explore the San Andres Fault and Pushawalla Palms on your next visit.

Additional Resources

Thousand Palms Oasis Preserve

Places to Stay

There are countless resorts, boutique hotels and Airbnbs to stay at in the Greater Palm Springs area. Except during the Coachella and Stagecoach music festivals in April, obtaining a booking should not be a problem.

Places to Eat

Because the Greater Palm Springs area is such a tourist draw. There are eateries to meet any need.

Here are a few of our favorite spots to enjoy an after-hike dinners:


Southern Sweden lake

Explore Skane, Southern Sweden | Traveldudes.org

 

Skåne is a province located at the most southern tip of Sweden, just a stone’s throw across the water from bustling Copenhagen in Denmark.

The province is well known for it’s beautiful scenery, outstanding culinary experiences and high quality of life.

Here are top tips for your trip to Skane:

A unique and charming countryside “shopping mall” opens in Kivik, Skåne

Dating back to the beginning of the 17th century, Svabesholm Kungsgård is a horse farm that has been transformed to now offer a charming countryside ‘shopping mall’, with accommodation, dining, farm shops and event space, whilst maintaining its farm work. Perfectly situated by the most southern national park in Sweden and surrounded by apple orchards, the farm is perfect for food and nature lovers to explore.  Visit the café and country kitchen, the English garden or why not peek into any of the shops on the farm.

Stand Up Paddleboard in Skåne’s capital, Malmö

Visitors to Skåne’s capital, Malmö, can choose a guided tour or hire a private SUP to explore the city’s canals with What-Sup Malmö. To encourage saving the canal, the company also offers a 10% discount to those who collect any plastic they come across along route.

Brand new watersport in Skåne, Red Bird Watercycling

Red Bird Watercycling is a brand new experience, the first of its kind in Scandinavia, offering guests the opportunity to enjoy the nature of lakes and coast from out on the water, in a way that doesn’t impact on the beauty and the wildlife, or other people.

Lake tours include Snogeholm or Sövde lakes, home to a diverse range of wildlife. Tours last two hours, after which guests are invited to enjoy a breakfast or Fika on the shore. The coastal tour offers a relazed experience to explore the coastline of the Baltic Sea at Ystad. Starting at Ystad Saltsjöbad, the tour heads east in the direction of Kåseberga and offers 360 degree views of the Baltic Sea, as guests follow the marine equivalent of the Österleden and pass the nature reserve Sandskogen.

There is a choice of two different styles of water cycle – the UP and the RECUMBENT. The UP is sitting in a position exactly the same as a regular bike, upright and with pedals, handlebar and seat in the usual way. Balancing is not an issue as the two red inflated floats offer support. For those who would feel more comfortable in a position lower on the cycle, with legs peddling in an extended motion, there is the RECUMBENT option. Price starts at £45 per person.

New Rooftop spa at Hotel Skansenin Båstad, Skåne

An amazing new spa has opened at the premium Hotel Skansen in Båstad. From the rooftop spa, with a combination of indoor and outdoor pools, a Jacuzzi, rooftop bar and relaxation areas, guests have an amazing view of the bay of Laholmsbukten. Båstad is well known as an area for wellness and outdoor activities, and the new spa will give the destination even more reason to travel to the Northwest parts of Skåne.