Northern California is a great place for a spring backpacking trip! Here are the best low/middle elevation trails in the Bay Area, Northern Sierra Nevada, Lassen National Forest, Klamath Mountains, redwoods, and North Coast. You can hike many of them year-round, even in winter.
Tired of Winter, Ready to Backpack This Spring?
After the cold, dark, and wet of winter, you’re aching to take advantage of warmer temperatures and longer days to get in that first backpacking trip of the year, and spring is the ideal time to do it. Wherever you live in Northern California or travel in Northern California, this post shares the best backpacking trails of the North State. Here you’ll find easy overnight backpacks and a few longer multi-day treks, all usually below snowline in springtime. Of course, you can hike most of these year-round, including fall/autumn and winter.
Northern California Spring Backpacking Trip = Low/Middle Elevation Trails That Are Snow-Free
Some of the backpacking trips here are right along the coast, while others range as high as 5000 feet. The defining factor is little or no snow on the trail. (Of course, if you’re willing to hike on snow, you have many more options at higher elevations, but I’m not covering those here.)
Climate Change Can Mean Backpacking Some Higher-Elevation Trails in Spring
Climate change (global warming) in Northern California (and many other places) means that there is overall less snow (because more precipitation falls as rain, especially in later spring) and it melts out earlier (because it’s warmer).
As a result, in some years you can backpack trails into the high country even in late April and May, especially if the trailhead is at middle elevation.
I focus here on low and middle elevation backpacking trails, but keep this in mind, especially if it’s later in spring and the snow’s been melting fast.
Always Call First to Make Sure the Trail Is Open and Accessible
Check with the governing agency to make sure that the road to the trailhead is open and passable for your vehicle, and that the trail itself is open and (mostly) snow-free. It’s common for national forests to close many roads from late fall to early summer. You don’t want to pack up and do a long drive and not be able to reach the trailhead.
And You May Need a Backpacking/Camping Permit…
In some cases, like national and state parks in the San Francisco Bay Area, you may need to get one of a limited number of camping permits first, often from recreation.gov for federal lands. Call ahead! And, if you can, plan your backpacking trip for mid-week; there’s often a long wait to get camping permits for the weekend. Also check to see if you need a parking permit.
And remember, backpackers need a California campfire permit!
Always Check the Weather First and Be Prepared
Get a reliable weather forecast for the exact area you want to hike. I prefer the National Weather Service, which creates forecasts for specific spots anywhere in Northern California and beyond. Be prepared for any type of weather and for low temps.
Many of These Backpacking Trips Are in My Northern California Hiking Guidebooks
I currently have two hiking guidebooks out: Day Hiking: Mount Shasta, Lassen & Trinity Alps Regions and 100 Classic Hikes: Northern California, fourth edition (both published in 2018 by Mountaineers Books).
Where relevant, I indicate a Day Hiking trail with (DH XX), where XX is the hike number, and a 100 Hikes trail with (100 XX), where XX is the hike number.
And Some of These Hikes I Haven’t Done
Or haven’t done in a long, long time. This means I don’t know the specifics of the trip and you need to make sure you check with the responsible agency and other sources, including websites and other guidebooks, to make sure you have all the relevant info to determine when, where, and if you should go.
Note: in most instances I just list a park or region in Northern California that is a great place for spring backpacking, but I don’t give the specifics of exactly where to hike. Many of the parks/regions have multiple backpacking options. Again, you’ll need to do further research online, in other hiking guidebooks, and by contacting the governing agency.
I Provide Links to Posts Here on the Northern California Hiking Trails Blog
…for some of the trails. In nearly every case, you’ll find a detailed trail description, trailhead directions, trailhead GPS coordinates, a trail map, and photos.
For the other trails, the website of the governing agency usually has detailed information on trails open to backpackers, and also on backcountry camping and primitive campsites, and you can nearly always download a map. There are numerous other websites with varying degrees of information about the trails listed here, some of it quite good, some of it superficial, and some of it dated.
Northern Sierra Nevada Spring Backpacking Trails
The low-elevation foothills of the Northern Sierra Nevada, along with the middle elevations, have several excellent trails for spring backpacking. Check out these Northern Sierra Nevada treks:
- South Yuba River Trail. Tahoe National Forest: Yuba River Ranger District; Malakoff Diggins State Park
- American River Trail, North Fork of the American River. Tahoe National Forest: Foresthill Ranger Station
- Last Chance Trail. Tahoe National Forest: American River Ranger District
- Feather Falls, Plumas National Forest: Feather River Ranger Station (100: 25)
Lassen National Forest and Lava Beds National Monument Spring Backpacking Trails
Lassen National Forest, Lava Beds National Monument, and the bordering areas have many options for spring backpacking trips.
My book Day Hiking: Mount Shasta, Lassen & Trinity Alps Regions covers some of the Lassen National Forest trails below, and many trails nearby that only allow day hiking (in case you want to set up a central campsite as a base for day hiking).
- Deer Creek near Highway 32. Lassen National Forest: Almanor Ranger Station (DH 121; 100 26)
- Yana Trail and Massacre Flat, Sacramento River Bend Area. Bureau of Land Management Redding Field Office (DH 3)
- Upper Mill Creek Trail near Ishi Wilderness. Lassen National Forest: Almanor Ranger Station
- Lower Mill Creek Trail, Ishi Wilderness. Lassen National Forest: Almanor Ranger Station (DH 119; 100 27)
- Antelope Creek. Lassen National Forest: Almanor Ranger Station
- Bizz Johnson National Recreation Trail. Bureau of Land Management Eagle Lake Field Office
- Ahjumawi Lava Springs State Park
- Pacific Crest Trail, Hat Creek Rim Trailhead to Forest Road 22. Lassen National Forest: Hat Creek Ranger Station
- Pacific Crest Trail, Forest Road 22 along Hat Creek Rim to Baum Lake. Lassen National Forest: Hat Creek Ranger Station
- Whitney Butte Trail. Lava Beds National Monument (DH 91; 100 41)
- Lyons Trail. Lava Beds National Monument
- Three Sisters Trail. Lava Beds National Monument
Klamath Mountains Spring Backpacking Trails
The Klamath Mountains include the Trinity Alps Wilderness, the Marble Mountain Wilderness, the Russian Wilderness, and the mountains west of Mount Shasta, plus much more. Most of the trails and trailheads are at high elevation and not suitable for spring backpacking, but a few trails do run at middle elevations.
- Pacific Crest Trail, Castle Crags State Park and Castle Crags Wilderness. Shasta-Trinity National Forest: Mount Shasta Ranger Station
- Kelsey National Recreation Trail, Maple Falls on Kelsey Creek near Marble Mountain Wilderness. Klamath National Forest: Salmon/Scott Ranger District (DH 85)
Trinity Alps Wilderness and Nearby
Many Trinity Alps Wilderness trailheads accessible from Highway 3 are at fairly low elevation and are snow-free in spring. The trails leaving from these trailheads can also be clear of snow for several miles, and they typically travel through old-growth forest and near beautiful streams, with views of rocky peaks high above.
Be sure to check with the Weaverville Ranger Station about both driving access to the trailhead and the approximate snow-line elevation before you plan your trip.
- Canyon Creek Lakes. Shasta-Trinity National Forest: Weaverville Ranger Station (DH 67; 100 61)
- Stuart Fork Trail to Morris Meadows. Shasta-Trinity National Forest: Weaverville Ranger Station
- Long Canyon. Shasta-Trinity National Forest: Weaverville Ranger Station (DH 68; 100 60)
- Swift Creek Trail to Parker Meadow and Mumford Meadow. Shasta-Trinity National Forest: Weaverville Ranger Station (DH 70; 100 58)
- Coffee Creek Road to Big Flat Campground. Several trails leave from this road, including the Tri-Forest-Peak Trail. Shasta-Trinity National Forest: Weaverville Ranger Station.
Redwoods and North Coast Spring Backpacking Trails
The Lost Coast, which is mostly in Sinkyone Wilderness State Park and King Range National Conservation Area, offers the most extensive and rugged backpacking experience in this region, and spring is a good time to do it (weather permitting). Shorter backpacking options await in Redwood National and State Parks along Coastal Trail sections, and elsewhere along the coast and in the redwoods.
- Lost Coast. Sinkyone Wilderness State Park, King Range National Conservation Area
- Humboldt Redwoods State Park
- Coastal Trail, Gold Bluffs Beach to Flint Ridge Section. Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park and Redwood National Park, Redwood National and State Parks
- Little Bald Hills Trail. Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park/Redwood National Park in Redwood National and State Parks. (100: 64)
- South Kelsey Trail. Smith River National Recreation Area
- Summit Valley Trail. Smith River National Recreation Area
Bay Area Spring Backpacking Trails
The San Francisco Bay Area contains many state and regional parks with networks of hiking trails and backcountry campsites, which makes this an excellent area for backpacking in the spring months (and year-round). Be forewarned: many of these Bay Area parks have strict limits on the number of backpacking permits they allow, and spring is a very popular time.
- Skyline to the Sea Trail. Big Basin Redwoods State Park (100: 94 and 95)
- Castle Rock State Park (100: 96)
- Butano State Park (100: 93)
- Pescadero Creek Park, San Mateo County
- Sam McDonald Park, San Mateo County
- Portola Redwoods State Park
- Henry Coe State Park
- Ohlone Wilderness Trail
- Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve
- Angel Island State Park (a great San Francisco area hiking trail)
- Gerbode Valley. Marin Headlands in Golden Gate National Recreation Area
- Coast Trail to Glen Camp, Wildcat Camp, and Wildcat Beach. Point Reyes National Seashore (100: 83)
- Mount Wittenberg and Sky Camp. Point Reyes National Seashore
- Austin Creek State Recreation Area (100: 77)
- Cache Creek Wilderness. Bureau of Land Management Ukiah Field Office
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Northern California Spring Backpacking Trips: Thoughts and Suggestions?
Other spring backpacking trips in Northern California I should have included? Anything specific to know about the hiking trails I mentioned? Share in the comments below…