Weekend Getaways in Northern California

From the best views, best hikes, to the best of the coast, Northern California offers an extensive list of must-see places. Here’s some of the best things to do on a weekend getaway in Northern California.

Beautiful creek with Mount Lassen rising above the trees
Mount Lassen. Photo © Jitterbug111/Dreamstime.com

Best Of The Mountains

Mountain climb: Mount Shasta
Mountain climb for youngsters: Lassen Peak, Lassen Volcanic National Park
Sierra panorama: Mitchell Peak, Jennie Lakes Wilderness
Most difficult permit: Mount Whitney from Whitney Portal, first weekend of August, 2 percent odds in preseason lottery
Lake view: Mount Tallac, Desolation Wilderness
Most unique payoff: Sierra Buttes Lookout, Tahoe National Forest

Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite National Park, California with clear blue water and clouds.
Tuolumne Meadows. Photo © Dave Newman/Dreamstime.com

Best Hikes

Most dramatic easy hike with a view: Glacier Point to Pohono Trail, Yosemite National Park
Prettiest wilderness lakes: Shadow, Garnet, Minaret, Ediza; Ansel Adams Wilderness
Chain of lakes: Meeks Creek Trail to Genevieve, Crag, Hidden, Shadow, Stony Ridge, and Rubicon Lakes, Lake Tahoe Basin
Sierra trailhead: Tuolumne Meadows, Yosemite National Park
Hikers’ boat shuttle: Echo Lakes to trailhead for PCT/Desolation Wilderness
Overnight backpack for kids: Deadfall Lakes, Trinity Divide, Shasta-Trinity National Forest
Complete mountain resort: Convict Lake Resort
Drive-to view: Glacier Point, Yosemite National Park
Prettiest lake trail: Wapama Falls, Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, Yosemite National Park
Trailhead for fishing: Agnew Meadows to River Trail on upper San Joaquin River
Snowshoe trek: Badger Pass to Dewey Point, Yosemite National Park

Trail in the forest, Redwood National Park, California with misty fog.
Tall Trees Redwood National Park. Photo © Maksershov/Dreamstime.com.

Best Of The Redwoods

Most overlooked, pristine redwoods: Boy Scout Tree Trail, Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park
Most species champion trees: James Irvine Trail, Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park
Redwood hike behind locked gate: Tall Trees Trail, Redwood National Park

stairs that lead to Seacliff State Beach, Monterey Bay
Seacliff State Beach, Monterey Bay. Photo © Mike Brake/Dreamstime.com.

Best Of The Coast

Prettiest ferns: Fern Canyon, Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park
Kayaking: Big River Lagoon/Mendocino Bay, Mendocino coast
RV sites: Seacliff State Beach, Monterey Bay
Coastal campsite: Wildcat, Point Reyes National Seashore
Coastal waterfall: McWay Falls, Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park
Scuba diving: Point Lobos Marine Reserve
Protected coastal preserve: Salt Point State Park
Most underrated trail for difficulty: Lost Coast Trail, Mattole Trailhead

Sweeping views of Lake Del Valle from the trail networks of Del Valle Regional Park.
Del Valle Regional Park. Photo © Chris Labasco/Dreamstime.com

Best Of The Bay Area

Prettiest scope of view: East Peak, Mount Tamalpais State Park
Urban view: Mount Livermore (at night), Angel Island State Park
All-round park: Del Valle Regional Park (hiking, biking, boating, swimming, fishing, camping, backpacking, wildlife viewing, wilderness access)
Short backpack trip: Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail, Big Basin Redwoods State Park
Bike and hike: Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail out of Rancho del Oso, coastal access to Big Basin Redwoods State Park
Island campsites: Angel Island State Park
Route for continuous views: Perimeter Road, Angel Island State Park
Day hike for early spring: Montara Mountain, San Pedro County Park

McCloud River flowing through Shasta National Forest, Siskiyou County, Northern California
McCloud River. Photo © Andreistanescu/Dreamstime.com

Best Of The Rivers

Water sports: San Joaquin River Delta
Prettiest one-mile canyon: Berry Creek, Big Basin Redwoods State Park
Prettiest river walk: McCloud River from Lower Falls to Middle and Upper Falls and on to Lakim Dam
All-round white-water rafting: South Fork American River
Class V white-water rafting: Clavey Falls, Tuolumne River
Most technical kayak run: Cherry Valley, upper Tuolumne River

View of Emerald Bay State Park, Lake Tahoe with blue water.
Emerald Bay State Park, Lake Tahoe. Photo © Michelle Hausen.com/Dreamstime.com.

Best Of The Lakes

Widest array of campgrounds and cabins: Shasta Lake
Campground for quiet at night: Pardee Recreation Area
Prettiest site, boat-in camping: Emerald Bay State Park, Lake Tahoe
Prettiest lake for tent cabins: Mary Smith Campground, Lewiston Lake
Free loaner kayaks/boats: Independence Lake
Lake-based region for families: Union Valley Reservoir, Crystal Basin Recreation Area
Boat-to/hike-to waterfall: Bullards Bar Reservoir
Family destination: Historic Camp Richardson Resort, South Lake Tahoe

Lake Almanor. Photo © Marnie Patchett/Dreamstime.com.

Best Fishing

Largest trout: Lake Almanor
Most trout: Sacramento River, Redding to Anderson
Largest bass: Clear Lake
Most bass: Shasta Lake
Prospects for long-term future: Los Vaqueros Reservoir

MacArthur Burney Falls in California with sun shining.
Burney Falls. Photo © Kojihirano/Dreamstime.com.

Best Surprises

Most unique destination: Bumpass Hell geothermal area, Lassen Volcanic National Park
Most ironic sense of history: Captain Jack’s Stronghold, Lava Beds National Monument
Waterfall, highest volume subliminal flow: Burney Falls, McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park
Gold rush history: South Fork American River, Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park, Coloma

Black Bear California Sequoia Kings Canyon National Park surrounded by wildflowers.
Sequoia National Park. Photo © Kwiktor/Dreamstime.com.

Best Wildlife Spots

Elk: Point Reyes National Seashore
Bear: Sequoia National Park
Deer: Lava Beds National Monument (in early winter)
Wild horses: Devil’s Garden, Modoc Plateau
Sea otter viewing: Elkhorn Slough by kayak
Humpback whales: Monterey Bay
California condor: Big Sur/Ventana Wilderness
Raptors/eagles: Los Vaqueros watershed by boat

main stream at Yosemite Falls in Yosemite National Park with a reflective Merced River in the foreground.
Yosemite Falls. Photo © Kim Wilson/Dreamstime.com.

Nor Cal Record Holders

Tallest tree in world: Hyperion, 380.3 feet, Redwood Empire
Largest tree in world by volume: General Sherman, 275 feet tall, 36 feet diameter, 102.6 feet circumference, Sequoia National Park
North America’s highest continuous trail: John Muir Trail
Tallest waterfall in North America: Yosemite Falls, 2,425 feet in three decks, Yosemite Valley
Largest single piece of granite in North America: El Capitan, 7,569 feet
Tallest single-strand waterfall in North America: Ribbon Fall, 1,634 feet, Yosemite Valley
Highest point in continental United States: Mount Whitney, 14,505 feet
Rainiest spot in continental United States: Camp 6 Weather Station, 257 inches in 1983, near Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park
Largest natural freshwater lake inside state borders: Clear Lake
Longest continuous trail in state: 1,700 miles, Pacific Crest Trail

Tom Stienstra

About the Author

For over 30 years, Tom Stienstra’s full-time job has been to capture and communicate the outdoor experience. This has led him across California – fishing, hiking, camping, boating, biking, and flying – searching for the best of the outdoors and then writing about it.

Tom is the nation’s top-selling author of outdoors guidebooks. His documentary on the Tuolumne River received an Emmy in 2017. He has been inducted into the California Outdoor Hall of Fame and has twice been awarded National Outdoor Writer of the Year, newspaper division, by the Outdoor Writers Association of America. He has also been named California Outdoor Writer of the Year five times. Tom is the outdoors columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle; his articles appear on sfgate.com and in newspapers around the country. He also broadcasts a weekly radio show on KCBS-San Francisco.

Tom lives in Northern California. You can contact him directly via the website tomstienstra.com.

Learn more about this author

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