Woman hiking through snow covered landscape in California
Central Coast,  Central Valley,  Sierras

20 Best Winter Hikes In California (By a Local)

Winter is one of those seasons when many people like to cozy up on the couch, catch up on the latest Netflix shows, and wait for spring to arrive. But the colder seasons also bring lots of opportunities to go on incredible winter hikes in California – crowd-free!

As a California local, I like to take advantage of the winter months to head outdoors. This is a great season for outdoor fun because you won’t have to deal with dangerously hot weather, issues finding parking, and congested trails.

In this post, I cover all the best winter hikes in California, from the mountains to the coast.

I’ve personally hiked all of these trails so I’ll also share tips on whether you’ll need snowshoes, microspikes, and other winter gear to do these hikes safely. Let’s dive in!

Hiking Tip: Before heading out on any day hikes, I like to download an offline map from the AllTrails hiking app. This way I always have access to the trail map, even if I lose reception or get lost.

Some of the links used in this blog may be affiliate links. At no extra cost to you, I may earn a small commission when you book through these links for which I am very thankful!

20 Best Winter Hikes In California:

1. Mariposa Grove Of Giant Sequoias

Woman in a red jacket walking through the Mariposa Grove in Yosemite in winter
Beautiful winter scenery at Mariposa Grove, Yosemite National Park.

Trail summary:

Mariposa Grove Of Giant Sequoias is one of the best winter hikes in Yosemite National Park. I’ve done this hike in both summer and winter – and personally, winter was my favorite!

Situated near the Yosemite National Park’s south entrance, Mariposa Grove stays open to visitors year-round. Here you can either hike the 0.3-mile-long Big Trees Loop Trail (the most popular option) or head on a longer snowshoe adventure along the 2-mile-long Grizzly Giant Loop Trail.

In the winter, the park closes the main Mariposa Grove Road that leads to the trailhead. Be sure to account for the extra 2-mile walk that you will need to do just to get to the starting point.

Along this trek, you can marvel at a beautiful snow-covered scenery surrounded by some of the biggest and oldest sequoia trees in the world. While most of the grove is difficult to access due to very deep snow, you can at least see Fallen Monarch, Grizzly Giant, and California Tunnel Tree Tunnel.

Winter Hiking Tips: For this snow adventure I highly recommend bringing microspikes and snowshoes. You can do most of the Big Trees Loop Trail with just microspikes, but you’ll need snowshoes to go any further.

For visiting National Parks, I recommend getting the America The Beautiful Pass. This pass costs $80 and includes unlimited entries in any US National Park for a year!

2. Congress Trail

Congress Trail at Sequoia National Park in winter.

Trail summary:

  • Distance: 3-mile long loop
  • Elevation Gain: 450 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Trailhead Location: The Congress Trail

Congress Trail is one of my personal favorite winter hikes in Sequoia National Park. This trail leads to some of the largest sequoia tree clusters in this National Park that look especially stunning surrounded by snow.

This three-mile-long loop winds through a serene forest passing multiple giant Sequoia groves including The House, The Senate, and The President Tree. This is an especially beautiful location for photography so bring your camera and travel tripod along!

Winter Hiking Tip: Depending on the snowfall, you might need microspikes or snowshoes to hike this trail. This is not a very crowded winter hike so the snow can be very powdery and deep.

3. Hot Creek Geological Site

Hot Creek Geological Site is one of the most beautiful places to go in the winter in California.

Trail summary:

  • Distance: 4 miles out and back
  • Elevation Gain: 500 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Google Map Location: Hot Creek Geologic Site

Hot Creek Geological Site is a wonderful location to visit year-round, but winter is an especially great time to explore this unique geological wonder.

Hot Creek Geological Site stays accessible all year long making it one of the best winter hiking destinations in Mammoth Lakes. This is a great place to visit if you’re looking for a fun snow activity to do in Mammoth besides skiing and snowboarding.

In winter the main road that leads to this attraction closes so you will need to hike an additional 2 miles each way through snow. Once you reach the Hot Creek Geological Site, you can walk down to the Hot Creek River and see geysers, steaming river water, and boiling turquoise pools.

Winter Hiking Tips: In the winter you will likely need microspikes, cross-country skis, or snowshoes to reach the Hot Creek Geological Site. I hiked this trail in February and the snow was so compact that it was doable with just microspikes.

4. Lower Yosemite Fall Trail

Lower Yosemite Falls in winter.

Trail summary:

Lower Yosemite Fall Trail is another California classic that stays open and accessible all year long. Due to the short distance, this is an excellent trail choice for first-time Yosemite visitors and families with little kids.

Yosemite Falls is the tallest waterfall in North America. While it is a seasonal waterfall, you can often catch it partially frozen in winter, especially after a rainy fall season.

This easy and beautiful mile-long trail begins in Yosemite Valley and goes in a loop to Lower Yosemite Fall Vista Point. If you’re trying to capture photos at this location, it’s best to come at sunrise or sunset when the lighting is better and there are fewer people along the pathway.

Read Next: 20 Best Waterfalls In Central California (By a Local)

5. Hilltop Hot Springs In Mammoth Lakes

Hilltop Hot Springs in Mammoth Lakes.

Trail summary:

  • Distance: 0.3 miles each way
  • Elevation Gain: Flat
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Google Map Location: Hilltop Hot Springs

Who doesn’t love a hot steaming hot springs on a cold winter day? If that sounds like something you’re up for, plan a visit to Hilltop Hot Springs in Mammoth Lakes!

Mammoth Lakes is one of the best winter getaways in California. Within a 15-minute drive south of the town, you can reach the beautiful Hilltop Hot Springs along with several others including Willy’s Hot Springs, The Rock Tub Hot Springs, and Crab Cooker Hot Springs.

Located just a short walk from Benton Crossing Road, Hilltop Hot Springs is one of the easiest hot springs to reach in the winter season.

We like to stop by this beautiful hot spring to soothe our sore muscles after spending the weekend skiing and snowboarding in the mountains.

6. Inspiration Point Trail

Ocean views from Inspiration Point Trail in Santa Barbara.

Trail summary:

If you’re seeking a beachy snow-free hike this winter season, you’ll want to hike Inspiration Point Trail in Santa Barbara.  

Inspiration Point is a beautiful hike hidden within the foothills in northern Santa Barbara. This route leads to a viewpoint of the Santa Barbara coastline and the Pacific Ocean from the summit.

In the summer season, the Inspiration Point Trail can get extremely hot, so winter is the perfect time to hike it. Along this route, you can also go on a short detour to Seven Falls to see multiple cascading waterfalls and pools (although the water might be dried up in the winter depending on rainfall).

7. General Sherman Trail

General Sherman Trail in winter.

Trail summary:

General Sherman Tree is one of the best places to visit in California during winter months.

The General Sherman is the largest tree in the world. If that’s not impressive enough already, in winter you can see it covered in snow – a spectacular sight!

The pathway that leads to this giant Sequoia tree is very short, mostly paved with a few stairs. Along the way, you can read information signs about the sequoia trees and see a few fallen giants.

Once you reach the General Sherman Tree, there is a designated viewing area at the tree base where you can take a picture of the iconic ‘General Sherman’ sign. In the summer this location gets very crowded so winter is a great time when you can spend more time by this enormous tree in peace and solitude.

8. Badwater Basin Salt Flats

Death Valley National Park is one of the best winter getaways in California.

Trail summary:

  • Distance: 1 mile
  • Elevation Gain: Flat
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Trailhead Location: Badwater Basin

Death Valley National Park is one of the top places to visit in California in winter. Due to extreme heat temperatures, it’s best to avoid visiting this National Park in the summer so instead plan a trip here in the winter months.

For first-time visitors, hiking across Badwater Basin Salt Flats is a must! This is a short hike that travels across the lowest point in North America sitting at 282 feet below sea level.

The Badwater Basin salt field consists of unique geometric formations that you can walk across and explore as far as you wish. This is an especially great place for photographers so be sure to bring along your camera or phone!

I use the Sony a7c camera for my travel photos. This is the smallest and lightest full-frame camera available on the market – perfect for traveling, hiking, and outdoor trips!

9. Escondido Falls

This Malibu trail is one of the best winter hikes in Southern California.

Trail summary:

Escondido Falls is one of the best winter hikes in Southern California, especially for Los Angeles County locals. This is a short hike in Malibu that leads to a scenic waterfall.

Escondido Falls Trail is only 4 miles long making it a great weekend escape for families with kids. This hike does involve several creek crossings, but in the winter the water level is typically dry or very low.

Once you reach the lower Escondido Falls, there is a small area to hang out, take a few photos, and enjoy the scenery before heading back. Note that the upper section of the waterfall is situated on private property that is not open to the public.

Escondido Falls is a seasonal waterfall so in the winter months it might be down to a small trickle. The hike itself is very serene and a wonderful place to escape for a few hours from the busy city lives.

10. Inyo Craters Trail In Mammoth Lakes

Inyo Craters In Mammoth Lakes

Trail summary:

  • Distance: 1.7 miles each way
  • Elevation Gain: 300 feet
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Google Map Location: Inyo Craters

Inyo Craters is a short and interesting wilderness trail in Mammoth Lakes that leads to two unique volcanic craters. This is a wonderful place to go hiking in winter where you will be surrounded by a lush forest blanketed with snow.

In the winter the main road that leads to Inyo Craters is closed so you will need to park off Mammoth Scenic Loop and hike 1.7 miles each way. Once you reach the craters, you can walk around them and peek inside from designated viewing platforms.

This is one of the most popular mountain trails in the summer, but in the winter, you will see very few people out in this area. Inyo Craters is a great winter trail option if you like to enjoy time outdoors away from busy crowds.

11. Redwood Grove Loop Trail

Wondering where to go hiking in the winter? Head over to the Santa Cruz redwoods that stay open year-round!

Trail summary:

Can’t get enough of giant trees? Neither can I! There are just so many amazing places to see big trees in California and Redwood Grove Loop Trail just north of Santa Cruz is one of my favorites.

Because of the Central Coast’s temperate weather, the coastal redwood trails stay accessible all year long. Situated within Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park, this short and sweet hike passes through one of the oldest remaining redwood groves in California.

Along this flat and wide path, you can stop and marvel at redwood trees that are up to 1500 years old and 277 feet tall. You can also climb inside the Fremont Tree which has a hollowed-out tree trunk and a wide open entrance.

Read Next: 15 Amazing Redwood Hikes Near Santa Cruz

12. Barker Dam Nature Trail

Trail summary:

Joshua Tree National Park is one of the best California winter getaways for outdoor lovers! Similar to Death Valley, this desert destination is best visited in the off-season when the winter weather is much more suitable for hiking.

For first time Joshua Tree visitors, I recommend starting with the Barker Dam Nature Trail. This is a short and popular day hike that passes several unique points of interest.

Along the Barker Damn Nature Trail, you can explore interesting rock formations, learn information about desert plants, and stop by the Barker Dam which was built in the 1900s by a local farmer. In winter there might not be any water left in the dam, but it’s still a worthwhile stop!

Before you head out, be sure to check out the Petroglyphs which are carved into a large cave opening.

13. Fern Creek, Lost, and Canopy Trail Loop

Pathway in Muir Woods forest leading through towering redwood trees
Muir Woods is home to some of the most beautiful California hiking trails.

Trail summary:

Looking to visit a beautiful redwood forest in winter? Muir Woods offers a convenient outdoor escape just a 40-minute drive north of San Francisco. Muir Woods National Monument stays open year-round so it’s a great place to visit in any season.

The most popular trail at this park is the 3-mile-long Fern Creek, Lost, and Canopy Trail Loop. This hike covers the best of the park passing towering redwoods, lush ferns, and meandering creeks.

This trail is well marked making it a great choice for beginner hikers. Muir Woods is a very popular destination for Bay Area locals so try to get there early to avoid the crowds.

Read Next: 15 Best Muir Woods Tours From San Francisco

14. Mobius Arch Loop Trail

Mobius Arch at Alabama Hills.

Trail summary:

Situated just west of Lone Pine town, Alabama Hills is one of the top places in California to visit during winter months. Although it does get a bit chilly in the desert in the winter season, we love to come here for the beautiful scenery, wild camping sites, and lack of crowds!

Whether you plan to stay here overnight or stop by on a road trip to stretch your legs, there are plenty of short hiking trails to choose from. I recommend starting with Mobius Arch Loop Trail which is the most popular hike at Alabama Hills.

Mobius Arch Loop Trail is fairly short and flat. The main attraction of this hike is the impressive Mobius Arch which is any photographer’s dream come true! With the beautiful Sierra Nevada Mountains as the backdrop, the setting is simply stunning.  

15. Artists Palette

Artists Palette at Death Valley National Park.

Trail summary:

  • Distance: 0.3 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 100 feet
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Trailhead Location: Artists Palette

Artists Palette is another short and easy hike at Death Valley National Park that’s suitable for all skill levels. This 0.3-mile-long trail travels through colorful hills and canyons that are unlike anything else in California!

For the best experience, I recommend coming here during sunrise before the location gets crowded. Here you can walk through a maze of trails while marveling at the pastel-colored hills.

Visitor Tip: For visiting the California desert in the winter, you’ll want to pack plenty of layers to keep you warm.

16. Mount Pinos

Trail summary:

  • Distance: 3.7 miles out and back
  • Elevation Gain: 500 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Trailhead Location: Mt. Pinos Hiking Trail

Mount Pinos is a hidden little gem that’s situated within Los Padres National Forest just an hour’s drive south of Bakersfield. This area is accessible year-round and is a great place to practice cross-country skiing in the winter season.

If you plan to visit Mt Pinos in the winter, come prepared with cross-country skis or snowshoes. The majority of the path will be covered in snow so you’ll need snow gear to reach the summit.

This is a long hike situated in higher elevations. If you feel winded or the distance feels too much, don’t feel obligated to finish the entire trail. You can alternatively choose to come back in the summer when it’s much easier to reach the top and enjoy the panoramic views at the end!

Read Next: Mt Pinos Hike In Los Padres National Forest

17. Eagle Rock Trail

Views of Lake Tahoe from Eagle Rock Trail.

Trail summary:

  • Distance: 0.7 miles out and back
  • Elevation Gain: 230 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Trailhead Location: Eagle Rock Trailhead

If you’re planning a skiing trip to Lake Tahoe in the winter, set aside an hour or two to hike the Eagle Rock Trail.

This short trail gains over 230 feet of elevation in a very short time. You’ll be out of breath by the time you reach the top, but the views will be so worth it!

Eagle Rock Trail is one of the most beautiful winter hikes in northern California where you can enjoy panoramic views of Lake Tahoe from the summit. In the snowier months, I recommend wearing microspikes so you don’t fall and injure yourself on the steep, rocky terrain.

18. Cypress Grove Trail via South Shore Trail

Point Lobos State Natural Reserve in Big Sur.

Trail summary:

Big Sur is one of the top places to visit in California during the winter. If you’re planning a winter road trip in Big Sur, be sure to stop by Point Lobos State Natural Reserve to enjoy a few easy oceanfront hiking trails!

Start your visit by hiking the Cypress Grove Trail via South Shore Trail. Along this trail, you’ll be able to enjoy views of the Pacific Ocean, Monterey Cypress trees, unique rock formations, and spot wildlife from the Sea Lion Point.

Visitor Tip: It does cost $10 to enter Point Lobos State Natural Reserve for day visitors. Keep in mind that dogs are not allowed at this park, not even in your car. Sorry poochies!

Read Next: 20 Stops On a Road Trip From Los Angeles To San Francisco

19. Trans-Catalina Trail

Catalina Island is one of the best places for winter backpacking in Southern California.

Trail summary:

If you’re looking for epic places to go winter backpacking in California, Catalina Island is it! A few years back I backpacked across the entire Catalina Island covering nearly 40 miles in just 3 days.

Catalina Island is an excellent place to go hiking year-round because the temperatures always stay in the 70-40-degree range. If you’ve never been backpacking before, Catalina Island is a great location to go on your first backpacking trip because you’re never too far away from civilization (or food).  

If this is something that you’re up for, you will need to reserve the campsites and book tickets for a boat ride to and from the island on Catalina Express. With rolling green hills, turquoise beaches, and rugged landscapes, you’re bound to have a memorable experience of a lifetime!

20. Castle Rock Trail

Trail summary:

  • Distance: 2.7 miles out and back
  • Elevation Gain: 820 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Trailhead Location: Castle Rock Trail 1W03

Castle Rock Trail is one of the most popular winter trails for those visiting Big Bear Lake. The views from the top alone are worth the steep uphill climb!

You can reach the trailhead by parking in the small lot along Big Bear Blvd. This parking lot fills up very quickly so be sure to come early in the morning to secure a spot.

This snowy hike starts off with a very steep ascend. It can be very icy and slippery so bring a set of microspikes for assistance otherwise, you might need to turn around.

I also highly recommend downloading an offline route from the AllTrails hiking app. This hike can get a bit confusing and it’s very easy to get lost or take the wrong turn.

Map Of Winter Hikes In California:

Map Tip: Click on each location to see more details!

What To Bring On Winter Hikes In California

Here are a few essential items that I recommend bringing on California winter hikes:

  • Alpine Hoody. Having a good outer layer will keep you warm in cooler mountain temperatures. I have a jacket by Mountain Hardwear that is lightweight and easy to hike in, yet protects me from cold and wind.
  • Thermal Tights. For hiking, I usually wear thermal leggings or waterproof hiking pants that will keep me comfy.
  • Waterproof Hiking Boots. Having waterproof hiking boots is one of the essential items to have for winter adventures. Waterproof boots will keep your feet dry and warm which is so important when trekking across snow, mud, and ice.
  • Microspikes. Having a set of microspikes to put on my boots has been a game-changer for winter hiking. Microspikes have metal spikes underneath that will grip onto snow and ice preventing you from slipping and falling.
  • Snowshoes. For longer day hikes after a fresh snowfall, you will need a set of snowshoes to manage trekking through knee-deep snow.
  • Trekking poles. Winter hiking poles can assist with snowshoeing and keep you moving along without getting tired.
  • Gloves. I have a pair of gloves with touchscreen compatibility. I don’t have to take them off when taking photos which helps keep my hands warm even on the coldest days.
  • Beanie. For winter hikes having a beanie is essential to keep your ears and head covered. Plus, it looks really cute in photos!

Read More: California Winter Packing List (By a Local)

California is a paradise for outdoor lovers and hikers – year-round. From snowy mountain hikes to coastal redwood trails, there are plenty of adventures to enjoy in California in the winter season!

Which of these California winter trails are on your bucket list? Let me know in the comments below.

Looking for more things to do in California? Be sure to check out some of these popular posts next:

This post is written by Laura Sausina. Hi, I’m a California local and the founder of the California Wanderland travel blog. I currently live in Ventura County and help 30,000 readers a month discover things to do in Central California! Read more about me here.

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