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10 Overnight Backpack Trips in Southern California

  • April 13, 2016
  • Jeff Hester

barker valley backpacking trip

The word is out. Southern California has a veritable plethora of hiking trails . And a plethora and a half of hikers exploring them. 99.9% of hikers are firmly in the day-hike only camp, and usually it’s just a matter of not knowing how to start and where to go to gain some backpacking experience.

With this in mind, I’ve come up with a list of ten great overnight backpacking trips . Most of these trips can be modified to make them easier or more challenging, depending on what you’re after. But they all provide a taste of outdoor adventure that can be enjoyed by anyone with a free night.

1. Crystal Cove State Park

Photo: teakwood

Most people don’t realize this, but Crystal Cove State Park in Orange County has several backcountry camps that you can use — and they have sweeping ocean views! The trails are busy during the day, but you can hike up and setup your camp after work and still have time to cook dinner and watch the sunset. And as the sun goes down, the day-hiker (and mountain biker) crowds go with it, leaving you with a pretty sweet view.

Why this trip rocks?  My friend Tracy uses this park for what she calls a “gear shakedown” before any bigger trips, testing new gear in a relatively low-risk situation. It’s a great way to dip your toes into backpacking without traveling far.

2. Santa Cruz Trail

Spring wildflowers in the Santa Barbara backcountry

This is a longer, more strenuous out-and-back trip in the Santa Barbara backcountry that’s best done in the spring (it gets a bit too hot in the summer). Hike 10 miles in with 2,500′ vertical gain, setup camp by a stream under the shade of 100-year old oaks, and hike back the next day.

Why backpack this?  The distance and elevation gain are an almost perfect match for a typical day on the John Muir Trail (although at a much lower altitude). It’s a good way to see how your body responds to the climb and the distance. Time it right, and you’ll be rewarded with a spectacular wildflower show.

3. Barker Valley in the Palomar Mountains

Fellow hiking blogger Scott Turner has a super  guide to this great little overnight trip to Barker Valley in the Palomar Mountains in northeast San Diego County. It’s what I call an “upside-down” hike, meaning you go down 1000′ feet to the river, camp overnight, then hike up  1000′ to get back to the trailhead. But at 6.5 miles round trip, it makes a gentler introduction to backpacking.

Backpack this for… meadows, a river and a waterfall. And it’s dog-friendly. Woof!

4. Santa Anita Canyon

Rising out of the valley

You can stay at Hogee’s on Winter Creek, or Spruce Grove on the Gabrieleño Trail. And if you’re feeling ambition in the morning, you can bag Mt Wilson — one of the Six-Pack of Peaks. Here’s a guide to a grand loop up Gabrieleño to the summit and down via Winter Creek . You can hike it either direction, or modify it to suit you time and energy.

I love this overnighter for… a healthy dose of LA’s hiking history. Hoagie’s and Spruce Grove campgrounds date back a hundred years. And these lush canyons feel like a world away from the freeways and traffic jams.

5. Cucamonga Peak

Joan on the Approach to Cucamonga Peak

Joan and I backpacked to Cucamonga Peak and spent the night for our Six-Pack of Peaks Challenge (that’s her silhouetted in the setting sun en route to the summit. Pack in all your water (I took six liters).

Hike this for… the sunset. And the sunrise. And the stars and city lights in-between. We even saw the Disneyland fireworks from the summit! Did I mention this hike is also dog friendly? Woof!

6. Mt Baldy

Full Moon hike up Mt Baldy

Camping on the top of Mt Baldy is an experience. You have to pack in all your water. It’s cold, windy and exposed. But oh those sunrise and sunsets! And it’s dog friendly.

7. San Bernardino Peak

Photo: Mitch Barrie

The San Bernardino Trail goes all the way up to San Bernardino Peak (and beyond). But you can stop at Limber Pine Flat and camp overnight.

Why on earth? For views like the one shown above. Says it all.

8. Catalina Island

Camp at Parsons Landing

You don’t have to hike the entire Trans-Catalina Trail to enjoy overnight backpacking on Catalina. Take the ferry from San Pedro into Two Harbors, and you can day hike to either Little Harbor or Two Harbors to Parsons Landing. Each is on a different side of the island, and each has it’s own distinct vibe.

Why backpack here? Are you serious? If you live in SoCal, you  must  do this at least once!

9. San Gorgonio

Sunset from our campsite at High Creek

Most people hike up San Gorgonio — the highest peak in Southern California — in a single day hike. But they would be missing out on views like this one, from my High Creek campsite in 2013. Another great option is Halfway Camp (supposedly halfway to the summit from the trailhead). And once you’ve spent the night, you don’t have  to continue to San Gorgonio. But you probably will.

Why backpack San Gorgonio? Because it’s the tallest damn mountain in SoCal, and you should make the journey last as long as you can.

10. San Jacinto

First Look at Round Valley

San Jacinto is my personal favorite!  I’ve been backpacking on this mountain since I was a teenager, and I’ll never tire of it. You can hike in from Idyllwild or take the tram up. I took my daughter up there on an overnight backpack trip before she even was walking!

Why is San Jacinto my favorite? Options to bag San Jacinto, or just go check out Wellman’s Divide. Beautiful alpine meadows, and peaks that remind me of the Sierra Nevada mountains. Here’s a peek at our overnight trip from the Tram to the summit of San Jacinto .

Wrapping Up

All of these overnight these overnight trips include some bureaucracy, usually in the form of a wilderness permit obtainable from the local ranger station.

Those are some of my top picks for short overnight backpack trips all over Southern California. Leave a comment to share your favorites. 

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10 Overnight Backpacking Trips in Southern California

overnight backpacking trips in southern california


South Carolina is considered by many to be the backpacking mecca of the United States. You have a great selection of camping sites with each offering its own unique signature experience. If you love camping trips, SoCal is the place to be to satiate your outdoor cravings. If you are interested in basking in the breathtaking vistas that SoCal can offer then check out this handy guide for the top 10 overnight backpack trips in Southern California.

Get your backpack and camping supplies ready as we run the best SoCal has to offer for hikers and campers.

Best Overnight Back Trips in Southern California

1. crystal cove state park.

Crystal Cove State Park

Located in Orange County, Crystal Cove State Park offers one of the most breathtaking campsites around. Two words: ocean view. Yes, most of the campsites in Crystal Cove is located near the sea. A fun nature trek that is not too difficult and will let you thoroughly enjoy the sights.

You will also enjoy a nice sunset view at the end of the day. Overnight campers will be able to thoroughly appreciate what Crystal Cove State Park has to offer. This park is also a great choice for those who want a fun and low-risk camping experience for the family.

2. Cucamonga Peak

Cucamonga Peak

This is something a little more challenging for the more experienced hiker and camper. Cucamonga Peak is located in the San Gabriel Mountain range which is north of Los Angeles County. The trail will take you through the desert so prepare accordingly.

There is also a high chance you will run into some bighorn sheep so have your camera at the ready. Nights can be particularly chilly at Cucamonga Peak so bring some extra layers of blanket. Note that you will need to get a hiking permit first but these are free so you can obtain one pretty quickly.

Cucamonga Peak also offers a truly majestic view at sunrise which itself is worth the hike. Check the latest  weather report  before you start your hike to ensure you will have the best possible experience Cucamonga Peak has to offer.

3. Santa Cruz Trail

Santa Cruz Trail

One of the more challenging campsites to get to, Santa Cruz Trail is a rewarding trail that is considered as one of the best hiking and camping sites in northern California. Santa Cruz Trail is also a great trail for beginners looking to challenge themselves and prepare for more difficult hikes in the future.

It is highly recommended that you hike and camp during springtime to avoid blistering heat once summer sets in. Springtime also means you will witness some of the most beautiful wildflowers in full bloom.

Santa Cruz Trail has a 2,500-feet vertical gain so optimize your camping gear’s weight. Setting camp surrounded by the colossal oak trees at night truly gives you that “one with nature” atmosphere.

4. Barker Valley

Barker Valley

Go northeast of San Diego County and you will find the Palomar Mountains, the location of Barker Valley. One unique aspect of this place is that it is considered a ‘reverse’ hike. If you hear the word ‘hike’ the first thing that will mostly come to mind is an upward trek. With Barker Valley though you will need to hike downwards from a slope.

This is another great choice for beginners as the light 1000-feet trek downwards and upwards is not too taking. The campsite is located inside the valley near a river and waterfall. If you prefer a campsite that offers something different then Barker Valley is the place for you. The area is also dog-friendly so you can bring your furry canine friend along for the ride.

5. Mount Baldy

Mount Baldy

A challenging hike awaits those who decide to conquer Mount Baldy. Located within the San Gabriel Mountain range, it was previously known as Camp Baynham. However, the relatively difficult trek upwards (about 4,000-feet) nets you a rewarding and breathtaking view of the sunset and sunrise. Simply put, Mount Baldy is a worthwhile climb for hikers/campers who are looking for a decent challenge along the way.

Remember to bring extra layers of clothing and blankets as well as a decent amount of water for the trip. Mount Baldy can be quite chilly and windy at night.

6. San Bernardino Peak

San Bernardino Peak

One of the more challenging backpack trips on this list, San Bernardino Peak is also among the most rewarding in this list. The hike will be difficult, so make sure you physically prepare by taking on beginner-friendly trails first.

Once you reach the peak though you will get an amazing view of San Jacinto, San Gorgonio, and Big Bear Lake. Definitely worth the price of admission. Speaking of admission, you are required to first get a hiking/camping permit before you head out.

San Bernardino Peak is nested 10,649-feet above sea level so preparation is vital. At this height, you are most likely to experience some form of altitude sickness so ensure you are physically fit for the journey. Bring an adequate amount of food as well as water and you are guaranteed to have one unforgettable camping and hiking experience.

7. Catalina Island

Catalina Island

A more relaxing backpacking trip awaits those who decide to go to Catalina Island. You can go through the Trans-Catalina trail if you want but you can also skip most of the walk by riding the ferry to Two Harbors.

Going with the ferry route will leave you with a light day hike to either Parson’s Landing or Little Harbor. Each site offers a unique experience that won’t leave you feeling shortchanged. This is one of the most highly recommended backpacking trips in southern California and is a must if you are in the area.

8. San Jacinto Peak

San Jacinto Peak

San Jacinto is the highest peak in Southern California so it goes without saying that this trail will provide a decent challenge. The hike itself is hard by the get-go as you will need to traverse Palm Springs which can get considerably hot. Fortunately, once you reach the alpine climb the temperature will go down to a more comfortable level.

Pack light to make the climb easier. The San Jacinto trail is also considered to be a good entry-level trek for younger campers. It is also peppered with dozens of safe campgrounds for those looking for an overnight stay.

9. San Gorgonio Peak

San Gorgonio Peak

We once again visit the San Bernardino mountain range for the highest peak of the bunch, the San Gorgonio Peak. At 11,500-feet, San Gorgonio towers over the entirety of Southern California. Reaching the peak can be accomplished via numerous hiking trails with some requiring 10 hours to complete.

While it can be daunting, conquering San Gorgonio is not as difficult as it seems. Of course, preparation is essential but the overall difficulty of the trek can be considered moderate. Training is imperative before tackling this trail though so never take it lightly.

As with all SoCal hiking trails, you are required to obtain a parking pass first. Start as early in the day as possible and bring an adequate amount of food and water for the long journey. Your reward will be one of the most breathtaking views on this side of SoCal. San Gorgonio is a worthy endeavor for experienced mountaineers.

10. Ontario Peak

Ontario Peak

Let’s end the list with a popular and personal favorite, Ontario Peak. While the trail can take up a lot of time to complete, the dozens of beautiful views you encounter along the way will make each moment of the trek memorable.

You will come across ruins and cabins as you make your way towards the peak. You can also take a breather at Icehouse Saddle which offers food and drinks as well as a great place to take some pictures. Ontario Peak is another great backpacking trip option for those who want to make the most out of their hike and camping experience.

Final Thoughts

As you can see, South California offers several overnight backpacking trips to outdoor enthusiasts. There are actually more locations that we did not cover in this list. These are but the top and most well-known places in SoCal, a little more digging and you will see there are a handful of other hidden gems for campers to enjoy.

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The Best Overnight Backpacking Trips in Southern California

barker valley backpacking trip

Southern California is a hiker’s dream. Most of the popular hiking destinations in SoCal are often day hikes. This which makes getting out for overnight backpacking trips in Southern California a weekend backpacker’s dream. With this in mind, we’ve compiled a list of some of SoCal’s best overnight backpacking trips. While most may be modified to suit your fitness and comfort level, all offer plenty of outdoor adventure.

Crystal Cove State Park

barker valley backpacking trip

Photo Courtesy of

Many don’t realize it, but Orange County’s Crystal Cove State Park has several campsites, and all have gorgeous ocean views. The trails can get busy in the daytime, but it’s possible to go on an after-work hike and have plenty of time to see the sunset. There are more than 15 miles of trails, ranging from moderate to challenging. You’ll be able to do a 9-mile loop with an elevation gain of just over 2000 feet. This trip is great because it gives you a chance to test new gear in a somewhat low-risk scenario, and it gives new backpackers an opportunity to get their feet wet without going far.

The Santa Cruz Trail

barker valley backpacking trip

This is a more strenuous round trip through the backcountry of Santa Barbara. It’s best to do it in springtime, before it gets too hot. Consider hiking ten miles in with a 2500-foot vertical gain, setting up camp under the shade of majestic oak trees, and hiking back out the next day. The elevation gain and distance are a great way to acclimate your body to longer and more physical hikes, and if you do it at the right time of year, you’ll get to see a beautiful display of wildflowers.

Barker Valley

barker valley backpacking trip

This destination is in the Palomar Mountains of northeast San Diego County. Experienced backpackers call it an upside-down trip, meaning you’ll go down about 1000 feet to the riverbed, camp for the night, and hike back up to the trailhead in the morning. However, at just six and one-half miles round trip, it’s a great introductory backpacking experience.

barker valley backpacking trip

Camping atop Mt. Baldy is an unforgettable experience, but don’t forget to bring plenty of water, because it’s exposed, windy, and cold. However, you’ll be richly rewarded when you see those gorgeous sunsets and sunrises. Furthermore, this trail is dog-friendly! With about 4000 feet of climbing, it’s a popular yet challenging hike that’s worth the effort.

San Bernardino Peak

barker valley backpacking trip

The San Bernardino Trail goes up to the peak and beyond, but Limber Pine Flat makes an excellent overnight camping destination. This eight-hour hike takes you up a 4650-foot climb over some moderately difficult terrain, but you can bring your four-legged friends along for the trip, because off-leash dogs are okay.

Catalina Island

barker valley backpacking trip

photo courtesy of

You don’t have to walk the whole Trans-Catalina Trail to backpack overnight on Catalina. Simply take a ferry boat from San Pedro to Two Harbors and day hike into Parsons Landing or Little Harbor. These destinations are on different sides of the island, and each has a unique vibe. The total elevation gain/loss is substantial at 9600 feet, but don’t worry, because there’s plenty of fresh water available at the many campgrounds in the area.

Head Out Prepared

All these overnight backpacking excursions include a bit of bureaucratic red tape, typically in the form of a permit that’s easily obtained from the nearest ranger station.

These are some of our top picks for overnight backpacking trips in Southern California, and we’d like to hear some of your favorites as well.

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Barker Valley

Abandoned spots in San Diego

Hello everyone! This is a friendly reminder that any of these fun places we may visit, we are a guest at. Please treat both businesses and trails with the utmost respect. We here at Hidden San Diego follow the 'Leave no Trace' mantra, meaning whatever you bring with you comes back with you. If you see trash on a trail, please do your part to help remove it. Remember, we are not picking up trash from another person but instead cleaning up for Mother Nature. Happy adventures!

barker valley backpacking trip

Palomar Divide Rd Warner Springs, CA 92086

Gate: 33.330858, -116.709190     Abandoned house: 33.330852, -116.767831 Trailhead: 33.339638, -116.787925 **This trail is called Barker Valley Spur**

From main road/gate to trailhead:  7.81 miles (Gate is subject to be closed before or after storms so call in)

Trailhead into valley – 3.16 miles

Dogs-Friendly:  Yes     Kid-Friendly:  Yes     Camping:  Allowed

Level:  Moderately Strenuous


To reach the trailhead:  turn west from Highway 79 at a point 6.5 miles northwest of Warner Springs (mile 41.9 according to the roadside mileage markers). Continue up the mostly unpaved Palomar Divide Road for 7.8 miles to the Barker Valley Spur trailhead on the left (west) side. Also note that since the trailhead and the hiking route lie within national forest territory, you must post a National Forest Adventure Pass on your parked car.

TIP:  You absolutely MUST have 4-wheel drive to make it up the mountain from the gate.  Otherwise you are looking at an 8 mile hike up the mountain to the trailhead.  If this is your option, I recommend camping which is allowed here.

TIP #2:  Cell phone use is rare out here so make sure to have your trip physically mapped out.

barker valley

If we wanted to hike to the trailhead from the gate it would have taken us 8 miles up hill THEN an additional 2-3 miles down a mountain to search for the elusive waterfall.  We were not prepared for that type of hike and right when we were giving up, a knight in a shiny white truck saved us.

He had the right pass to get us through the gate and drove us all the way up the mountain to the trailhead.  He even promised to come back for us at sunset to drive us back down.  He truly was an angel.

While you're in the area, make sure to check out Ricardo Breceda's Art Gallery nearby!

Here is a copy and paste that I found on the waterfall:  "If you are up to the challenge, you'll end up in a nice meadow with several excellent camp sites about a mile downstream. At the end of the meadow, the stream enters a granite gorge with several large pools suitable for swimming and some waterfalls. There were quite a few people at the waterfall when we were there."  Another person mentioned that there are LEECHES in the water.  OMG!

barker valley

We ran out of time before finding the waterfall and needed to head back up the hill if we wanted to get our ride back home.  We opted for the ride obviously.  I would recommend doing this hike in the cooler months after a good rainfall BUT make sure you call in to see if the gate is closed or not.

barker valley backpacking trip

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barker valley backpacking trip

Locations Nearby:

Hike Doane Valley, one of Palomar Mountain's most stunning areas, filled with thick trees, fog and wildlife

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I know Bernie! We hiked Bell BLuff a couple of weeks ago! Small world.

February 15, 2016

wow this is awesome

February 17, 2016

I can’t wait to hike this!

February 20, 2016

been out to barker valley many times great hike if you do make it to the falls tred carefully one false step and its a 50 foot deadly plunge to the bottom last time went out got caught in a summer rain storm the trail leading to the falls suddenly became a lil river on the way back from the falls good times

March 4, 2016

Thanks for the great advice! We just hiked it and had a great time. A few comments: the waterfalls and creek were completely dried up so I definitely recommend bringing in all your own water. There were some ‘swimming pools’ but the water was standing water that was pretty gross – you could filter it if necessary though. We also ran into a rattlesnake on the trail to the waterfall that was definitely coiled and ready to spring so keep an eye out!

Thanks again!

July 10, 2016

Do you know if you can reach Barker Valley via the Doane Valley trail?

April 12, 2017

This not the same tunnel. Im watching it rn and it aint it so stfu. Yall wrong. And that nigga not brave, he kept whining the entire video. Wtf?

April 17, 2017

No, you cannot reach the area from Doane Pond. The Webber Ranch and Observatory unfortunately restrict access over the entire top of the mountain, as it is under private ownership. Several years ago, my wife and I tried accessing a portion of Palomar Divide Rd via the Observatory, and were shortly thereafter escorted out by a staff member at the Observatory. There is an old road system shown on topo maps that connects the Palomar Divide Rd from the Warner area all the way to the base of Agua Tabia that is now cut off via the Indian Reservation, Webber Ranch, and Observatory. Though I haven’t driven the road from the Warner Springs side in 3 or 4 years, I handled it well with my Toyota Tacoma at the time. As for the gate being locked at the highway, I have noted military doing maneuvers out in the “weeds” just past the gate, so one never knows why it might be closed from time to time.

December 20, 2018

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Stunning Backpacking Trips in Southern California

Escape the city traffic and head out for a night under the stars, 1. estrella camp in the silver peak wilderness, trail: start at the salmon creek th off of highway 1 and hike to estrella camp, length: 7 miles out & back, elevation gain: 2,000 ft, highlights: lounging by the enormous waterfall at the beginning of the trailhead.

barker valley backpacking trip

Yes.. that is whip cream…some things are worth their weight in gold

barker valley backpacking trip

2. Cone Peak

Trail: south fork campground in the sierra national forest, length: 16 miles loop, elevation gain: 5,000 ft, highlights: appreciating the solitude of being one of the few people on trail.

barker valley backpacking trip

3. San Jacinto

Trail: hike from devils slide trail to round valley campground, with the option to summit san jacinto peak weather permitting, length: 20 miles out & back, elevation gain: 3,000 – 5,000 ft, highlights: finding the “hidden lake”, which is actually a unique forest vernal pool.

barker valley backpacking trip

Forest Vernal Pool

barker valley backpacking trip

Can you spot the rattler?

4. Barker Valley

Length: 8 miles out & back, elevation gain: 1,200 ft, highlights: appreciating san diego’s backcountry wilderness.

barker valley backpacking trip

The trail goes through an ancient old growth tunnel of Red Shank chaparral

barker valley backpacking trip

Fields of Goldfields (Lasthenia californica)

barker valley backpacking trip

Don’t forget to  Leave No Trace , read all regulations for the park you will be in, and check the weather forecast before setting off on your journey. Happy Trails! – Dendrophile Danielle

barker valley backpacking trip

This website contains affiliate links, which means The Trek may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. The buyer pays the same price as they would otherwise, and your purchase helps to support The Trek's ongoing goal to serve you quality backpacking advice and information. Thanks for your support!

To learn more, please visit the About This Site page.

Danielle Parsons

Hello, my name's Danielle and I am a biologist backpacker from Santa Cruz, California. As an avid birder and botanist, I love to share my love for naturalizing with others. My pack is usually heavy since I lug around my binoculars and digital camera. Happy trails !

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Ten Great Backpacking Trips in San Diego County

When San Diego County residents seek options for great backpacking trips, they often look to the north for hikes as far as the Sierra Nevada Mountains or as close as the San Bernardinos. Some of the savvier residents know that great backpacking options can be found right in their backyard. This should come as no surprise, since San Diego County features the greatest biodiversity in the nation, as well as a National Forest, the largest State Park in California, and an impressive array of habitats open to dispersed camping. 

For SoCal residents seeking great backpacking options nearby, we at Modern Hiker offer up some of our favorite San Diego backpacking trips to help you narrow down your options. 

For those considering backpacking in San Diego, please review this quick primer on our local climate. Interior San Diego can become dangerously hot. This is particularly true of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park , but even the local mountains at higher elevations can occasionally reach triple digits during July, August, and September. Most of these routes are at their best in fall, winter, and spring. These seasons line up with the High Sierra’s off-season, which allows Southern Californians to backpack all year long.

East Mesa Loop

barker valley backpacking trip

Cuyamaca Rancho State Park’s 26,000 acres include habitats as diverse as riparian zones, mixed-conifer forests, oak woodlands, grasslands, and chaparral. While most areas of the park are open only to day-use, the park does feature two backcountry campgrounds at Arroyo Seco Primite Camp and Granite Spring Primitive Camp. Our route exploring East Mesa leads through rolling grasslands rich with wildlife to Granite Spring Primitive Camp, which features over half-a-dozen campsites and one large group site. There are also reliable water sources along this route to ease the burden of schlepping your water. 

Agua Tibia Loop

barker valley backpacking trip

San Diego County’s oldest and largest Federal wilderness area, encompasses Agua Tibia Mountain, a conifer-crowned-summit whose flanks are cloaked in old-growth chaparral. A 20-mile loop encircles Agua Tibia Mountain by way of the Dripping Springs Trail, the Magee-Palomar Road, and the Wild Horse Trail. There are no reliable water sources on this route, which means you will have to bring all the water you need. Hikers should also note that the chaparral on the west face of Agua Tibia Mountain can become overgrown, making passage nearly impossible. We update this blog regularly from information gained from trail volunteers who work on keeping the vegetation cleared. 

Secret Canyon Trail

barker valley backpacking trip

This 15.6 mile point-to-point route travels through the heart of Cleveland National Forest’s Pine Creek Wilderness. The Secret Canyon Trail follows Pine Creek, which rumbles along melodiously through winter and spring to provide a reliable source of water. This route can become dangerously hot and dry during summer and early fall, and the best times to visit are generally in March and April. In addition to reliable water, there are some interesting historical features along the way, including an old flume grade that was intended to carry water from the Cuyamacas to the city of San Diego. 

Rabbit Peak

barker valley backpacking trip

This monster of a hike ranks high on the list of toughest hiking experiences in San Diego County. This 21 mile hike gains 8,300 feet of elevation over rough terrain with no formal trail. There’s no water anywhere to be found, and the sun exposure is relentless. This isn’t a casual endeavor, but for those skilled enough, prepared enough, and determined enough, Rabbit Peak is the ultimate backcountry experience in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. 

barker valley backpacking trip

This island in the sky towers thousands of feet above the desert floor and occupies a spot roughly in the center of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. The flat summit features numerous campsites and comfortable boulders from which you can watch the sun sink over the Cuyamacas into the Pacific. Sunrises are also sublime here. Note that the trail is informal, the road is rough, and there is no water to be found along the route. 

Agua Caliente Creek

barker valley backpacking trip

San Diego County contains roughly 120 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail, including the Southern Terminus at Campo. There are only a few spots in the county where the PCT runs along a reliable water source for any length of time, and of those spots, the segment along Agua Caliente Creek might be the prettiest. After an undulating approach through mature chaparral, the PCT follows a riparian corridor along Agua Caliente for a couple of miles, stopping at a number of good campsites. Be aware that if you backpack here during spring, you will end up competing with PCT hikers for campsites. 

Caliente Wilderness

barker valley backpacking trip

One slated for wilderness study, this rugged drainage above Agua Caliente Creek features everything you’d hope to find in a wilderness area: silence, solitude, and beauty. A delightful stretch of the PCT climbs away from Warner Springs into a rocky highlands dominated by chaparral and featuring fantastic views of San Diego’s highest point, Hot Springs Mountain . There’s no reliable water on this route, although in wet years there might be running water in an oak-dotted swale in the center of the valley. 

Pinyon Ridge

barker valley backpacking trip

This rugged ridge divides Borrego Valley from San Felipe Valley, and it boasts stellar views, spring wildflowers, and abundant opportunities for camping. Unlike most routes in Anza-Borrego, there’s actually a discernible trail here, which minimizes some of the usual risks and challenges with cross-country navigation. Cap the route off with a scramble to the top of Wilson Peak to enjoy far-ranging views across the Anza-Borrego Desert. 

High Point via Oak Grove

barker valley backpacking trip

While the name of this mountain isn’t exactly creative (it’s the highest point in the Palomar Mountains, hence, “High Point”) the scenery is phenomenal. There are two potential water source (you will definitely want to filter them though), and there are a number of dispersed campsites near the summit. The views are the principal attraction – those views are so good that Cleveland National Forest continues to operate a fire lookout tower from spring to winter due to the peak’s nearly 360-degree views across most of Southern California. 

Barker Valley

barker valley backpacking trip

Much like the Caliente Wilderness, Barker Valley is too small for official wilderness designation, but it retains the look and feel of a true wilderness. The fledgling San Luis Rey River runs through the heart of the valley, providing a water source through winter, spring, and occasionally early summer. There’s an old stone weir at the end of a game trail that once served as a test site for hydroelectric power. Campsites abound in the heart of the valley not far from the river. 

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Tags: Agua Tibia Loop , Agua Tibia Wilderness , Anza-Borrego Desert State Park , Backpacking , best hikes in san diego , Cleveland National Forest , Cuyamaca Mountains , cuyamaca rancho state park , East Mesa Loop , Pacific Crest Trail , Palomar Mountains , Peninsular Ranges , Pine Creek Wilderness , Rabbit Peak , San Diego County , San Ysidro Mountains , Santa Rosa Mountains , Secret Canyon , Vallecito Mountains

barker valley backpacking trip

Scott is an L.A. native and San Diego transplant who pulls every trick in the book to get out on the trail. His first book, a revision of Afoot and Afield San Diego County, is now out.

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Backpacking In California: 20 Amazing Spots You Must Visit

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Our two favorite things to do in the outdoors in California is hike and camp. Why not combine the two with a backpack camping trip? We know camping in Southern California is very popular with families to couples and folks with their dogs, but for the more adventurous, finding cool spots for backpacking in California is even more exciting.

There are some amazing spots for backpacking in California, from the Bay Area of San Francisco to Southern California and everywhere in between. Some favorite places for backpack camping include Joshua Tree , the Lake Tahoe area, Yosemite National Park and the Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Park areas. Much of these wilderness areas are more ‘hard core backpacking’ for those with experience and the legs to carry themselves further than a couple of mile hike.

For those of you who are new to this outdoor adventure, we share relatively easy, doable backpacking trails here in California to consider for your first (or second or third!) backpacking camping trip with or without kids. As we explore more of the backcountry camping options throughout California, we will update this list.

Don’t miss our top tips and backpacking hacks for beginners !

Jump to a Heading Below

20 Overnight Spots for Backpacking in California 

Are you looking to get out into the backcountry?  It has become one of our favorite past times to really get off grid and see some really remarkable landscapes that just wouldn’t be possible on day trips. Below we share some easy beginner trails as well as some longer hikes even a few segments of the JMT that can be done on short stints.

Crystal Cove State Park

barker valley backpacking trip

The trails are busy during the day with those on a day hike, but once the sun sets, this becomes your little oasis of nature. Crystal Cove State Park is one of the best family friendly backpacking trips as it’s a short trail, meaning you can pack it out and get back home pretty quickly if it all falls apart.  Note, there is little shade at the camping area, which can be very hot during the summer months.  Also, as with most backcountry campsites, there is no fire allowed other than a camp stove. 

Catalina Island Backpack Camping

barker valley backpacking trip

Don’t despair though, there are options for those without the stamina to go for so long! For the shorter options, you can take the ferry to Two Harbors, where you will hike 5 miles from Two Harbors to Little Harbor. Little Harbor Campground was rated “One of the Best Campgrounds in the West” by Sunset Magazine, so it’s popular and requires advance reservations.

Backpack camping at Catalina does take a bit of advance preparation since you have to take the boat across in advance and camping is allowed only in the established campgrounds, which do require reservations. If Little Harbor is full, you could attempt to hike to Parsons Landing which is a bit further (around 7 miles one way). For both of these sites you can reserve water and firewood in a locker that will be waiting for you. For Little Harbor you can also have an ice chest with food delivered as an added bonus. This is a wonderful addition to help ease your load. Find out all you need to backpack Catalina Island on our ultimate guide .

Channel Islands Camping

barker valley backpacking trip

We recommend this as a great starter backpack camping trip since you have to pack in and out all of your stuff, but you don’t necessarily have to hike that far from where the boat drops you off! It helps you learn what is needed for backpacking camping, how much weight you can carry comfortably without putting too much stress on your body carrying it a long distance. 

There is one established campground on each of the islands: above the Landing Cove on Santa Barbara (.25 mile, steep uphill), on the east islet of Anacapa (up stairs about .5 mile hike), at Scorpion Canyon on Santa Cruz (.5 mile flat hike), at Water Canyon on Santa Rosa (1.5 miles from pier, flat), and above Cuyler Harbor on San Miguel (1 mile; steep uphill).

In addition to the established campgrounds, there is limited backcountry camping options as well. Del Norte campsite near Prisoners Harbor on Santa Cruz Island is the only option for year round backcountry camping and is about 3.5 miles hike from Prisoners Harbor. Also, during certain times of year, backcountry beach camping is allowed on Santa Rosa Island, but the nearest site is about a 9 mile hike.

Read up more about what you need to bring with you, how to make reservations and how to purchase boat transfers here . 

Mount San Jacinto State Park

barker valley backpacking trip

Backpacking camping at San Jacinto is a great option even with young kids.  There are such beautiful meadows and alpine areas you will feel miles away from civilization even if you take the easy way and take the tram up! Once you arrive to the top of the tram, you will need to hike around 2.3 miles to Round Valley . Here you will find water (usually, but bring enough and filtration) and several beautiful established campsites. This is an amazing first backpacking option when the tram is operating and the restaurant is open – meaning you could even make it a multi-night campout without worrying about bringing so much food since you could always pop into the Mountain station for refreshments! 

Note: You will need a permit and that permit at the time of writing goes through the regular mail! Applications can be found here . 

Hoegee’s Camp in the San Gabriel Mountains

Another great option for those of us looking for backpack trips in Southern California is Hoegees Camp. This backcountry campsite lies along Winter Creek in the canyon adjacent to Sturtevant Falls . Both trails begin from Chantry Flats. (Note: An adventure pass is required to park at Chantry Flats).

And while the hike to Hoegees Camp does not offer a waterfall like Sturtevant Falls, it does offer a 4.25-mile out-and-back hike through a lush canyon with only about 700 feet of elevation change. Hoegee’s Camp was a resort for hikers back before the 50s. Now it offers  vault toilets, picnic tables and fire rings on 14 first come first serve sites. These are free and available year round. 

The directions are fairly straightforward. Start at Chantry Flats and descend along the paved trail for 0.6 miles to Roberts Camp. After crossing the bridge at the bottom of the pavement, you will come to a junction; make sure to turn left onto Lower Winter Creek Trail at this point. You will pass a few wilderness homes and concrete dams along the way before arriving to Hoegee’s Camp.

Gould Mesa Campground

hiking and backpacking in california can be done locally at Gould Mesa

This campground is a first come first serve site, so you would need to get there super early on a weekend to make sure you procure a site. Week days are still busy, but less competitive. Fires are allowed in the established fire pits and there is one pit toilet for your use.

Piedra Blanca Wilderness Camp

barker valley backpacking trip

When you are here, you have several options on where to go backpacking. You can go towards the Piedra Blanca Camp which is the left at the trail junction or you can head around 4.2 miles towards Bear Creek Campground. Again these are popular spots for first timers so you won’t be alone out here. 

You will need an Adventure Pass to park at the trailhead. Note: the parking lot fills up VERY quickly on weekends, so plan to arrive no later than 8 a.m. Check in with the Ojai Ranger station before you head out to check on current fire restrictions.

Want a packing list for your next car camping trip with kids? Download and print our extensive family camping packing list here !

Barker Valley in the Palomar Mountains

Barker Valley in the Palomar Mountains, located in northeast San Diego County is probably not best for your first backpacking trip, but is a great one when you want a little more challenge. To backpack camp at Barker Valley, you will need to obtain a permit from Cleveland National Forest. The best time of year to camp here is late spring when there is water in the creek and it is not too cold. 

The hike isn’t too strenuous, however, you must hike down about 1000 feet in elevation to the river to camp, which means you will hike back up it when you leave. It clocks in at about 6.5 miles total, so it’s not over the top strenuous, but also not one of the easiest.  Once you work up to this type of backpacking camping trip, you may never go back to the short and simple hike-in spots! Note: This area is notably colder than you think, so pack for cooler weather! 

Joshua Tree Backcountry Camping

Off grid camping at Joshua Tree National Park is one of the best spots for backpacking in California

The rule here for off grid camping is as long as you are 500 feet from any trail and 1 mile from a road and not on day use land, you are good to go. Make sure that you are also very good at leave no trace. One recommended location is to take the Boy Scout trail and camp west of it. 

In addition to the camping options inside the park, there is also dispersed camping just on the outskirts of the actual park. Most campers suggest heading to the 29 Palms area for BLM land. If you need more information on what to do while in Joshua Tree or 29 Palms , we have you covered. We have spent so much time here exploring from when my son was a toddler to a pre-teen!

Cedar Glen Backcountry Camp (aka IceHouse Trail)

Cedar Glen Backcountry Camp in the San Bernardino Mountains is a backcountry camp located about 2.75 miles and about 1,200 feet in elevation from the Icehouse Trailhead (following the Chapman Trail at the split). While this camp is higher elevation, the hike isn’t too strenuous for those carrying their gear. The camp area has space for a group as well as smaller more covered up areas away from the trail. There are no established markers (like fire rings) for camp however. 

To camp here you will need to obtain a free permit from the Mount Baldy Visitor Center (909.982.2829). The only fires permitted at the camp are camp stoves also with a prearranged permit. Even though this camp doesn’t have any amenities, it makes a good base for hiking in the area or to try out your backcountry camping skills. 

Horsethief Canyon to Pine Valley Creek

Horsethief Canyon Trailhead runs through Cleveland National Forest’s Pine Creek Wilderness and is perfect for backpacking at any one of the shady campsites near Pine Valley Creek. This is a relatively easy hike both into and out of the canyon, with easy access to water, making this a perfect backpacking trip for newbies to get their first taste of backcountry camping.

Follow the trail to around 1.5 miles, where the trail veers away from Horsethief Creek and approaches Pine Valley Creek. Once you reach the banks of the creek at 1.6 miles, you can look around the area for a spot to settle in for the night. While here, enjoy the cottonwood trees and search for some of the grinding holes on the boulders along the west side of the water hole.

You will need to obtain a permit in advance of your overnight trip through the Cleveland National Forest. Fill out this form , fax it to the Descanso District, and wait for them to mail it back to you. Call to find out if they have managed to update their system yet to make it easier!

Kitchen Creek to Fred Canyon (A PCT Hike/Camp)

Have you ever dreamed of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT)? Well here is your chance to do a portion of the hike and camp along the way too. The beauty of hiking the PCT is the ability to set up camp most places. In this area, dispersed camping is allowed on National Forest land off Kitchen Creek Road and Thing Valley Road. 

This short and easy segment (about 3 miles in and 3 miles back) offers nice views of the surrounding area with little incline or elevation change (550 gain if walking uphill from Kitchen Creek and downhill if walking from Fred Canyon). This short distance makes it great for families or beginning backpackers. The best time of year to do this trail is summer, fall or spring as winter can get cold. 

Note: A National Forest Adventure Pass is required to park. The trailhead has space for 3-5 vehicles. Parking at the Fred Canyon Road end requires a high clearance vehicle to pass through the road. No facilities until Cibbets Flat at the turn-around area. A visitor’s permit can be obtained locally from the Descanso Ranger District in the Cleveland National Forest. 

Buckeye Trail in the Los Padres Forest near Big Sur

Big Sur is one of the most beautiful places in California for camping – whether it is car camping or backpack camping. One of the best trails to try out in the area is the Buckeye Trail. This moderately difficult, albeit beautiful trail has ocean views and travels through oak groves, redwood groves, chaparral.

The Buckeye Trail is 8.6 miles long in total, with several campgrounds dotted along the way. Beginning at the abandoned Salmon Creek Guard Station the trail winds its way north-northwest along the coastal slope, offering sweeping views of the coastline.  After passing above and within view of the Southern Redwood Botanical Area, the trail arrives at Buckeye Flat. From Buckeye Flat, the trail continues north through Cruikshank Camp before descending to Villa Creek Camp.

If you can make it all the way to Villa Creek, you will be rewarded with redwood trees and tranquil sounds of flowing water.  To start your hike, park at the now closed Salmon Creek Ranger station off Hwy 1. 

Recent visitors report an overgrown trail with quite a bit of poison oak at the first .5 mile. Also let it be known it’s a somewhat strenuous hike with somewhat steep drop offs. 

Big Pine Lakes

Backpacking in California at Big Pine Lakes with a green Nemo Tent

This is a true backcountry camping experience with no established grounds. However, the great news is that there is plenty of fresh cold water (always filter!) so you do not need to bring a ton with you. That said, you are recommended to bring a bear container as there are bears in this neck of the woods. See below for more on recommended gear for any backpack camping trip. This trip also requires a permit for camping that you can get on .

Chickenfoot Lake in Little Lakes Valley

Another fantastic spot for backpacking in California, also located in the eastern Sierra Nevadas, is at Chickenfoot Lake on the Little Lakes Valley trail .  This is a popular spot for fishing and backpacking in California. Beginning your journey from the Mosquito Flat Trailhead, you will hike around 3.5 miles to the lake before setting up camp. Even though you might think 3.5 miles isn’t very far, this is at 10,000+ foot elevation and is considered a moderate hike, especially with a 30 pound pack on! That said, it is only 1000 feet in elevation, making this one of the easiest backpacking trips we have found in the Eastern Sierras.

You will need a wilderness permit which can be found on 6 months in advance or as a walk up option 2 weeks before  your hike date. This is a very popular hike, so permits are often difficult to come by. 

Obviously there is water available at the lake, but make sure to bring adequate filtration (we love this water filter !). And don’t forget the camera/phone chargers. This is one of the most beautiful sites (other than Big Pine Lakes) on this list and you will want a ton of photos!

An extension on this hike is Rock Creek to Mammoth Lakes clocking in at around 38 miles. You will need transport at the other end, but a cool trail exiting Duck Lake. 

Duck Lake & Pika Lake

Another great Eastern Sierra backpacking trip that is worth exploring is to Duck and Pika Lakes outside of Mammoth. We first looked at this hike as part of a 5 day thru hike, but realized it can also easily be done as a simple backpacking trip. Many people do this as a day hike, but it is about 10.5 miles round trip, so why not spend the night up by the lake and explore more from there? Going all the way to Pika Lake, you will see Arrowhead Lake, Skelton Lake, Barney Lake, Duck Lake and Pika. Stunning views make this a favorite so you won’t be alone up there!

The whole hike to Pika Lake and back is about 10.5 miles round trip and roughly 2,000 ft of gain. Again permits are required and can be found at

John Muir Trail Section Hiking: Tuolumne Meadows to Devils Postpile

barker valley backpacking trip

This trip can be done in 2-5 nights depending on your fitness and level of comfort. It is about 38 miles one way. In order to do this trail, there are a bit of logistics to sort out, but during the summer months the YARTS and the Reds Meadow Shuttle make this very doable. 

Yosemite Thru Hike – Happy Isles to Tuolumne

Another fantastic backpacking in California bucket list trip that everyone hopes to do someday is the first segment of the JMT from Happy Isles to Tuolumne. Again, during summer this trip is made easier with shuttles so that you can go one way without worry. We recommend taking a couple of days to do this trip to really enjoy it. Serious thru-hikers often do it in just 1 night, but we like to take our time! Park your car at Tuolumne where you will finish, take the YARTS shuttle to Yosemite Valley and off you go. This can also be done in reverse which makes it mostly downhill and it is easier to get permits as well. 

Backpacking to Minaret Lakes

Although this can be done as a long day hike, why not backpack and spend a little more time here really soaking up the sights? This can easily be a 1-2 night trip. I would recommend hiking to Minaret Lake or as close to it as you can make so that you can see the alpenglow over the minarets in the morning. The round trip for this trail is 16 miles. 

Getting here during summer requires a little bit more of effort and planning. If you drive down before 7 a.m. you can drive and park in the overnight hikers parking lot. If not, you will need to take the Reds Meadow/Devils Postpile shuttle to get to the trailhead. Once on the shuttle, you will get off at stop #6. There is water and bathrooms here to use before you set off. 

Permits are also required for this hike. You need a permit for Minaret Lake, not the northern section of the JMT.

Backpacking Green Lake Near Bridgeport

Green Lake is a hidden gem tucked away near Bridgeport, California that is a perfect backpacking route for beginners. Getting into the trail requires a long drive down a 9 mile dirt road, but it can be passed with most vehicles easily. This is an out and back trail covering around 6 miles total. An overnight permit is required for any backpacking trip in the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, which can be found on . A beautiful blue-green (actually) lake awaits you. this is perfect for a 1 or 2 night backpacking adventure with plenty of area to explore around the lake.

Things to Consider for Backpacking in California

As you prepare for your first or 10th backpacking trip, you will need to consider a few things. 

  • Destination: How far can you go? Do you need a permit? Is there water available? What is the best season?
  • Gear: What type of gear will you need? Will you pitch a tent or try hammock sleeping? What about filtration for water? Do you have all the lightweight gear necessary?
  • Food: What will you eat and drink? Will you be able to pack light enough to carry it all, but have enough food for your trip? How will you cook it? Clean it?
  • Leave No Trace: Are you prepared to pack in/out all of your belongings, including your poop?

Essential Packing List for Backpacking in California

Check out our backpacking pack list (with free printable).

A backpack of some sort is a necessity. Most people recommend getting anything from a 45 liter to 60 liter pack. For two adults who can split things up between you, you could probably get away with a bit smaller pack, but bigger will always allow more versatility. Try not to pack your bag to more than 20% of your body weight for maximum comfort. 

Backpacking Tent

A lightweight backpacking tent will probably be the most expensive item you will purchase, but in the end it will be worth it to have a light durable tent. We like the Nemo Dagger lightweight tents . They are light, easy to put up and just fits two people with sleeping mats, but there are various options. Remember every little ounce adds up on each item.

Sleeping Pad

We use the Sea to Summit sleeping pad and the Therma-rest Ultralite Pad. 

Sleeping Bag

There are a variety of great lightweight sleeping bags. The most important thing to keep in mind is the weather that you plan to camp in and the weight. One great bag is the REI Joule 21, which is a great 3 season pack that is light but also very warm. Other options are Feathered Friends for lightweight down sleeping bags or Enlightened Equipment Ultralight quilts. We love our Zenbivy quilts with sheets that attach to our mats. 

Trekking Poles

We love our Black Diamond poles we have had since our trip hiking the narrows in Zion many years ago!

If you plan to be off the radar quite a bit, getting a reliable GPS device is essential. We recommend the Garmin Inreach Mini . You never know when an emergency will strike or you need to contact someone. 

Get the smallest lightest one you can. We like the Biolite headlamp, but there are a ton of options. If you do have space, consider also bringing a small solar light and/or power bank as well in case you have battery problems.

First Aid Kit

REI has a ton of great backpacking first aid kits that are also waterproof which can be essential for longer backpacking trips. 

Camp stoves will be one of your most important items for cooking. The top brand used by most backpackers is Jetboil . They have so many different options, which are small, light and boil water quickly. Another option people have recommended is the MCR Pocket Rocket stove and/or the full mess kit with stove . Test out a few, feel how heavy they are, see how they work for you before you set out in the wilderness. 

Water Purification

Water purification is an important thing to consider when backpacking in California. Not all sites will have access to water, but if they do, you will always need to filter the water. Many people use the SteriPen , water bottles (we have this one ) that filter or even gravity bags that filter between the two bags. Our preferred is the Platypus Quickdraw. 

Cups/B owls

The idea thing here is to bring thats that are super light and can be used for multiple purposes. Check out various options, but this on e is useful and light for us. 

Leave No Trace Poop Kit

Have your baggie ready for tissues and a trowel handy to dig your holes. 

Figuring out what to eat is some of the most difficult decisions for backpacking. Here are a few favorites we have on our list: Instant coffee sticks, apple & cinnamon instant oatmeal, nuts and seeds, coffee glazed almonds, Inner bean black bean snack, banana chips, just mangos, oven baked cheese bites, peanut butter pretzels, mini peanut butter crackers, garlic basil linguine pasta (from Trader Joes: cooks in 2-4 min), chicken broth packets with couscous. Other options are freeze dried foods from REI. We have heard the Pad See You by Backpackers Country is delicious, but haven’t tried it yet! 

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Have you been to any of these spots for backpacking in California? We have so many on our bucket list including the “Lost Coast” in northern California, adventuring on the John Muir trail and maybe even someday we might find ourselves backpacking near Mount Whitney!

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10 of the best backpacking spots near san diego.

10 best backpacking spots near San Diego

Travelers are getting more active and adventurous. While for many the idea of a vacation conjures up images of sun-drenched beaches and long, lazy lunches, the prospect of strapping on your hiking boots and conquering challenging trails is an increasingly popular one. Hiking is now the 4th biggest outdoor activity in the US, and over 45 million people choose to go on a backpacking vacation every year.

Part of the reason for the growing popularity of backpacking is the trend for wellness travel. For many, wellness might just mean yoga and quinoa bowls, but the more strenuous activity that comes with a serious hike has a hugely positive impact on stress, cortisol levels, and blood pressure, and is a great way to get fitter and healthier as well.

For travelers looking to embrace a more rugged vacation, California’s stunning and varied scenery makes it a wonderful destination for outdoor adventurers. While San Diego is a big cruising port and surf destination , the mountains and trails of Southern California are well worth exploring as well, and it makes a wonderful base for a backpacking adventure. Here are ten of the best backpacking spots near San Diego.

Mount Woodson

Mount Woodson is one of the most recognizable SoCal hiking trails, thanks to the picture-perfect ‘ Potato Chip Rock ’ on the way up. Grabbing a photo at this iconic rock formation is a must, but the real attraction is the challenging ascent and staggeringly beautiful views over the Californian countryside. The trails are steep and can be tough, but the breathtaking views around every corner make it totally worthwhile.

Cedar Creek Falls

cedar creek falls

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The Devil’s Punchbowl, the endpoint of the Cedar Creek Falls trail, is one of the most spectacular hiking destinations that Southern California has to offer. A deep, inviting pool at the base of the falls themselves, the Punchbowl is a dramatic sight with its 75-foot cliff surroundings. The Cedar Creek Falls trail is a tough one (it is all uphill on the way back!) and it can get pretty warm in the heat of the summer, so be prepared with plenty of water.

Cuyamaca Rancho

Cuyamaca Rancho State Park gets pretty high at points, and it’s one of the best places to guarantee snowy views in the colder months. There are plenty of trails to choose from within the state park, with the best and most challenging ending up taking on Cuyamaca Peak itself. The Azalea Glen Loop is seven hard miles that will take you to the summit and back, and offers the best mountain panoramas in the state.

Palomar Mountains

The Barker Valley in the Palomar Mountains is a great overnight hike, with a steady, gentle descent down around 1,0000 feet to the river camp, followed by a steep trek back up to the trailhead the next morning! With pretty meadows, a descent cascade, and a lovely riverside atmosphere it makes a great option for newbie backpackers. Just make sure you get a good night’s sleep to be able to tackle the ascent the following day.

Torrey Pines

best backpacking spots near San Diego Torrey Pines

Torrey Pines State Park is everything that is good about La Jolla , with sweeping coastal views, rugged cliff edges, and dark pine forests (the eponymous Torrey pine trees are the rarest in the US). There are a bunch of great backpacking trails here, from easier, shorter jaunts like the Razor Point Trail or the Guy Fleming Trail, to the longer full Torrey Pines Trail loop. In addition to the breathtaking scenery, lucky hikers might catch sight of Gray whales and Bottlenose dolphins in the waves below the bluffs.

Los Peñasquitos

The Los Peñasquitos Canyon is a great trail for backpackers of all ages and abilities, from kids and total beginners right the way through to hardened hikers. The route is pretty relaxed, but offers up some really beautiful scenery along the way, with some great river crossings and plenty of wildlife.

Known locally as ‘El Capitan’, El Cajon Mountain is one of the most serious and hardcore hikes you can find around San Diego. Seasoned hikers use the trails up El Capitan as training for Mount Whitney ascents, and even for Pacific Trail thru-hikes. The backpacking trails are steep and exposed, all bleak granite and dramatic all-round views, and the wilderness atmosphere is reminiscent of Yosemite. The main peak is just shy of 2,000 feet and represents a real challenge, as well as providing a real sense of achievements for those who conquer it. Overall it is one of the finest and most strenuous backpacking spots in Southern California.

The Three Sisters

Another hiking trail for more experienced backpackers, the Three Sisters trail offers bouldering, rope-led ascents, and even a bit of actual rock climbing before discovering the reward of the Three Sisters cascades. It is one of the largest waterfalls in the country, in a really remote spot, which makes it a real treat for adventurers who make it to the end of the trail. The route has some interesting switchbacks, slick granite slabs, and very pretty wildflower meadows.

Iron Mountain Trail

Despite the scary-sounding name, the Iron Mountain Trail is a popular weekend destination for San Diego residents, and a pretty gentle hike suitable for backpackers of all levels. It offers some pretty special vistas as it hits the eastern mountain ranges, and connects up with a range of other trails that can take you to further, more challenging peaks.

Balboa Park

Balboa Park San Diego

Balboa Park is the central park of San Diego, and might seem like an odd recommendation for hikers and backpackers. But this marvelous, iconic urban greenspace boasts 65 miles of excellent walking trails which offer an excellent combination of natural beauty and architectural sights. Balboa Park might be best known for its human-made attractions, and the museums, designed gardens, and bridges and structures are certainly worth exploring. But it is also a wonderful way to explore nature, a mini-wilderness that just happens to be a short taxi ride to great bars, restaurants and hotels as well!

Final Words

Beyond its famous beaches and family-friendly attractions, Southern California offers plenty of opportunities for sportier visitors to get active in nature. We hope that this roundup of 10 of the best backpacking spots near San Diego gave you some ideas of outdoor places to check out on your trip to the area.

And don’t forget: San Diego is not dubbed “The Craft Beer Capital of America” for nothing! So if you’re a beer lover, you’ll be able to relax and reward yourself with some great brews after your outdoor adventures .

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Do you have any other favorite spots for active travelers in the area? We’d love to hear about it – let us know in a comment below!

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Barker Valley Spur ( edit )

This is a easy one way trail in Cleveland National Forest.

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Public Tracks


Elevation Profile

Seasonal popularity, nearby hiking trails.

  • High Point via Oak Grove Trail ★ ★ ★ ★ DIFFICULT 13.2 mi
  • Aguanga Mountain via Palomar Divide Road and High Point Road ★ ★ ★ DIFFICULT 22.2 mi
  • High Point Road ★ ★ ★ DIFFICULT 8.9 mi
  • High Point Road ★ ★ ★ EASY 1.8 mi
  • High Point via Palomar Divide Road ★ ★ ★ EASY 2.9 mi
  • High Point ★ ★ ★ DIFFICULT 28.3 mi
  • Oak Grove Truck Trail ★ ★ MODERATE 4.0 mi
  • Observatory Campground - USFS via East Grade Road and S6 ★ ★ ★ DIFFICULT 26.8 mi
  • High Point Lookout via Palomar Divide Road ★ ★ DIFFICULT 12.7 mi
  • Half Way Road ★ ★ MODERATE 4.4 mi

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barker valley backpacking trip

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Out of the Centre

Savvino-storozhevsky monastery and museum.

Savvino-Storozhevsky Monastery and Museum

Zvenigorod's most famous sight is the Savvino-Storozhevsky Monastery, which was founded in 1398 by the monk Savva from the Troitse-Sergieva Lavra, at the invitation and with the support of Prince Yury Dmitrievich of Zvenigorod. Savva was later canonised as St Sabbas (Savva) of Storozhev. The monastery late flourished under the reign of Tsar Alexis, who chose the monastery as his family church and often went on pilgrimage there and made lots of donations to it. Most of the monastery’s buildings date from this time. The monastery is heavily fortified with thick walls and six towers, the most impressive of which is the Krasny Tower which also serves as the eastern entrance. The monastery was closed in 1918 and only reopened in 1995. In 1998 Patriarch Alexius II took part in a service to return the relics of St Sabbas to the monastery. Today the monastery has the status of a stauropegic monastery, which is second in status to a lavra. In addition to being a working monastery, it also holds the Zvenigorod Historical, Architectural and Art Museum.

Belfry and Neighbouring Churches

barker valley backpacking trip

Located near the main entrance is the monastery's belfry which is perhaps the calling card of the monastery due to its uniqueness. It was built in the 1650s and the St Sergius of Radonezh’s Church was opened on the middle tier in the mid-17th century, although it was originally dedicated to the Trinity. The belfry's 35-tonne Great Bladgovestny Bell fell in 1941 and was only restored and returned in 2003. Attached to the belfry is a large refectory and the Transfiguration Church, both of which were built on the orders of Tsar Alexis in the 1650s.  

barker valley backpacking trip

To the left of the belfry is another, smaller, refectory which is attached to the Trinity Gate-Church, which was also constructed in the 1650s on the orders of Tsar Alexis who made it his own family church. The church is elaborately decorated with colourful trims and underneath the archway is a beautiful 19th century fresco.

Nativity of Virgin Mary Cathedral

barker valley backpacking trip

The Nativity of Virgin Mary Cathedral is the oldest building in the monastery and among the oldest buildings in the Moscow Region. It was built between 1404 and 1405 during the lifetime of St Sabbas and using the funds of Prince Yury of Zvenigorod. The white-stone cathedral is a standard four-pillar design with a single golden dome. After the death of St Sabbas he was interred in the cathedral and a new altar dedicated to him was added.

barker valley backpacking trip

Under the reign of Tsar Alexis the cathedral was decorated with frescoes by Stepan Ryazanets, some of which remain today. Tsar Alexis also presented the cathedral with a five-tier iconostasis, the top row of icons have been preserved.

Tsaritsa's Chambers

barker valley backpacking trip

The Nativity of Virgin Mary Cathedral is located between the Tsaritsa's Chambers of the left and the Palace of Tsar Alexis on the right. The Tsaritsa's Chambers were built in the mid-17th century for the wife of Tsar Alexey - Tsaritsa Maria Ilinichna Miloskavskaya. The design of the building is influenced by the ancient Russian architectural style. Is prettier than the Tsar's chambers opposite, being red in colour with elaborately decorated window frames and entrance.

barker valley backpacking trip

At present the Tsaritsa's Chambers houses the Zvenigorod Historical, Architectural and Art Museum. Among its displays is an accurate recreation of the interior of a noble lady's chambers including furniture, decorations and a decorated tiled oven, and an exhibition on the history of Zvenigorod and the monastery.

Palace of Tsar Alexis

barker valley backpacking trip

The Palace of Tsar Alexis was built in the 1650s and is now one of the best surviving examples of non-religious architecture of that era. It was built especially for Tsar Alexis who often visited the monastery on religious pilgrimages. Its most striking feature is its pretty row of nine chimney spouts which resemble towers.

barker valley backpacking trip

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