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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.