The 10 Best Hikes Within 3 Hours of Sacramento
Northern California literally has it all. You can explore urban cities, charming suburbs, community parks and even secluded wilderness. But during busy weeks of work and school, it’s easy to get bogged down in the hustle and bustle of daily life. We may even forget about the acres of wilderness right in our backyard!
To help get you out to see some of the region’s best fall foliage, fields of wildflowers in the spring and beautiful year-round trails, we rounded up the best hikes within three hours of the city. Whether you want a quick trip just up the road or an adventure all the way to the Pacific Ocean, every single one promises views, challenges and a breath of fresh air!
1. Point Defiance Loop Trail | South Yuba River State Park
Roundtrip 2.5 miles | Dogs allowed | Get directions
In the westernmost portion of South Yuba River State Park, this easy, 2.5-mile loop travels through oak savannah, a mix of woodland and lower mountain pine forest as well as a river bank zone. So in one fell swoop, you get three different sights! During the summer months the trail can get quite hot, but with the river so close you’re welcome to take a dip. When fall rolls around, you’ll get the opportunity to see some of the region’s fall color with fewer crowds.
Begin across the river from the South Yuba River State Park Visitor Center and head for the switchbacks. Once you make it past the steep incline, you’ll find a more gradual incline, pleasant surroundings and beautiful vistas!
2. Jones Bar and West Trail Loop | South Yuba River State Park
Roundtrip 3.7 miles | Dogs allowed | Get directions
Another South Yuba River State Park must, this moderate trail is accessible year-round and welcomes bikers, hikers and their dogs. Now a popular route amongst swimmers, Jones Bar was once the largest mining camp on this 25-mile stretch of the river! No matter what time of year you venture out, you’ll be able to follow the reconstructed mining flume along the upper canyon wall and get a feel for local history.
3. Independence Trail West | South Yuba River State Park
Roundtrip 2.2 miles | Dogs allowed | Get directions
When the Independence Trail was originally constructed, it was the nation’s first identified handicapped-accessible wilderness trail. The historic gold mining ditch is now one of the region’s most interesting hikes — especially if you choose the west trail instead of the east. Leading through some impressive wooden flumes, you’ll encounter plenty of viewpoints high above the South Yuba River where you can look out and take in the summer sun, the fall colors, the spring wildflowers, or simply appreciate the roaring waters. But once you traverse just over a mile, you can take in even more rushing waters from Flume 28. Here, you’ll find access to Rush Creek and views of a cascading waterfall.
Check out Bear Yuba Land Trust for even more info!
4. Cascade Canal Trail | Nevada City
Roundtrip 8.8 miles | Dogs allowed | Get directions
This level but lengthy trail near Nevada City, California features beautiful wildflowers during spring and summer and the few dogwood trees mixed in between Douglas firs offer colorful surprises during the fall. Starting at 3200 feet, there won’t be much elevation change from start to finish and the height promises cooler temps, but be sure you can handle the altitude before you head out. If you’re comfortable, add on Orene Wetherall Trail for an extra couple miles into the wilderness!
To begin, strike out on either Gracie Road Trailhead or Red Dog Road Trailhead. Both have quick access to Cascade Canal Trail, but if you’re worried about finding parking, we suggest the Gracie Road Trailhead. To get there, hop on Gracie Rd in Nevada City and follow the clearly marked signs.
5. Mount Tallac Trail | South Lake Tahoe
Roundtrip 9.6 miles | Dogs allowed | Get directions
Taking you to the top of the region’s tallest peak, the 9,735-foot-tall Mt. Tallac, this strenuous trail may not be for beginners but it does offer some of the best views in the region. Along the way and from the top, you’ll encounter breathtaking views of Desolation Wilderness and Lake Tahoe itself.
To begin, find the trailhead on the southwestern side of Lake Tahoe between Emerald Bay and Camp Richardson. There are plenty of signs along the way. Once you register your day hike in the Desolation Wilderness area using a free permit at the trail sign, you’re ready to head into the forest! After you leave the light tree cover, you’ll be heading up to the ridgeline which follows alongside the shores of Fallen Leaf Lake and features continuous views!
6. Horsetail Falls Trail | Twin Bridges
Roundtrip 3.3 miles | Dogs allowed | Get directions
This moderate hike is hugely popular between June and September because it’s kid-friendly, dog-friendly and features an incredible waterfall! In fact, if you’re pressed for time but you’re craving some cascading water views, we would recommend this hike over a trip into Yosemite National Park!
Because it’s located inside Desolation Wilderness, you’ll need to register your day hike before you head out, but this is completely free and can be done at the trailhead. Then, make sure you’re ready for some rocky terrain and strike out!
7. Dipsea Trail | Mill Valley
Roundtrip 9.5 miles | Dogs not allowed | Get directions
Photo courtesy of The Dipsea Race and Bob Cullinan
To take on this difficult oceanside trail, head west from Sacramento to Mill Valley. For the full adventure, we suggest starting from the famed Dipsea stairs beginning in town. Park at Old Mill Park near downtown and start climbing. From there, you’ll cover steep grades and approximately 688 steps for a total of 2,000 feet in elevation gain. But don’t let that scare you away! You’ll also traverse fairytale-like forests, groves of majestic redwoods and coastal landscapes before eventually reaching the Pacific Ocean.
If you love the route as much as we do, you can start training for the oldest trail race in the US — The Dipsea Race!
8. East Ridge Trail Loop | Oakland
Roundtrip 6.2 miles | Dogs allowed | Get directions
Redwood Regional Park is a popular destination for anyone who has spent time in the East Bay. Winding through groves of coast redwoods and grassy meadows, tracing ridgelines and steep slopes you can enjoy the proximity of nature year-round.
For the East Ridge Trail Loop, start descending on the East Ridge trail then connect to the Stream trail via the Canyon trail around mile three. Along the way, you’ll walk through stands of oak trees, look out over the rolling hills, cross a stream over a wooden bridge, and finish with a satisfying uphill climb!
9. North Sonoma Mountain Ridge Trail | Santa Rosa
One way 3.8 miles | Dogs not allowed | Get directions
North Sonoma Mountain Regional Park and Open Space Preserve is the newest addition to Sonoma County’s park system and offers over 800 acres to view and explore. For those looking to challenge themselves while exploring, we suggest the North Sonoma Mountain Ridge Trail! It climbs to nearly 2,000 feet above sea level over 3.8 miles and eventually brings you to the western boundary of Jack London State Historic Park.
Beginning near a grove of giant coastal redwoods, you’ll cross Matanzas Creek over a footbridge, traverse beautiful open fields, and wind up the mountain’s north slope. Winter and spring hikers will see vernal pools and fields of stunning wildflowers while fall trekkers can enjoy the spacious views of Sonoma’s changing foliage.
10. Rockbound Trail | Eldorado National Forest
One way 7.7 miles | Dogs not allowed | Get directions
Wildflowers, wildlife, fall colors, lake views, and river walks — this trail in Eldorado National Forest and the Desolation Wilderness has it all! Beginning at the Rockbound Trailhead parking lot next to Wrights Lake, the trail winds through forest and brings you to Beauty Lake in no time. As the trees disperse and you pass other trailheads, you’ll begin the steepest section up to Maude Lake. Then, once you reach Rockbound Pass, you’ll have covered over 1,500 vertical feet and 6.5 miles! But don’t stop here because the descent into the valley offers views of a green and pleasant stretch of trail leading to the stunning Doris Lakes.
As always in the Desolation Wilderness, don’t forget to fill out a free registration at the trailhead before you head out and up!
Let us know which trails you love near Sacramento in the comments below!