What To Know About Hiking California’s Stunning Pacific Coast

California’s Coastal Ranges may be shorter than other ranges in California, but they are stunning and full of hiking opportunities.

The Western half of the United States boasts many massive and stunning mountain ranges. There are the Rockies, the Sierra Nevadas, the Cascades, and the Coast Ranges – these are all geologically distinct ranges with their own geologic histories. Hiking through these different ranges provides for very different experiences.

California is a truly remarkable state with incredible diversity. Its Sierra Nevadas are full of natural wonders like Yosemite, the Sequoia Giants, and King’s Canyon National Park. It can be argued that California and the Pacific Northwest are the best places in the world for a road trip.

What To Know About California’s Coast Ranges

California boasts the stunning Coast Ranges. These mountains span some 400 miles or 644 kilometers and stretch from Del Norte or Humboldt Country to Santa Barbara County both in California.

The four coastal ranges in California are:

  • The Coast Ranges
  • The Transverse Ranges
  • The Peninsular Ranges
  • The Klamath Mountains

The northern end of California’s Coast Ranges overlap with the southern end of the Klamath Mountains and meet the Los Angeles Transverse Ranges at their southern terminus.

  • Length: 400 miles or 644 kilometers

The rocks in the range represent a number of different geological periods including the Tertiary, Cretaceous, and Jurassic periods. Whereas much of the rock of the Sierra Nevada Ranges is hard granite, most of the rock of the Coast Ranges was formed from sea bottom sediments. Although there are also places of igneous rock infused into cracks and crevices.

Over the millions of years, the range has been folded and faulted and much of the softer rock has been eroded away. The Coast Ranges are stunning and part of UNESCO’s “California Coast Ranges Biosphere Reserve” since 1983.

The California Coast Ranges can be split into the Northern Coast Ranges and the Southern Coast Ranges.

Northern Coast Ranges:

The Northern Coast Ranges are subdivided into the Outer and Inner ranges that run parallel to each other. For the most part, U.S. Route 101 runs in the valley between these ranges.

The Outer range is full of lush forests of Coast Redwood and Coast Douglas-fir (as the range extends into the California coastal forests ecoregion). The inner range is dryer and is part of the California chaparral and woodlands ecoregion.

  • Mount Linn: Highest Point Of The Northern Coast Ranges At 8,098 ft. (2,468 m)

Southern Coast Ranges:

The Southern Coast Ranges begin on the San Francisco Peninsula and extend down to Santa Barbara County. These ranges include the Berkeley Hills, the Santa Cruz Mountains, the Diablo Range, and others.

  • Junipero Serra Peak: The Highest Point Of The Southern Coast Ranges At 5,862 feet (1,787 m)

The Southern Coast Ranges have mostly a Mediterranean climate.

Related: Canadian Vs. Colorado Rockies: Why They’re Surprisingly Different

Pacific Crest Trail

For those wanting to discover much more than the Coast Ranges, there is the massive Pacific Crest Trail. This trail spans 2,650 miles (4,265 kilometers) and stretches from Mexico to Canada.

  • Length: 2,650 miles (4,265 kilometers)
  • Extends: From Mexico To Canada Through California, Oregon, and Washington

The Pacific Crest Trail cuts through very diverse terrain and ecosystems. It runs through deserts, the Sierra Nevada, through forests, and around the eye-catching volcanic peaks in the Cascade Range.

While most people only hike small segments of the trail. There are some die-hards who manage to hike the full length of it in a single season.

The Pacific Crest Trail has its own dedicated website where one can find out more information about the scenic trail.

Related: Where To Visit California’s Stunning Coastal Redwoods, And What To Expect There

Hikes In The Coast Ranges

There are many hikes throughout the ranges and it is not possible to list them all out here. But here are an example from the Northern and Southern Ranges.

Peter Douglas Trail:

The Peter Douglas Trail is located in Mendocino County and is a 2.3 mile extension of the Lost Coast Trail. Along this trail one will discover ancient redwoods shaped like candelabras by wind and salty air.

  • Access: From Usal Road, off of Highway One
  • Tip: Camp At The Primitive Campsites In Sinkyone Wilderness State Park

These trees are not like their staight towering column-shaped relatives, but are forced sprout branches near the ground that droop like velvet ropes in a theater.

Along this trail one will see dramatic views of the rugged Lost Coast, old-growth Douglas first, and much more.

Wilder Ranch State Park & Old Cove Landing Trail:

The Old Cove Landing Trail in Santa Cruz, is one of the most scenic in the region and offers a 2.5 mile coastal trek. It is known as a prime spot for wild flowers and is in the Wilder Ranch State Park. The trail leads to the beach and one can walk along the bluff to the cove.

The park is a majestic region boasting grasslands, oaks, knobcone pines, coastal redwoods, douglas firs, rugged coastline, tidepools, hidden beaches, Victorian farmhouses, and more.

  • Length: 2.5 Miles – Old Cove Landing Trail
  • Wilder Range: Total of 34 Miles of Trails

In all the Wilder Ranch has a total of 34 miles of hiking, biking and equestrian trails winding through coastal terraces and valleys.

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