5 Southern California Hikes in State Parks

Southern California state parks are usually associated with breathtaking beaches, but there are many amazing hikes and activities for everyone to enjoy. Here is a list of 5 hikes in Southern California state parks to get started on your exporation. So get out there and hike!

Torrey Pines State Reserve. Photo by Erica Shalit.

Torrey Pines State Reserve. Photo by Erica Shalit.

1. Broken Hill Trail Loop, Torrey Pines State Reserve

If you are wanting spectacular views of Southern California this trail is for you. Torrey Pines State Reserve is home to the rarest pine tree on the North American continent, the Torrey Pine. Gaze upon Southern California as it looked hundreds of years ago from atop Broken Hill. This 2.5 mile loop consists of two trails, the North and South Broken Hill trails. The best part of this hike is the viewpoint at the middle of the hike. It is an amazing view during sunset hours. This is a fairly easy trail and great for all levels of hikers.


Palomar Mountain State Park. Photo by Julianne Bradford.

Palomar Mountain State Park. Photo by Julianne Bradford.

2. Doane Valley Nature Trail, Palomar Mountain State Park

A variety of hiking trails is available within the park. Some lend themselves to short, leisurely walks and others are suitable for vigorous, all-day hikes. The scenery includes open meadows and thick coniferous or oak forests. Trails are open to foot traffic only. The Doane Valley Nature Trail is very nice in the summer months and is only about a mile long. Along shady Doane Creek, you’ll see creek dogwood, wild strawberry, mountain currant, and Sierra gooseberry. At the park office you can get a leaflet describing different types of trees you will see on the trail.


Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. Photo by Mimi Kramer .

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. Photo by Mimi Kramer.

3. Borrego Palm Canyon Trail, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

First-timers can’t miss the Borrego Palm Canyon Trail, a 3-mile round-trip flowering with brittlebush, desert lavender, and ocotillo. The trail starts close to the Borrego Palms Campground. The trailhead itself is very clearly marked, and the parking area has plenty of spaces. Make sure you bring plenty of water, because this trail tends to get very hot. The best times for this trail are fall, spring, and winter to beat the heat. The trail leads to the third-largest palm oasis in California, which was the first site sought for a desert state park back in the 1920s. It’s a beautiful, well-watered oasis, tucked away in a rocky V-shaped gorge. If you’re lucky, you may glimpse a bighorn sheep, in a canyon vegetated by California’s only native species of palm. A longer option takes you exploring farther up-canyon.


Red Rock Canyon State Park. Photo by Carol P. Murdock.

Red Rock Canyon State Park. Photo by Carol P. Murdock.

4. Nightmare Gulch Loop, Red Rock Canyon State Park

Nightmare Gulch Loop is a long hike, about 8.8 miles. Rock Canyon State Park attracts many raptors and in order to protect the raptor nesting sites, the gulch is closed to hikers and vehicle travel yearly from February 1 to July 1. When the area is open it is a great trail to take photos on. The trailhead starts a half mile north of the entrance to Red Rock State Park at a small turn out on the east side of the highway. The route goes along ridge tops with panoramic views of the gulch and the Southern Sierra Nevada. This is a relatively easy hike with a small amount of elevation gain and loss. This hike can be very hot during the summer months, so take caution and be prepared.


Mount San Jacinto State Park. Photo by David Herholz.

Mount San Jacinto State Park. Photo by David Herholz.

5. San Jacinto Peak, Mount San Jacinto State Park

For a bit more of a challenge, set your eyes on Mount San Jacinto. At 10,834 ft, it is the highest peak in the California State Park System, and the 2nd highest in Southern California. This is a very difficult hike, but worth it once you reach the top. When you arrive at the parking lot of Valley Station, you’ll have to buy a ticket to ride the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway up to Mountain Station. From there you will begin the 11 mile hike to the peak. While the trails here are very well signed, be sure to pay attention because Mount San Jacinto State Park packs a surprising number of trails into its 14,000 square miles. Note that everyone entering the wilderness area for the day or for camping must have a permit in their possession. Day-use wilderness permits are free and are available at the State Park Headquarters in Idyllwild or at the Long Valley Ranger Station. Applications for overnight permits will be accepted up to 8 weeks in advance.

Happy trails!

Memories from Montaña de Oro State Park

A guest post BY JOSH MCNAIR

Josh is a blogger and photographer that is currently attempting to travel and photograph the state of California with his blog CaliforniaThroughMyLens.com. He also loves to go on adventures and hikes and chronicles them on the adventure blog OPAdventureTeam.com.

I love visiting California’s beautiful state parks as they are diverse collections of the extraordinary beauty that is found all over this state. I even have a list of all the parks in my office with the hope that I may one day check them all off. While I have traveled extensively in California, one of the parks I had heard the least about has became one of my favorites, Montaña de Oro. Montaña de Oro, located south of Morro Bay and West of San Luis Obispo, is a beautiful example of what pristine, untouched coastline can look like (we never see this in Southern California). It has miles of trails, acres of beaches to relax on and a leisurely style that beckons you come and enjoy yourself. My favorite place to visit here is the Bluffs Trail as it walks the coastline for about two miles and creates fantastic vistas one after another as you are walking. Here are my favorite parts of this trail in Montaña de Oro State Park.

bluffs trail 1This first picture demonstrates the amazing way the water has worked on the rocks to create these unique inlets. As the tide goes up and the years move on, the water does its part to create art that can now be seen in these rock structures. I also love the way the green juxtaposes with the blues of the ocean and the browns of the rock. bluffs trail 2

A little further down the trail there are a series of steps that lead to a small beach and a large collection of tide pools. Again, in Southern California, these tide pools would have been crawling with people, but up in this park they were practically vacant, which allowed us to see everything from starfish to sea slugs. It was awesome to be able to see a habitat like this so untouched.

bluffs trail 3If you are feeling more adventurous there are a bunch of inlets where you can climb down and relax on the beach. Beaches like the above picture even provide opportunities to swim out and check out the small arches and little caves located right off the shoreline in the rock formations. Even during the end of summer when I was there, there were only about a dozen people relaxing on the beach.

bluffs trail 4

My last memory about Montaña de Oro was coming to the end of the bluffs trail. This rock that jutted out of the bluffs created a unique picture against the ocean crashing behind it. While the picture makes it look small, this rock was big enough to hold me for a picture that I still have hanging up in my house. It is a great place to just relax and realize how small you are in the grand scheme of things.

I loved my time at this park and always tell others to visit. It is a beautifully preserved example of California’s rich beaches and a great place to take a family vacation. I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments if you have been here and enjoyed yourself as much as I did. You can read my full post with directions to the trail on my site CaliforniaThroughMyLens.com.