As told by SF Gate.

In 2021, SFGATE’s staff hiked California up, down and sideways. We hit the trails through redwood forests, along coastlines and into desert oases, and for our efforts, we were rewarded with glorious displays of sunlight, bubbling hydrothermal features and a rare waterfall crashing into the sea. Whether you’re highly experienced or new to nature, looking for the best of the Bay Area or drawn to landscapes lesser-known and farther-flung, we’ve got just the hike for you. Below, you’ll find a collection of our favorite hikes we’ve discovered (or rediscovered) this year.


Damnation Creek Trail

Location: Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park

Most California hikers have at some point entered a forest and noticed light filtering through trees. But this jaunt through coast redwoods takes it to a new level. As photographers can attest, the light show here is as astounding as it is reliable, and California parks editor Ashley Harrell saw it with her own two eyes. The light was “shooting through the canopy in a circular pattern resembling an exploding firework,” Harrell wrote, “with the glowing rays illuminated by fog in every direction.” Image: Nate Berg.

Tall Trees Trail

Location: Redwood National Park

Early on in the year, Harrell hiked to Hyperion, the tallest tree in the world. She doesn’t recommend the journey in its entirety, but she did endorse the first part of the schlep, which takes hikers to the Tall Trees Grove, the most treasured and seldom-visited area of Redwood National Park. “Stretching up from a carpet of massive ferns and sorrel, many of the redwoods on the loop exceed 350 feet,” Harrell writes. For thousands of years, the sky-high ecosystem has been nourished by fresh water, nutrient-rich soil and wind protection, she adds. Image: Ashley Harrell.

Bumpass Hell Trail

Location: Lassen Volcanic National Park

The summer’s Dixie Fire engulfed more than half of Lassen Volcanic National Park, charring the landscape and destroying several structures. But one of our favorite features in the park, the Bumpass Hell Trail, was left unscathed. Its features include “an active hydrothermal basin with pale blue pools and billowing clouds of steam, boiling mud pots and a sulfuric valley with magnificent views,” Harrell writes. The gruesome history is also pretty intriguing. Image: Ashley Harrell.

Lower Carpenter Valley Trail

Location: Truckee

It’s sometimes hard to find a hike in California that isn’t congested with people. But that’s just what Julie Brown, SFGATE Tahoe editor, found at Lower Carpenter Valley, the "secret garden" of the Sierra that has been mostly off-limits for more than a century. “The meadow was saturated in green,” Brown writes. “Willows dotted the horizon. A quiet creek bent in horseshoe-like shapes, flowing downstream to the Truckee River. Black bears, bobcats, mountain lions roam this land, as do deer, beavers, squirrels and many species of birds.” As in, the landscape appears much as it did before European settlers first arrived in the Sierra Nevada, and it’s incredible.

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