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Best NorCal Hiking Spots for a Day Trip

Looking for your next day trip from Davis with friends? Consider some of these hidden (and not so hidden) gems of the NorCal area!

1. Lake Tahoe

We’ll start with the more obvious spots and work our way down to some of the lesser known places, so naturally South Lake Tahoe is first on the list. While there is hiking all around the lake, the southern end is closer and holds a variety of great trails.

One personal favorite is the Emerald Bay/Vikingsholm Trail. The parking for the trailhead looks across to the massive Eagle Falls, and overlooks Emerald Bay, a beautiful enclave of the Tahoe shoreline marked by a single small island in the middle. Eagle Falls also has its own stunning trail, but I’ll stop explaining and let you explore for yourself! 

2. Yosemite National Park 

While Yosemite is a bit further of a drive, clocking in at four and a half hours, it is well worth the trip. This being said, make sure you plan your day and how long each hike will take you before you get there in order to maximize your time. It is a good idea to park at the visitor’s center and utilize the free shuttle to get to the trailheads, as they can be relatively far apart.

There are countless beautiful trails to hike, but a nice warm-up is the Mirror Lake Trail that loops one mile under the shadow of Half Dome. Another fantastic trail is Yosemite Falls, where you can walk less than a mile to see the lower level or choose the strenuous but rewarding uphill route towards the Upper Yosemite Falls.

3. Muir Woods National Monument 

Around two hours away, Muir Woods sits in Mill Valley, just a short distance from San Francisco. A wooden boardwalk runs along the forest floor next to a small clear creek at the heart of Muir Woods, making it handicap accessible and easy to navigate. Huge redwoods line the path on either side, and you can choose to do as little or as much hiking as you please.

One of the longer trails, which will take you a solid two hours at least, is the Coastal Overlook Trail. The first half is uphill but climbs through misty beautiful redwood scenery, while the second half of the trail opens up to a gorgeous view of the Pacific Ocean. Definitely well worth the time — and the workout! 

4. Big Basin State Park 

Fun fact: Big Basin is the oldest State Park in California! Big Basin is nestled deep in the Santa Cruz mountains, about a two hour and fifteen minute drive from Davis. Like some of the other parks on this list, it features Coast Redwoods (which, by the way, are only found in three locations in the entire world: California, Oregon, and China!).

It also has a variety of trails that feature waterfalls. One great example, the Shadowbridge/Sequoia Trail, ends with the Sempervirens Falls. Depending on the time of year, there can be a significant amount of water at the falls, with late winter/early spring being the peak time.

5. Big Trees State Park 

If you’re looking for some big trees… you have definitely come to the right place. Big Trees is located about half way in between Lake Tahoe and Yosemite, making it about two and a half hours away from Davis. Like Muir and Big Basin, Big Trees State Park hosts some of the biggest redwoods in the NorCal area.

This park actually has the earliest noted redwood in California history: ‘The Discovery Tree.” Depending on the time of year you go, different parts of the park may be closed; during the winter (November to March) only the North Grove area is open. However, North Grove still offers plenty to do with a great place to start being the North Grove Trail Loop that takes you through some of the most historic trees in the park. There are many more trails to explore! 

All images taken by the author.

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