Backpacking Northern California (Beginners Guide)

  • By: Joseph Benson
  • Time to read: 11 min.

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Backpacking northern california, Backpacking Northern California will take you on an entertaining, educational, and enlightening trip through northern California.

It includes all the major parks, from Redwood, Yosemite, Sequoia, and Kings Canyon. You will walk in the footsteps of giant redwoods and see waterfalls bigger than buildings.

You’ll sleep under the million dollar stars of Yosemite’s night sky and wade through mountain streams as you gaze out over view points that would capture Ansel Adam’s eye.

Northern California’s Sierra Nevada mountains are a wonderland of natural beauty. Hiking, camping and backpacking in these mountains can be a truly extraordinary experience, filled with breathtaking sights and unforgettable adventures.

This article will show you how to make the most of your trip to northern California. We’ll go over how to choose the best campsites and tips for making camp cooking fun for everyone (even kids).

San Francisco. Los Angeles. Palm Springs. If you find yourself thinking these locations would be better to visit than experience, you’re in luck. Backpacking Northern California doesn’t have to be a dream.

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By packing light, grabbing your favorite backpacking gear, and following our suggested itineraries, there’s no reason you can’t make it a reality too.

Backpacking Northern California

Backpacking northern California

Northern California is a land of natural beauty that offers some of the best backpacking experiences in the world. From Yosemite National Park to Lake Tahoe, there are plenty of hiking trails to choose from.

Backpacking gears you will need

TETON Sports Explorer Backpack

Backpacking Northern California (Beginners Guide)


  • RUGGED AND READY: Built with TETON TOUGH innovation, this outdoor favorite is built for the long haul year after year after year.
  • COMFORT THROUGHOUT: Multipoint adjustments and handy compression straps make this backpack easily fit a variety of ages and shapes.
  • SIMPLICITY AND EASE: Angled water bottle containers, a convenient sleeping bag compartment, compression straps, and exterior pockets for strategic packing.
  • WATER OUT, WATER IN: While you’re enjoying the water-repellant exterior and rain cover, you can stay hydrated with the innovative water-bladder compartment.

TETON Sports Scout Internal Frame Backpack

Backpacking Northern California (Beginners Guide)


  • Durable open-cell foam lumbar pad and molded channels provide maximum comfort and airflow
  • Front and top bungee stash storage for jackets, shoes, rope, or sleeping pad
  • Multi-position torso adjustment fits wide range of body sizes
  • Country of Origin: China

TETON Sports Sleeping-Bag

Backpacking Northern California (Beginners Guide)


  • LIGHTWEIGHT AND WARM: Tired of your feet getting cold? This is the sleeping bag for you; Designed with added insulation in the footbox; Exceptionally warm and lightweight for backpacking
  • COMFORTABLE: Three-piece hood pulls in tightly around your face to keep your whole head warm; Foot box provides more room for your feet; Full-length zipper draft tube keeps the warm air in
  • NEVER ROLL YOUR SLEEPING BAG AGAIN: TETON provides a great compression sack for stuffing your sleeping bag; Start at the bottom and stuff the bag in, then tighten the heavy-duty straps
  • SLEEP WARM: Fluff your sleeping bag and use a camp pad to sleep warmer; Hang loops for long-term storage to maintain maximum loft
  • TETON SPORTS PROMISE: Reach out to our AMAZING product support team if you have any questions or concerns; YOU CAN COUNT ON US to get you taken care of and back OUTDOORS with TETON Sports

TETON Sports ALTOS Lightweight Mummy Sleeping Bag

Backpacking Northern California (Beginners Guide)


  • Nylon
  • STEP UP YOUR COMFORT: This roomy bag provides more shoulder and leg room; Built-out footbox provides more room for your feet; Breathable and warm
  • STEP UP YOUR WARMTH: Lofty, lightweight, and highly compressible; Enjoy the unrivaled warmth of this water-resistant sleeping bag that you can take anywhere
  • STEP UP YOUR ADVENTURE: You can take this mummy sleeping bag anywhere; From backyard to backcountry, this is the bag you need to have a worry-free adventure
  • NEVER ROLL YOUR SLEEPING BAG AGAIN: TETON provides a great compression sack for stuffing your sleeping bag; Start at the bottom and stuff the bag in, then tighten the heavy-duty straps
  • TETON SPORTS PROMISE: Reach out to our AMAZING product support team if you have any questions or concerns; YOU CAN COUNT ON US to get you taken care of and back OUTDOORS with TETON Sports

UPSOLO Mens Winter Trekking Backpacking

Backpacking Northern California (Beginners Guide)


  • Full fur inside and insole padded for cozy comfort and warm
  • High breathable and Slip-resistant and Quick-dry
  • Multidirectional lugs relieve fatigue and provide traction
  • Durability and slip resistance rubber outsole for long way walking.

Asolo Men’s Fugitive GTX Hiking Boot

Backpacking Northern California (Beginners Guide)


  • Waterproof

Yosemite National Park

The backcountry in Yosemite National Park is one of the most popular destinations for backpackers. There are many different options for your trip and you can choose from day hikes or multi-day trips.

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There are also several campgrounds located within the park for those who prefer not to hike out into the wilderness. If you prefer backpacking with a group, there are several guided trips available through different companies as well.

Lake Tahoe

One of the most beautiful lakes in America is Lake Tahoe which offers plenty of camping opportunities and stunning views from every angle.

Located just over an hour from Reno, Nevada, this lake is perfect for those who want to spend time outdoors without having to travel too far away from home.

There are many different campgrounds located around Lake Tahoe including campsites that allow dogs and even ones that have cabins available for rent if you would like more comfort while on vacation.

The Redwoods National Park offers scenic hikes through old growth forests, along rivers and streams and through valleys with dramatic waterfalls.

The park also offers camping spots for backpackers who want to spend the night under the stars surrounded by giant redwood trees.

Hiking through this area will take you back in time as you travel through some of the last remaining redwood forests that once covered over 2 million acres of land along this part of the Pacific coast.

The Lost Coast Trail is one of America’s most scenic coastal trails. It runs along Highway 101 between Mattole Road and Shelter Cove, covering 43 miles over steep cliffs above crashing waves below.

The trail is not maintained by any agency so hikers must be prepared for rough terrain and possible storms while hiking this trail during any season except winter when snow may cover parts of it depending on recent weather conditions.

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Learn more backpacking

  • Do you need permit to backpack in north California?
  • What do I need to backpack in north California?
  • Cost of backpacking in north California
  • Best backpacking gear you will need in north California
Backpacking Northern California

Do you need permit to backpack in north California?

The good news is that the permit process is easy and free. Backpacking in California requires a permit from the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management or National Park Service.

The other major land management agencies — Fish and Wildlife Service, National Marine Fisheries Service and Bureau of Reclamation — do not require permits for backcountry use.

The permit system is designed to protect the wilderness experience by limiting the number of people using it at any time. It also helps protect our natural resources by helping manage fire risk and other environmental impacts.

Though there are no permits required to backpack in Yosemite National Park. There are no permits required to backpack in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.

There are no permits required to backpack in the Monarch, Golden Trout, or Ansel Adams wildernesses.

You will need a permit if you want to camp at one of the trailheads along the John Muir Trail (JMT) in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.

The permit is free and can be obtained at any visitor center or campground in either park. The permit is only good for that day, so plan accordingly!

Backpacking Northern California

What do I need to backpack in north California?

If you’re new to the sport of backpacking and are planning a trip to Northern California, you may be wondering what gear you need to bring along with you.

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The good news is that there are no special permits or fees required for backpacking in California. And while there are many areas where camping is allowed, some areas require a permit.

There are also no restrictions on length of stay or number of nights spent in each location. The only restriction is that all campsites must be at least 100 feet from water sources (rivers, streams, etc.).

So, what do I need to backpack in north California? Here’s a list of essentials:

Backpack: You don’t have to spend a lot of money on a backpack, but it should have padded shoulder straps and a waist belt, as well as a hip belt for heavier loads. A good-quality internal frame pack will last for many years if properly taken care of.

Sleeping Bag: A sleeping bag rated at 20 degrees Fahrenheit is recommended for most hiking trips in California (although lower temperatures may be expected in higher elevations). At least one blanket should also be brought along for use around campfires at night (if permitted).

The second thing to consider is what kind of weather conditions will be like during your trip. There are three seasons in the northern part of California:

summer (May through September), fall (October through December) and winter (December through April). Each season has its own unique features, so it is important to know what to expect when planning a trip during those times of year.

Summer months bring warm days with temperatures reaching into the 80’s and 90’s during the day with cool nights where temperatures can drop into the 60’s or 70’s at night.

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Fall months bring cooler temperatures but still warm enough for shorts and a t-shirt if needed while winter months can bring snow and freezing temperatures as low as 10 degrees Fahrenheit or colder depending on where you are located within northern California.

Backpacking Northern California

Cost of backpacking in north California

The cost of backpacking in north California can vary depending on what you need and what type of experience you want to have. The average cost is around $100 per day for two people.

A typical trip costs anywhere from $200-$300 per person. This price includes transportation, food and accommodation. Some of this money will be spent on transportation;

others will be used for food and accommodation. It’s important to know that there are many options for lodging when backpacking in North California.

You can stay in hostels or campgrounds, but it’s also possible to rent a room or apartment with other backpackers using websites like Airbnb or Couchsurfing.

The National Parks Service offers several ways to reduce your expenses while backpacking in North California:

1) Stay at a youth hostel instead of renting a hotel room;

2) Eat at the cafeteria rather than ordering room service;

3) Bring your own tent instead of renting one from the park service

The cost of camping

There are many different ways to camp while backpacking in North California. You can choose from primitive sites that have no facilities or amenities, or you can set up camp right next to a bathroom and shower facility.

If you want to stay at an RV park or campground, expect to pay anywhere from $20 per night to over $100 per night depending on where you go.

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Food expenses

If you plan on cooking your own meals while backpacking in North California, then food will be one of your biggest expenses.

Many campgrounds offer fire pits where guests can cook their own meals using charcoal briquettes or wood chips.

You may also be able to use a grill at some parks if there is not enough wood available for fires.

All other cooking supplies must be brought from home or purchased at a local grocery store before heading into the woods.

Backpacking Northern California

Best backpacking gear you will need in north California


A backpack is one of the most important pieces of equipment that any hiker needs when going on an outdoor adventure. A good backpack will allow you to carry all of your essentials with ease, while also giving you plenty of storage space for any other items that might come up during your trip.

Hiking boots

A good pair of hiking boots is going to be your most important piece of gear. The weight and comfort make all the difference on those long days on the trail. Hiking boots come in different heights.

From low-cut to mid-top, so choose a pair that fits your needs. If you plan on spending a lot of time hiking in snow, consider buying waterproof boots with gaiters to keep snow out.

Sleeping bag

The most important part of any backpacking trip is getting enough sleep! A good sleeping bag will help you rest well after a long day of hiking. A down-filled sleeping bag will keep you warm even when it’s cold out.

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But they can be expensive and take up more space than synthetic options. Make sure to bring along a sleeping pad for extra padding between you and the ground – this will also help keep you warm!

Sleeping Bag

You can choose from a wide range of sleeping bags, from ultralight summer bags to winter-rated heavyweights. A good rule of thumb is to buy a bag that’s rated for 10 degrees warmer than the lowest temperature you expect to encounter.


Your tent should be large enough for your needs and ideally should fit two people comfortably. If you’re going solo, the size of your tent should be about 50 square feet in size;

if you’re sharing it with another person, aim for 100 square feet or more. You’ll also want to consider how much weight you’re willing to carry larger tents are heavier but provide greater comfort and protection from the elements.

If you’re camping during summer months when temperatures are high, consider a lighter one-man tent rather than a heavier two-person model.

Backpacking Northern California

Keep in mind

Based on my experiences and research, I would absolutely recommend backpacking Northern California! The Pacific Crest Trail is absolutely spectacular and well worth the additional effort it takes to access the trailhead.

However, if you’re looking for a different kind of adventure, you can also take advantage of some of the other trails Northern California has to offer, whether it be backcountry exploration or rock climbing.

Whichever route you decide to take though, I hope this article helps make your trip a safe and comfortable one.

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With such a vast terrain, and so many choices, it can be hard to find the best route for your Northern California backpacking trip. There are endless regions to explore, too, from coastal bluffs.

To deep forested valleys, to high alpine passes. Fortunately, our guide below should help get you started in planning your own adventure in Northern California.

Part of the adventure of backpacking is breaking free from your everyday routine and exploring the wilderness. So, if you have a little time (and some cash!) to take off and explore Northern California’s abundant natural attractions.

Be sure to incorporate as many of these spots as your agenda allows. With so many possibilities on offer, you will definitely have a unique and memorable trip in store!

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Backpacking Northern California (Beginners Guide)

Joseph Benson

Hi, my name is Joseph Benson, and I am a traveler who is always on the go. I love to try new things and see different places. Never miss an adventure follow me.

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