Kate and I do a fair amount of hiking within a few hours’ drive from Davis — you can find us and the pup hitting the trails almost every Saturday. We’ve done scores upon scores of hikes in the area and found that there’s a decent variety to choose from, with trails meandering through great fields of wildflowers, across rolling green hills, by icy granite mountains dotted with alpine lakes, along beaches beside hundreds of elk and a couple whales splashing in the distance, within fairytale forests of giant redwoods, and everything in between.
Unfortunately, Davis’ location in the Central Valley means that many of the best hikes are 1-2 hours’ drive away; the immediate area is mostly hot, flat farmland, so hiking is tricky without a car. In any case, every so often somebody asks us for recommendations on where to hike, so we’ve put together this document detailing some of our favorite trails. I’ll expand upon this post periodically when I have the time and inclination. Dogs are generally allowed unless otherwise noted, but try to find out explicitly in case I’m wrong or regulations have changed (though people — including park rangers lol — don’t seem to care much regardless). Also, most of the below pictures are ones we’ve taken, but my file management sucks so sometimes I can’t find the appropriate shots, and in those cases I’ve pulled a few photos from google and noted their sources. Finally, some of the panoramas might be hard to make much of, since WordPress resizes photos, but you can open them individually in a separate tab to better see them.
We like to use alltrails.com and everytrail.com to scout out hikes; they have a user friendly interface. We’ve also used the book “60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: Sacramento” to find closer trails (although IIRC it’s 60mi as the crow flies, so not all of them are especially close).
Super close to or within Davis:
– Arboretum walk: a pleasant stroll along the river, though depending on the season it might be more of a putting green. Pretty shady, but unless you go in the early morning or late night it’s more of a 3-season hike. Since it parallels much of campus, there are lots of bathrooms (and occasional stores) along the way. A favorite Sunday morning walk for me, Kate, and the pup after grabbing coffee and treats downtown.
– Green Belt: a series of parks, lawns, and bike/footpaths linking many of the green spaces within Davis. Also plenty of pools, tennis courts, skate parks, a dog park, etc. scattered throughout. Several fruit trees (e.g. citrus, persimmon, fig, and pomegranate) grow in the park, but be careful not to fall!
– Putah Creek Reserve: Not a bad place to walk when you want a change of pace from the Arboretum and Greenbelt, at least for being a
Close to Davis (1/2 hour drive):
– Lake Berryessa Homestead/Blue Ridge Trail: A fun, pumpy loop hike with good views of the lake. Can get a bit crowded on the weekends and hot in the summers. Side trails (e.g. to Annie’s peak) offer good ways to extend the hike past the otherwise short ~5 mi. (last picture not mine)
Ways away from Davis (1 hour drive)
– South Fork American River: There’s a solid network of trails here that can be linked up to form a 20+ mile loop (and if you’re feeling especially restless you can walk to Folsom Lake and back!), many of which roughly parallel the American river. Away from the river it’s pretty warm, but there’s a decent cooling effect when you’re right beside it. Plenty of wildflowers bloom here in the spring. Cronan Ranch, the set of some old movie, is a particularly neat place to visit.
–Wendell T. Robie Trail: Getting here was a little tricky — you need to go up a windy, high-pothole-density dirt road. The trail itself, however, is quite nice — after a few switchbacks, you walk on a trail cut into the side of a ridgeline, with great views of the valley and river below. The pictures that follow don’t really do it much justice. When we went, there were a handful of dogs running around, presumably belonging to people that live nearby (they were friendly and healthy-looking). One of them walked with us on the full ~10-15 miles of our hike. I’d avoid here during tick season, though — when we returned with the pup at a later date, there were tons of them off the sides of the trail.
– Hidden Falls Regional Park: Another close-ish trail network totaling a few dozen miles, Hidden Falls has waterfalls, rivers, trees, and hills aplenty. Pretty popular, but once you get a few miles from the parking lot the crowds die down.
– Cache Creek Regional Park: The hikes we do most often here include chaining together a series of trails in the High Bridge network, which generally involves rolling green hills with happy little lakes dotted here and there, and the Blue Ridge Trail, which is a gradual 8mi out and back up to Fiske Peak with good views of the surrounding area. If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, you can continue on past Fiske Peak for another dozen plus miles to loop back to the trailhead, though the trail’s super overgrown in parts and will tear up your pants and shins (and arms). It’s also very deserted — rarely have we ever seen anyone else on the trails, especially at High Bridge. Our favorite trip up the Blue Ridge Trail involved lots of fog, so if it’s rainy in Davis I recommend a daytrip out!
– Redwood Regional Park – One of our favorite go-to parks, this place is perfect for 3.5 season hiking (hot at summer’s peak, but otherwise very pleasant). Fairly close to Davis, with dozens of miles of trails (and the Chabot Space and Science Center), you can easily find lush, secluded portions of trail closed in on all sides by towering (but not giant) redwoods. There’s a good variety of hiking here, too, and within a dozen miles you can go from a dark, flat forest to pumpy ascents to open, grassy ridgeline. During peak season there’s a ~$5 fee to get to the main parking lot, but you can easily park nearby and walk in (it also links up to a bunch of other parks). (last few images not mine! But taken from the second link above, here, and here. Dunno where all my RRP photos went…)
– Briones Regional Park: Another favorite go-to, with (you guessed it!) a network of trails stretching into the dozens of miles. In the wet season, it looks like the Shire, with beautiful rolling green hills, little lakes, and tons of cows. In the dry season, it looks like Mordor, and everything’s hot, dry, dead. I recommend the wet season over the dry season. Lots of variety here, we usually shoot to get up onto the ridges for some roller-coaster-y hiking with great views.
Farther Still (1.5 hour drive)
–Steven’s Trail (North Fork of the American River): You’ve done the South Fork of the American River, now try the North Fork! A nice, 9mi-ish rocky hike that stays in the mountains initially (great views!) but eventually meanders down to parallel the river. When we picnicked by the river there were thousands of butterflies everywhere — quite pretty!
– Berryessa Peak Trail (BPT): A 15 mile hike on the “other side” of Lake Berryessa, walking this you’ll travel up some grassy hills to a ridge, at which point grassland and forest will transition to desert scrub. Gorgeous in the spring time, the last 3ish miles of the out get kind of rough as the trail is poorly maintained. (Especially) after rainfall and in the evenings, California newt come out in droves — we’ve seen literally hundreds of them across a stretch of a few miles. They’re incredibly cute, but also incredibly stupid, and will lazily plod along if you get near (if they even react at all). You might think, how can this be? Orange on green, slow little things — easy pickings? Not quite — they secrete an extremely potent neurotoxin from their skin that’ll kill the shit out of you if you come into contact (and especially ingest) even a small amount. So don’t take their complacency as invitation to touch them, at least if you don’t desire a rather unpleasant death. Luckily, they’re easy to avoid (aposematism ftw!), and the hike really is quite pretty! And to be honest, you see them on plenty of other CA hikes, too (see map in most recent link), it’s just hereabouts (in our experience) that they’re found in such quantities.
– North Table Mountain Wildlife Area — Home to gorgeous grasslands and waterfalls (esp. Ravine and Phantom Falls), this is the spring hike to do if you wish to see billions upon billions of wildflowers. Quite popular near the start among picnickers and kite-flyers, the crowds thin as you go. Often there are some people at an information kiosk with maps near the parking lot. There’s no real distinct trail to follow here for much of the route, so you’ll usually find yourself walking across big, grassy fields following your compass or other hikers. When we went, the pup’s feet got somewhat torn up, and the next morning they had swelled to 2X their normal size, so either the ground is really rough or he’s allergic to pollen or something. In any case, this probably isn’t a hike to do barefoot, and if you want to bring your dog (which many do!) I’d consider bringing also little booties. Lots of cows a-grazing everywhere, too!
– Mt. Diablo: A fun, pumpy hike and trail system with a visitor center (and restrooms, parking lot, running water, etc.) at the top. Great views of the surroundings towns and hills and nearby Briones, too! You can easily link together a dozen+ miles of trail from the top to the bottom. Think Briones, but a bit more dElevation. Not dog friendly, unfortunately, so leave the pooch at home.
– Jenkinson Lake Loop Trail: On the way to Tahoe, this is our go-to if the Sierras are too snowy or smokey for hiking and we have to turn around. Lovely weather year round, this is a fairly mile 8-mi loop around a pretty, calm lake through forests and along the shore. A short side-trail takes you to a nice waterfall, too. The trail also meanders through lots of campgrounds, so there’s good in-season accessibility to bathrooms and water-refills. We’ve gone kayaking in the lake, as well, which was pretty fun!(waterfall photo taken from here)
2 hour drive — Now you’re getting somewhere!
– Point Reyes: A pretty cape with lotsa hiking and great ocean views. We’ve done a few hikes here, and our favorite so far is ~10mi Tomales Point trail and nearby McClures Beach, which takes you out to the tip of Point Reyes as you walk beside scores upon scores of Tule elk. Occasionally whales can be spotted off in the water, too. On the way back, McClures beach offers a nice spot to splash around and watch the sunset. Technically not dog-friendly, though. There’s lots of other hiking in the area, too, and a lighthouse you can visit. Check out the map at the above link!
– Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve: I’ve been to a lot of parks featuring giant Redwoods in CA (e.g. John Muir, Calaveras, Mariposa Grove, etc.), and so far I think this has been my favorite. The valley floor is straight out of a fairytale, especially around twilight, and there are many miles of hiking in the surrounding hills. Also, the trees are really big, and the neighborhoods in the area super quaint!
(last picture taken from here; I don’t have too many pics from the valley floor/grove, since my camera at the time didn’t do too well under low-light conditions)
– Lake Tahoe/Sierras: There are lots of hikes to consider here, but they’re all generally full of icy, granite peaks and cool, blue lakes. I’ll talk about a few of our favorites independently.
Mt. Tallac – A great, pumpy hike with sprawling views of the surrounding El Dorado area. At ~9mi round trip and >3000ft of elevation gain, it’s not too steep, but expect to work up a sweat. You’re also in the sun a lot and the ground is pretty rough, so protect your skin and feet (and make your dog wear booties or musher’s secret or something). Do note though that the peak is at around ~10k ft above sea level and Davis is around 50 feet above sea level, so doing this as a day trip might be a little rough if you’re susceptible to elevation sickness.
Cascade Falls: A short trail followed by some lazy, off trail scrambling, this is a great side trip when visiting the Desolation Wilderness (see below).
Horsetail Falls: A really tall waterfall, quaint little streams, and granite granite granite. Reminded me a bit of Yosemite in places. Trails aren’t super well marked, but everything is open enough that you can easily find your way if lost. Not super long, but you can wander around a fair bit and push further into the El Dorado wilderness if you wish to extend your stay.
Desolation Wilderness – There are lots of great hikes here, but we usually visit Eagle lake, Granite lake, and Maggie’s peak. Parking by Emerald Bay can be pretty tricky if you don’t come super early.This is also where “Cascade Falls” (see above) is found. Winters are pretty snowy!
Echo Lakes: Fairly flat but picturesque hike along lower and upper Echo lake. Pretty popular, and you pass by a lot of lakehouses in the early stretch. Cold in the winter, but warms up well in the summer.
– Mt. Tamalpais State Park: Lotsa rolling green hills and forests, but this time they come with nice ocean views. Our favorite hikes here so far have been the 7mi Matt-Davis Trail, which we’ll often link up to others trails in the area (e.g. the Coastal Trail) to extend our stay. Exploring the broader watershed has also been nice. Get to your trailheads early, as parking spots fill up fast.
(picture stolen from link above, as well as from here and here)
– Cataract Falls: So this is technically in Mt. Tam SP (see above), but I found some photos so it gets its own entry. This is a hike that’s best to do after a heavy rain, as the falls can be lackluster during the dry season. You can, as ever, link it up with other hikes in the Mt. Tam trail network.
– Euchre Bar trail: Short but pumpy hike on the North Fork of the American River. Lots of mosquitos in the summer, but there’s a really nice swimming hole at the bottom.
–Hunter Trail in the El Dorado National Forest: There’s been a fair bit of fire damage to this trail recently, but this was still a really nice hike along a cliffside paralleling a river with tons of interesting creek crossings and waterfalls. Reviews online say it’s really poorly maintained and overgrown, but it was fine when we passed through. Total hike is up to 20mi in length, out-and-back. The many water features provide plenty of opportunities to cool off with a dip!
3 hour+ drive:
–Yosemite (and the Sierras): Little enough needs to be said about the Yosemite (and surround areas), so just go there when you get the chance!
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