Home » USA » 8 Adventurous Things to do in California for Outdoor Lovers

8 Adventurous Things to do in California for Outdoor Lovers

adventurous things to do in california
We try our best to keep travel guides updated as often and accurately possible. However, there's no guarantee that what you find on our site will be 100% correct or current at any given time - so please make sure to cross-check the information with credible sources.

California is a veritable paradise for outdoor lovers with exciting activities available for all kinds of adventurers. One of the largest states in the USA, California features a range of wilderness landscapes from the Mojave Desert to the epic High Sierra mountains and towering forests of Redwood trees.

Whether you like to hike or climb or bike or surf – you’re sure to find adventurous things to do in California that will delight and inspire.

So, lace up your hiking shoes and pack your bags for a trip to California’s most thrilling outdoor adventure spots.

Can’t Miss Adventurous Things to do in California

1. Go Rock Climbing in Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park
Joshua Tree Hidden Valley

We begin our tour of California’s adventure hotspots with a visit to Joshua Tree National Park. Located only 2.5 hours away from Los Angeles by car, Joshua Tree is a popular destination for those needing a break from city life. 

The high desert landscape is scattered with a maze of rocks and boulders that make it a world-class climbing destination. With over 8,000 climbing routes and 2,000 boulder platforms, Joshua Tree features climbing opportunities for visitors of all skill levels. 

Climbing, bouldering, highlining and slacklining are all practiced throughout the park. If you’re not an experienced climber, consider hiring a guide to help you navigate the best routes.

If climbing isn’t your thing, then hit the trails instead. Joshua Tree offers over 300 miles of hiking paths that crisscross the entire park. 

For some of the best hikes in Joshua tree, start with Hidden Valley or the Barker Dam Nature Trail. To avoid the crowds, head to the Black Rock Canyon entrance and try the West Side Loop or Panorama Loop Trails. 

2. Hike Half Dome Trail in Yosemite National Park

Half Dome viewed from Glacier Point
Half Dome viewed from Glacier Point

For a truly epic challenge, head to Yosemite National Park and hike to the top of Half Dome.

One of Yosemite’s most iconic features, Half Dome is a granite formation that towers over the park and is visible from far away. Hiking to the top is a truly difficult challenge and one the most exciting and adventurous things to do in California.

This grueling trail is 15 miles long and usually takes 10-12 hours to complete in a single day. The final push to the summit involves climbing near-vertical cables for 400 feet.

The views from the top are worth the effort, however.

And the best part is – you don’t have to wait until the summit for incredible scenery. 

Half Dome Trail starts by following along Yosemite’s renowned Mist Trail. This means you’ll pass by both Vernal Falls (317 feet) and Nevada Falls (594 feet) along the way.

Be warned that securing a permit for Half Dome is particularly challenging. Plan ahead and apply well in advance to increase your chances. Bring along gloves for climbing the cables and a headlamp in case the hike takes longer than anticipated.

3. Marvel at the World’s Tallest Trees in the Avenue of the Giants

Avenue of the Giants
Avenue of the Giants

California is home to many natural wonders. One of the most impressive of these wonders is undoubtedly the majestic coastal redwood tree (Sequoia sempervirens).

Designated as the state’s official tree in 1937, redwoods are among the largest and oldest trees on the planet. With a height that typically reaches a staggering 300 feet, trees in a mature redwood forest range between 500 to 1000 years in age. A few are even over 2000 years old. 

After being logged to near extinction, a few stands of old-growth redwood trees remain along California’s coastline in protected areas. 

To see these magnificent beauties in person, head to Redwood National and State Parks in Northern California. Be sure to take a scenic drive along the Avenue of the Giants in Humboldt Redwoods State Park on your way there.

4. Cycle through Titus Canyon in Death Valley National Park

Death Valley National Park
Death Valley National Park

Another one of California’s stunning natural wonders is Death Valley National Park. 

A land of extremes, Death Valley is notorious for being one of the hottest and driest places on earth. In 1913, the hottest official temperature on earth of 134.1 °F was recorded at Furnace Creek. 

The park also contains the lowest point in the continent with an elevation point of 282 feet below sea level. To see it for yourself, head to Badwater Basin. There you can walk out into the desert and marvel at the salt flats.  

Don’t attempt this in the summer, however. Death Valley is best enjoyed from late autumn to early spring before temperatures are too hot. 

While there are many ways to enjoy Death Valley, a particularly fun one is by bicycle. Titus Canyon Road is a 26-mile gravel road that traverses one of the deepest canyons in the park. Riding this remote trek is an incredible introduction to some of the park’s hidden treasures.

Be warned that this is extremely rugged terrain with no cell reception. Cyclists should be well prepared with tools and supplies and only attempt this route after discussing the conditions with a park ranger.

5. Summit Mount Whitney in Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Park

Mount Whitney signing register at summit
Mount Whitney signing register at summit

Many of America’s tallest mountains are covered with picturesque glaciers year-round. This means that only experienced mountaineers with specialized experience climbing glaciers can summit them.

Fortunately, this is not the case with Mount Whitney – the tallest mountain in the contiguous United States. 

Located in Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Park Mount, Whitney is 14,505 feet tall with a reasonably graded trail that many hikers can manage once the snow melts.

Don’t be fooled into thinking that this is an easy hike, however. Only a third of the hikers to attempt this route make it to the top due to altitude sickness or inclement weather (or poor conditioning).

The most popular way to summit Whitney is via a day hike from Whitney Portal. This 22-mile round-trip hike involves ascending approximately 7000 feet of elevation in a single day. Permits are awarded via a lottery system so you may have to wait a couple of years until you score one.

Another popular option is to backpack to a nearby wilderness campground and hike to the top from there. You can also summit Mount Whitney as a part of the John Muir Trail.

6. Thru-Hike the John Muir Trail in the High Sierras

Mount Whitney view
Mount Whitney view High Sierras

John Muir was an influential naturalist who campaigned for the creation of Yosemite National Park in the late 1800’s. He also founded the Sierra Club and is generally considered to be the father of the modern conservation movement.

While he traveled all over America, Muir was happiest in the Sierra Nevada mountains. He described these glorious peaks as the “range of light” and spent as much time there as possible. 

Today, hikers can follow in his footsteps by hiking the 210-mile John Muir Trail (JMT) – which is one of the most adventurous things to do in California by far. The trek involves summiting 11 mountain passes in the Sierra Nevada mountain range – many of which are over 12,000 feet.

Stretching from Yosemite National Park to Mount Whitney, the trek takes approximately 3 weeks and gains 46,000 feet of elevation (when attempted from north to south).

Like some of the other afore-mentioned hikes in this article, the trail is extremely popular and requires a permit which is hard to come by. 

7. Go Sand Sledding on the Kelso Sand Dunes in Mojave National Preserve

Kelso Sand Dunes
Kelso Sand Dunes

Located deep in the Mojave National Preserve, the Kelso Sand Dunes are a unique hidden treasure. These giant piles of sand comprise the largest windblown sand deposits in the Mojave Desert. 

They also feature a rare phenomenon in which the sand can emit rumbling or booming sounds under certain conditions.

The best way to see the dunes is on foot since the area is closed to vehicle traffic. The Kelso Dunes Trail leads to the top along a path that constantly changes over time.

At 2.7 miles roundtrip with an elevation of 423 feet it seems like an easy trail – but it’s harder than it looks. Be aware that walking on sand is much more difficult than walking on other surfaces.

You can also bring along a sandboard or sand sled for a fun sledding experience on the dues.

You can access the trailhead using the 3-mile graded dirt road in the Mojave National Preserve. Make sure to avoid the dunes in the summer and be sure to bring plenty of water, sunscreen and sun protection.

8. Road Trip along the Pacific Coast Highway

California Coast Bodega Bay
California Coast Bodega Bay

California sports a coastline like no other. From jagged cliffs to sunny beaches and quaint seaside towns, California features one of the most diverse coasts of any state in the USA.

The best way to properly enjoy the coast is with a road trip along the Pacific Coast Highway. Also known as Highway 1, it’s easiest to divide the drive into sections. 

Southern California features glorious sunny beaches that are famous with surfers and beach-goers. 

In Central California, you’ll find the renowned Monterey Bay aquarium along with the dramatic Big Sur coastline. 

Northern California is home to San Francisco’s iconic Golden Gate Bridge and the quaint seaside town of Mendocino. Here, you’ll also find the Lost Coast wilderness area along with towering redwood trees. 

The entire journey takes approximately 20 hours of straight driving across 840 miles. But of course, you’ll want to take much longer than that to enjoy all the spectacular scenery along the way. 

Plan for at least 5-7 days (longer if possible so you can take your time to explore).

The Best Time to Visit California

Given the wide variety of things to see and do in the state, you can visit year-round. That being said, some of these adventurous things to do in California are better in certain seasons than others.

Death Valley is best avoided in summer months. Stick to winter, spring and summer when venturing into this unique landscape.

Plan on visiting Joshua Tree National Park and the Mojave Desert in early spring and late fall. Avoid summers (and be prepared for cold nights if you visit in the winter).

Yosemite National Park and the High Sierras are covered with snow during the winter months. Head to the mountains once the snow melts in mid-June to July. 

California’s redwood forests are generally lovely any time of year (but be prepared for rain!).

Author Bio

Katy Shaw is an avid traveler, hiker, and adventurer behind the blog A Rambling Unicorn. While she lives in the Pacific Northwest, she has spent a lot of time exploring the beautiful state of California.

She thru-hiked over 1800 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail (mostly in the state of California) and goes by the name Unicorn when she is on the trail. 

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Scroll to Top