Northern California, as John Muir discovered over a century ago, is a nature enthusiast's dream. With the Sierra Nevada range in the east, the Cascades on the Oregon border, the great coastal redwood groves, and of course, Yosemite, there are countless opportunities to enjoy the outdoors. Before you take off to tackle Half Dome or Morro Rock, however, take some time to properly plan out your trip. Where do you want to go? What do you want to do? While the California State Park system has hiking trails for nearly every level of physical fitness, backpacking is a much more demanding activity--although if you're up for it, it can be quite an adventure.
- Pay a visit to your local bookstore, or favorite online bookseller, and see what they have to offer. A good guidebook, like something from the Foghorn Outdoors series, not only offers a broad range of trails, but also expert advice, maps, and a list of other useful resources. If you plan on taking regular hiking trips, a quality guidebook is an investment you definitely need to make.
- Backpackers, too, should look into a book or two. Novices might want to check out a book like the Trailside Guide: Hiking and Backpacking, or Backpacking California. Most hiking guidebooks also include backpacking trails, but if you're set on backpacking, you'll want something more specific.
- Check out the view from home with an online search for Northern California hiking trails. This will give you an overview of what's out there without having to invest in a guidebook--yet.
- Narrow your scope a little with more specific research. If you don't know whether you'd rather visit the cool Humboldt redwoods or the weird Tufa moonscape at Mono Lake, find out with a visit to the California Peak to Peak Trail and Wilderness site, which provides myriad useful links for the would-be hiker. Also make sure to read up from the official authority, the California State Parks site.
- Take stock of yourself. What kind of trip are you looking to take? What kind of physical condition are you in? What about your fellow hikers? Knowing what you cannot or do not want to do can make finding a trip that much easier.
- Get some personal advice from the casual pros at REI. Recreational Equipment, Inc. is foremost a co-op chain of stories that carries everything you'll need for a walk in the woods or a weeklong trek through the back country. However, the employees are more than your average retail drones: They love nature and they know how to find adventure. You don't have to be ready to make any purchases to take advantage of their knowledge; just stop by a store and ask questions. Guidebooks are invaluable, but nothing compares to the immediacy of a conversation with an experienced adventurer.