Hiking Towards Healing: Exploring California’s Trails for Physical and Mental Well-Being

California Trails

For years, wilderness recovery programs have used skill-building in nature to help people develop resilience, face fears, and improve self-confidence and self-efficacy. These programs, which typically last between one to twelve weeks, provide the opportunity for individuals to remove themselves from unhealthy environments and can provide the reset necessary to shift perspective and move into a state of healing.

While these programs can be helpful in laying the foundation for recovery, for various reasons, not all who may benefit are able to commit to a prolonged period of time off the grid. And for those individuals who do go through a wilderness program, once they return to everyday living, it’s critically important they maintain the skills and perspectives gained with the experience. 

As part of The Grounds Recovery program, our members don’t spend weeks off the grid, but we do encourage them to develop maintainable lifestyle patterns that include regular exposure to nature. Our residents engage in equine therapy, neighborhood walks, surf therapy and plenty of beach time. We also encourage and promote hiking as a practice that our members can use to maintain physical fitness and the connection with nature that is so good for general well-being.   

Sequoia vs Man. Giant Sequoias Forest and the Tourist with Backpack Looking Up.

Hiking – An Accessible Way to Connect with Nature & Build Self Reliance

We can all benefit from taking a hike every now and then, but for young men in recovery, hiking provides an accessible way to build the skills and self-confidence necessary for long-term success. Hiking allows us to explore new territories and challenge ourselves both physically and mentally. Because hiking requires focus on both terrain and navigation, it forces us to get off our phones and pay attention to the world around us. Planning a hike and accounting for variables like weather, elevation gain, permits, equipment, food, and water require life skills that are useful in many areas of our lives. Similarly, encountering unexpected challenges on the trail helps build critical thinking and self-reliance. Hiking also helps us tune into our physical needs. Staying hydrated, recognizing when we’re hungry and pushing through physically challenging moments help us better understand self-care and our true limits.

California Trails Provide Some of the Best Hiking Opportunities in the World 

Whether it’s a short fitness hike in the nearby hills or woods, a longer day hike to grab a local peak or a multi-day backpacking trip in a national or state park, California has all of the options. From the mountains to the coast, California scenery is hard to beat and many of the state’s most popular trail systems take hikers through pristine environments and to spectacular vistas that are inaccessible any other way.

Why Hike? Here Are Seven Good Reasons…
  1. Improved Physical Health
  2. Stress Reduction & Mental Clarity
  3. Connection with Nature & Opportunities for Mindfulness
  4. Social Support & Community Building
  5. Opportunities for Problem Solving & Planning
  6. Self-Reliance & Self-Confidence Building
  7. Appreciation of Natural Beauty

A List of Some California Trails Worth the Hike

San Diego Local – A Coastal Hiker’s Paradise

San Diego Scenery
Annie’s Canyon Trail

Annie’s Canyon Trail is an easy 1.5 mile hike where you can grab views of the Pacific Ocean and the San Elijo Lagoon. The hike winds through a slot canyon system made of sandstone.

Three Sisters Falls Hike

This 4.1 mile challenging hike starts about thirty miles south of Julian. It can get pretty hot and pretty steep on the way out, so best to go in winter or spring when the falls are flowing and the temps are cooler. Make sure to take plenty of water.

Potato Chip Rock
Potato Chip Rock

An Instagram favorite on account of the “potato chip” rock that sits about 100’ below the summit of Mt. Woodson and makes for such a great photo opp, this 7.3 mile day hike is both challenging and popular so get there early and bring water.

Peak Bagging California Style

Summiting mountain peaks is a great way to build self-confidence, fitness and mental toughness and California has not shortage of peaks to bag.

Grounds memers at summit of hike

San Diego local summits include Cuyamaca Peak and Cowels Mountain.

Mountain View

The Southern California Six Pack of Peaks challenge includes Mt. Wilson, Mt. San Antonio (Mt. Baldy), San Bernardino Peak, Cucamonga Peak, Mt. San Jacinto & Mt. San Gorgonio.

Grounds members at lake

California also boasts the highest peak in the contiguous US – Mt. Whitney. This challenging hike located in the Eastern Sierra Nevada summits at 14,505.

Desert wind caves landscape in Anza Borrego

California Desert Hiking Delivers

The California desert has so many options for hiking it’s difficult to mention just a few, but as with most things – timing is everything! 

  • Hiking Death Valley during a super bloom is a once in a decade experience. 
  • Whitewater in spring after a winter of heavy rains is a must-see – plus you might spy a bighorn sheep or two up in the cliffs above. 
  • Anza Borrego slot canyons are an otherworldly adventure with varying degrees of difficulty.

California Parks Can’t Be Beat! 

From Redwoods National Park to Yosemite to Joshua Tree, and beyond, hiking California’s national park trail systems offer something for everyone. From the coasts to the mountains, our state provides hiking opportunities in every season and delivers such a diversity of geography and scenery one could spend a lifetime exploring and still not see it all.

Hiking Heals the Mind, Body and Soul 

Whether it’s exploring San Diego’s trail systems or taking a weekend trip into the Sierras, Grounds members hike to heal and many of them find that being able to take on the challenge, appreciate the scenery, and build comradery through adventure are some of their favorite parts of being in recovery. 

Hiking and being in nature is a part of our program that we encourage our members to take with them and nurture for the rest of their lives. 

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