There are 56 peaks comprising the highest points in each of the 58 California counties (two peaks, Mt. Whitney and Snow Mtn, are shared by two counties each). They range in elevation from the highest point in the continental US (Mt. Whitney) to an over-developed hill less than 1,000ft high in Sacramento county. Some have roads that can be driven to the top, others require technical skills in rock climbing and glacier travel. All of them are unique and the collection comprises an impressive overview of the incredible geological variation found within the state.
Gary Suttle and a small group of early highpointers were the first to identify the entire collection of peaks, some "undiscovered" until as recently as 1991. Suttle's 1994 book, California County Summits
, remains an indispensable guide to these unique locations. He was also the first person to climb all 56 peaks, finishing in 1993. Most recently, in 2008 the highpoint of Placer County was discovered to not be Granite Peak, as previously believed. Instead, a slightly higher point on the eastern edge of the county was noted by a careful map reader. Perhaps there are more such "discoveries" to be found.
A Sortable List
is the most complete resource for information on county highpointing in the US. Some of the more useful information relating to California county summits are:
California has 12 county highpoints that either reside on private property or require one to traverse private property in order to reach the summit. None of these peaks are very difficult outside of ownership considerations, but because of varying degrees of access, these are often the least climbed among the 56. They are presented here in order of increasing difficulty, with comments relating to access. Trespassing is illegal and landowners may prosecute you should you cross their land. Keep this in mind and do not treat it lightly. The information provided below is not intended to condone trespassing.
1. Carpenter Hill
- Sacramento Co. Thanks to an abundance of development in the area, as of 2005 this is now a drive-up. A six-foot gate, sometimes open but easy to surmount, blocks the way up the last hundred yards to the communication towers atop the summit. As of 2006, no one has reported problems accessing this highpoint though the summit is still on private property.
2. Copernicus Peak
- Santa Clara Co. The five miles surrounding Mt. Hamilton are owned by the University of California. Public access is provided to the observatory atop Mt. Hamilton, but not to surrounding areas, Copernicus Peak included. No Parking
signs make it slightly more difficult to reach the highpoint. Still, it is a simple matter to hike around the No Trespassing signs and hike the 100ft to the summit. An abandoned fire lookout crowns the highpoint.
3. Mt. Bielawski - Santa Cruz Co. The highpoint lies a few hundred yards off SR35 in the Santa Cruz mountains, on property leased as a Christmas tree farm. The property is open to the public between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Highpointers have been allowed access to the highpoint during these times. Buy a tree and you'll make the manager happy, too.
4. Long Ridge
- San Mateo Co. An easy hike, but this highpoint lies on property whose landowner built a home here in 2004. An electric fence (to keep out deer, not highpointers) surrounds the property. The landowner used to allow periodic access to highpointers through a ranger Loro Paterson with the Open Space Preserve parks department, but this is no longer the case as of 2006.
5. Cobb Mtn West Rim
- Sonoma Co. Some of the property around Cobb Mtn is private, and the highpoint lies on land leased to Calpine Corp. No one seems to mind that hikers use the old road leading up from Whispering Pines to access both Cobb Mtn and the highpoint on the West Rim.
6. Mt Stakes
- Stanislaus Co. The shortest access, off Mt. Hamilton Rd, requires one to go through private property owned by two separate entities. A hunting club owns most of the property starting from the road, and this alone should make you consider this carefully. Highpointers have had notes left on cars, so clearly they aren't welcome. Another route approaching from Henry Coe State Park avoids the hunting club, but is long and arduous.
7. Mt Boardman North - San Joaquin Co. Like nearby Mt. Stakes, this peak is located on private ranchland in a remote part of the Diablo Range. Its nearest access is also along Mt. Hamilton Rd. In addition to notes left on cars, trespassers have been asked to leave when discovered. This property is regularly looked after.
8. Discovery Peak
- Alameda Co. This highpoint was hard to find before they installed tall communication towers atop it. Only the highpoint and a short stretch to reach it is on private property, but the hike through the Ohlone Wilderness is long. The private property is remote and irregularly patrolled.
9. South Butte
- Sutter Co. The entire hike by the shortest approach is on private property. The approach is ranchland, the summit is owned by a communications conglomerate. Trespassers at the summit have not been asked to leave by visiting technicians. The ranchowners are a different story and will not appreciate your visit. The land is not remote, it is regularly patrolled, and you can be seen from the nearby road nearly the entire hike. This is best visited at night.
10. Table Mtn - Kings Co. A resident landowner has a home a quarter mile from the end of Turkey Flat Rd, the shortest access point. For liability reasons, he has denied all access. The route is open to observation from great distances. This is best visited at night.
11. Laveaga Peak - Merced Co. The shortest access via Lone Tree Rd has a resident landowner at the gate where the public road ends. Beyond that are abandoned homes and cabins, but one fairly new hunting cabin enroute. All the land is private in this area, mostly ranchland. Others have visited starting from San Luis Reservoir - this avoids the resident landowner, but the route is very long. This is best visited at night.
12. Little Blue Ridge
- Yolo Co. This is the toughest of the private highpoints. Technically, this peak can be climbed without crossing private property, but the effort to do so is daunting. The route up Little Davis Creek (Milktoast Hwy) crosses a minimum of private property and the owners don't mind trespassers thrashing up that route. Easier routes that avoid the creek travel through private property closer to the resident home, and trespassers are definitely not welcomed.
13. Hot Springs Mtn - San Diego Co. This highpoint lies within the Los Coyotes Indian Reservation. As of 2009 it is once again open to the public after being closed for a number of years following a serious fire that swept over the area in 2005. The fastest way to the summit is via the Hot Springs Lookout Road (the lookout is located about 100yds from the highpoint). The Road starts just past the entrance station, about a seven mile drive to the top. Hiking routes are also available.