California Elevations

I-80 Donner Pass

high altitude towns    well above sea level


The majority of California cities are located near sea level, with low lying farmlands and populated coastlines common throughout world geography. California has super diversity w/ the population as well as the elevation. Vast rugged deserts bordering Nevada, from high deserts (8000′ @ Bodie ghost town) to low deserts (below sea level for Mecca) near the Salton Sea.  The golden state is also home to the highest and lowest point within the lower 48 and those points are only about 100 miles apart – Death Valley  (-282′ elev) and  Mount Whitney  (14,494′ elev).

High elevation mountain towns w/ pine forest are primarily located in the Sierra Nevada range which runs the backbone of California in a north-south direction,  separating the Pacific Ocean from the Great Basin. Mountain communities in Southern California includes places like Mount Laguna, Palomar, Big Bear, Arrowhead, Idyllwild and Mount Pinos.

The coastal range and the Sierra Nevadas encompasses most of Central California. Northern California by nature has generally higher elevation destinations and plenty off space to explore. Secluded forests, rivers, creeks, lakes, and reservoirs can be found above 4000′ elevation, north of Sacramento.

California Elevation Breakdown

  • Alpine lakes, streams, pine forests, mountain peaks, granite scenery is abundant above 6000′ elev.
  • Pinyon pine forests, junipers, sage chaparral, joshua trees can be found between 3000-5000′
  • Hot Springs, creek canyons and cottonwoods are usually discovered above 2000′ elev.
  • Oak hills, ghost pines, creek beds, river canyons generally range from 1000-3000′
  • Under 1000′ elevation is the majority of the populated cities and towns within California


Mecca Hills

GoogleMaps – groundbreaking tool for trip planning and checking out trailheads, camps and dirt roads from overhead

USGS Viewer – topographic overlays for altitude estimates, and various imagery

Mountain Peaks in California

SoCal Peaks above 10,000′ elevation

100 Highest Peaks inside California

California’s Highest Points by County

California Elevations Map


Snow is always a factor in mid to high altitude towns with road conditions being unpredictable with each mountain range and each micro-climate. Winter months range from October to May, so be warned. Above 3000′ elevation usually gets some snow. Serious snow above 5000′. Carry tire chains or have 4×4 to travel safely on snowy roads.

list of California towns
by elevation


Rainbow Lodge California