top of page

Native designs at the Mission San Francisco de Solano chapel . Sonoma . 2021


The walk from Sonoma to San Diego generally takes a minimum of two months. It can be a very rewarding journey, but it involves a good deal of preparation.  

Below you'll find a planning overview, major logistical considerations (best times of year to walk, availability of lodging), and tips on gear, training, accommodations, budgeting, food, whether to carry a phone, etc. You'll also learn what to expect on the road.


1.0  Planning Overview

2.0  Logistical Considerations 

  2.1  Weather 

  2.2  Lodging     

3.0  Planning Your Walk

  3.1  General 

  3.2  Funding 

  3.3  Mental Preparation 

  3.4  Gear

  3.5  Training

  3.6  Walk Alone or With Others? 

  3.7  Securing Food and Water 

  3.8  Carrying a Mobile Phone  

  3.9  Navigating (Print vs. Online Guides) 

  3.10  Physical Care on the Road 

  3.11  Safety 

4.0  Arriving at Your Destination

5.0  Coming Home / Reentry 




1.0  Planning Overview

Check out the below logistical considerations then:

  • Decide what season you’ll be walking.         

  • Decide how many sections you'd like to walk.       

  • Review the route and estimate how many days you’ll be walking, then look over the recommended accommodations and plan where you’ll stay along the way (in some locations, there's only one option).         

  • Budget: Create an approximate budget, including food and lodging for each day. Make sure that you have enough funding for the trip, as well as bills or payments while you're gone, and have enough money when you get back home. 

  • Discuss the walk with friends and family. 

  • Get time off from work.

  • Get the right gear together.

  • If you haven’t trekked long-distances with a backpack, go on training walks. Be sure to check with your doctor before undertaking a new exercise routine.

  • If you choose, arrange for a friend(s) to walk with you during your journey. It’s helpful to walk with someone else through some of the more desolate areas.




2.0  Logistical Considerations   

Major logistical considerations are weather and lodging. 


2.1  Weather

Heat and the difficulty of securing lodging (see below) can make summer a difficult time to walk. And rain can be a factor during the winter. It’s best to walk during March-early June or late September-November, especially if you’re following the entire route from Sonoma to San Diego (or vice versa).

Heat: During summer months, the inland regions can be scorching. In places like the Central Coast’s Jolon Road; the valleys of LA; and even San Jose, which sits right next to San Francisco Bay; temperatures can top 100 degrees. Walking even a few miles with your pack, in this kind of heat, can be dangerous – you run the risk of heat stroke, dehydration, etc. And sometimes you’re miles from any kind of services, so it might take a while for help to arrive.  

Recommendation: From June through the end of August, don’t walk too far inland. Consider following legs of the route that are on or relatively closer to the coast, such as: 


  • San Francisco to San Rafael, 

  • Santa Barbara to Ventura, and

  • Carmel to Soledad.    


Rain: A little rain during your walk can refreshing and it makes for great clouds and clear skies afterward. But day after day, rain makes walking harder – you’ll need to get in/out of extra gear, visibility is reduced, and walking along busy roads can be extra hazardous. In the few sections with dirt trails, it can be really draining to walk through mud. Plus, if you’re camping, setting up your tent and sleeping in the rain can be miserable, especially if you’re already wet and cold.   


Recommendation: The rainy season in California is generally November through mid-March; try to avoid walking more than a few sections of the path during this period.     

California Climate Info:    

2.2  Lodging  

Determining lodging for a different location every night for 2+ months is the toughest part of planning the trip. The good news: If you walk off-season, you don't need to make many reservations. But some planning is essential. Unless you’re rough camping (sleeping wherever you stop walking or riding), here are some factors to consider: 


  • There isn’t a formal system of low-cost accommodations set up specifically set up to accommodate walkers/riders, as there are along established trails (e.g., Camino de Santiago, Shikoku Temple Walk). This means, at this point, there isn’t one central website or resource you can visit to make reservations. Also, unlike the aforementioned trails, you can't roll into a town and expect that accommodations will be appear in front of you.

  • The length of your day’s journey (and route) may be determined by the distance to next available hotel or campground – sometimes it’s quite far. See below descriptions of each leg for distances.

  • In many areas, there aren’t many lodging options (there are fewer camping areas than you might expect in California).

  • Types of accommodations are often sometimes limited. In more desolate places, campgrounds are your only option. In cities, you may only find only higher-priced hotels. Options include campgrounds, hotels, hostels, motels, and occasionally convents and missions. Hopefully friends or family can put you up along the way.

  • Making advance reservations for more than a few days is a daunting task in and of itself. If you fall a day behind schedule, your carefully made reservations in subsequent locations may be in jeopardy – cancellation fees may be assessed, and you may be left with nowhere to stay.

  • If you trek during summer months, you'll face additional challenges. In addition to hiking during hot weather, you'll find that campgrounds and hotels tend to fill up with vacationers, so you’d be advised to make reservations ahead of time. Hotels, at least, can charge more during peak season. And if you decide not to make reservations beforehand, you may find it difficult to find lodging. That’s not fun when there’s only one hotel in town, it’s sold out, you’re miles away from the next pueblo, and there are no taxis.    


Back to Top




3.0  Planning Your Walk   

3.1  General Considerations 


  • Consider walking off peak. Make the trip during March-early June or October-November, especially if you’re following the length of the route, from Sonoma to San Diego. The weather is mild, and you'll have a better chance of walking into hotels and campgrounds without having to make reservations beforehand. I walked from April 11-June 6, didn’t make reservations more than a day in advance, and always managed to find a place to stay.

  • Do some training walks. These will help determine how many miles you can walk in a day. Average distance for each section is +/- 15 to 20 miles. This might sound like a lot, but once you get going, you'll probably be surprised at how much distance you can cover.

  • Study the route.

  • You'll understand what type of walking conditions to expect in different areas.

  • Plan your route.

  • It's a good idea to plan how far you'll be walking and where you'll be sleeping for as many days as possible, or at least milestone dates. In the areas where there isn't much lodging, or where accommodations tend to be expensive, you can make arrangements as necessary.

  • Soon, I'll post a link to an online planning spreadsheet, which includes a line for every day. You'll be able to save and edit it to fit your needs.    

  • Schedule more rest days than you think you’ll need. In case you want to spend more time at a location or just need to take a break (due to injury, fatigue, etc.), this will ensure you arrive at key locations on desired dates. In spite of your best-laid plans, things will go awry. Don't sweat the details too much. Solutions will arise on the trail. Strangers will help.


3.2  Funding 

The cost of walking the route over 2 months is not inexpensive, but there are steps you can take to reduce costs.


Expenses on the Road
  • Lodging is your biggest expense. Hopefully, in years to come, there will be a more formalized system of cheap accommodations along the path.

  • Food. 

  • Plane, bus, or train fare to and from your starting and ending points.

    • Amtrak runs along gorgeous routes throughout the west. The Surfliner (San Diego to San Luis Obispo) and the Coast Starlight (Los Angeles to Seattle) often trace the Camino Real path, so you'll get to see the route you just walked. It takes quite a while (e.g., 11 hours from Los Angeles to Emeryville/San Francisco), but you won't feel as sad/weird as you would flying over the path it took you two months to walk in just two hours.

  • Estimated Trip Costs:

  • On his walk, Kurt Buckley spent $65/day over 53 days for a total cost of $3,500. This includes staying with friends' and family.

  • I opted to camp a bit more than Kurt and would estimate my costs at around $2,800. I also stayed free with friends and family for 18/56 nights, in addition to a few free stays at 3 missions and convents (though we did end up making donations). Also, people were often kind enough to provide dinner, which cut down on the food expenses.

  • Mike Miller biked a route over approximately 12 days and spent $415. Amazing.


Other, Off-road Expenses:
  • Gear

  • Time spent planning

  • Make sure that you have also enough money to cover bills or payments back home, and ensure you have funds when you get back. 

Reduce Costs By: 
  • Using your network.

  • Put the word out to friends and family about your walk. Ask them if they'd be willing to put you up or know anyone along the route who may be interested in hosting you. You'll probably get unsolicited offers, as well. I met quite a few nice people this way.

  • Contact organizations along the path that may be friendly to walkers, such as churches or community organizations. People are surprisingly friendly and amenable to putting you up for the night.

  • Note: Be sure and them to be flexible about your arrival and departure times, +/- a few days.

  • Mentioning that you're walking El Camino Real.

  • If hotel staff don't ask why you have a giant backpack and no car, mention that you're walking the route. (You may not have talked to people for a while, so it may just spill out.) Of course, don't expect a discount, but some hotel staff will offer reduced rates or goodies.

  • Camping as much as possible

    • Rough camping -- camping wherever you stop - by the side of the road, in a field, etc. It's free but, of course, there are risks involved in terms of potential trespassing, and lack of protection from people and animals. Information on best practices here.

  • Using online lodging resources such as warmshowers (worldwide reciprocal hospitality exchange for cyclists)

  • Walking with a friend or group, and splitting costs

  • Carrying food / going to fewer restaurants 

  • Doing the walking in sections 

  • Fundraising 

  • Biking the path    

  • Borrowing gear



3.3  Mental Preparation

Walking 800 miles with a backpack over an informal route on mostly paved roads might sound intimidating. (Ok, it sounds intimidating. I was intimidated.) Below are some suggestions on how to prepare for the trip.     

Before the Walk
  • Train. If you haven't walked long distances before, training is an important part of your mental preparation.  Not only will you ensure that you can physically carry the weight, you'll figure out your walking pace and gradually build confidence in your abilities. If you live in California, you can do some training on the route; you'll familiarizing yourself with the landscape as well as the peculiarities of through hiking this particular path. You'll ensure that you can safely carry the weight, without aggravating any injuries. You'll also figure out your walking pace and build confidence in your abilities.  

  • Invite friends to join you. If you find that you'd rather not walk alone, see section 3 above for suggestions.

  • Minimize expectations. When you’ve invested a lot of time and energy into the walk, it’s hard not to have some ideas about how the trek will change or better you. “I’m going to see God!” “I’ll finally be discovered as a supermodel!” “My outlook will totally change when I get back!” When these expectations, large and small, creep in, try to minimize them. Not only will you not be disappointed, you leave room for other changes that you might not have expected.    

  • Expect to have a breakdown or two. Did I just say have no expectations? There will probably be a few times when you’ll be incredibly frustrated, lonely, sick of walking, afraid, or exhausted. If you don’t expect some hardship, you’ll be unprepared for it. And if/when it happens, don’t be hard on yourself.    

  • And the corollary to the above: Expect things to go awry. 


On the Road 

Try to eat well. If you're walking without a support vehicle, you won't always have access to healthy food / fresh vegetables along the way. In more isolated areas, sometimes the only food available along the route will be Ramen and greasy tacos. (I actually gained weight over the first half of the walk, because I love tacos. And tacos are everywhere.)  

  • Sleep in hotels every so often. If you’re a hardcore camper / couch surfer on a budget, give yourself a good rest every once in a while and stay in a nice hotel. With a pool.    

  • Remember the expectations.    


3.4  Gear

What do you need to bring? And how much you can carry?

Backpack and Shoes

The two most important pieces of gear are your backpack and your shoes, as they directly affect your ability to walk and to carry the rest of your equipment. You can cut corners elsewhere, but it's worth spending time and money to make sure you have the best possible pack and shoes for your build. Everything else is icing. (Not that icing's not important.)

  • Shoes: Mid-height boots are probably your best bet, as they provide critical ankle support and traction. Some people prefer walking with minimalist runners or low hikers, but unless you've trained extensively, allowing your feet and ankles to adjust and strengthen, All leather boots are overkill; they're a bit too inflexible and retain too much heat. And waterproof boots aren't the most breathable. (It rained minimally on my walk; if I had to do it over again, I might buy non-waterproof boots and carry shoe sealing wax, in case of rain.) If you choose hiking shoes, they accommodate the swelling that happens when walking long distances. Although the size is bigger, your heels shouldn't lift out of the shoes as you walk.

  • Note: I swear by Keen hiking boots. The shoes have a huge toe box, which looks a little goofy, but allows your feet a lot of room and really minimizes friction. Wearing Keen Targhee II boots, I got small blisters just a few times over the entire 800-mile walk. This model isn't the most breathable, but the boots held together all the way to San Diego. 

  • Backpack: The other "must have" is a quality hiking backpack that fits your frame. Your torso length is the most important factor in a proper fit; the pack should rest just below the top of your hips. Other elements to consider are your weight, shoulder structure, and hip shape.

    • My 55-liter capacity bag fit everything I needed. 

Hiking backpacks have four separate straps that should be tightened in a specific order so that the bag fits against your body. None of the straps should pucker or gap. See this video demo for details

The rule of thumb is that 80% of the pack's weight should rest on hips, 20% on your shoulders. Be sure and weight the packs that you try on, to get a better idea of what the bag will feel like on the road. They should feel comfortable on your hips, without hurting your back or shoulders. 

Packs generally weigh under 4 pounds, though it's possible to get an ultralight pack for less than 2.



  • Save yourself time and headaches by getting fitted for boots and backpacks at a specialty store like Sports Basement or REI. Most staff members are quite helpful, knowledgeable, and dedicated to getting you in the right equipment. Try on many backpacks and pairs of shoes. Walk around the store with them. Sometimes it takes a few trips to figure out which shoes and pack are the right ones. However, it's better to be patient and make sure you the right gear. And after a few trips, you'll have a better understanding of what a good fit feels like.

  • REI is expensive, but they allow members to return all gear - no questions asked - even shoes worn outside. This is very helpful if your gear does not wear like it did in the store.

  • Backpacking Light is an excellent online resource for information about lightweight gear and packing light.


Other Good Investments
  • Ultralightweight tent: Tents these days are pretty light. Shave off even more pounds by going with an ultralightweight tent (less than 3 pounds). Lighter still are tarp tents, which are held up by hiking poles and weigh less than 2 pounds.

  • Ultralightweight sleeping bag: Bags have also become pretty light. You can save extra weight by getting a bag that's under 3 pounds. If you walk during spring or fall, nighttime temperatures probably won't dip below 40 degrees. However, a bag rated at 40 degrees won't necessarily keep you warm at that temperature. (Read more about factors affecting how warm a bag will keep you.)


How Many Pounds Should You Carry?

Carrying capacity will, of course, vary from human to human. The rough rule of thumb for reasonably fit adults is to carry no more than 25% of your weight. 

Each item you carry is just a little more weight pushing down on your body, and those ounces add up pretty quickly. With today's lighter gear, you can get a pack, sleeping bag (and pad), and tent that together weigh under 10 pounds. To save weight, don't take full bottles or tubes. (You can replenish along the road, if need be.) Ask yourself if you really need to bring the x or the y. But don't stress too much -- on the walk, you'll learn quickly how much you can really carry. You can always send home or throw out what you don't need and pick up items you're missing. You'll probably get creative, e.g., you don't need the deodorant applicator - remove the cake and put it in a Ziploc bag.

Shaving off ounces is a pretty interesting exercise. Maybe you don't need that 5-pound painting of your grandma. Maybe she'll be with you in spirit. Or maybe you're willing to carry it. It could be important enough to bring along

In addition to gear, you'll be carrying a varying amount of food and water. The most extra food and water weight I carried was about 12-14 extra pounds through the King City to San Miguel stretch. 

Water consumption varies from person to person, but 5 liters is probably a good average for a person with a backpack on an 18-mile hike in 85-degree heat.

Water consumption varies from person to person, but 5 liters is probably a good average for a person with a backpack on an 18-mile hike in 85-degree heat. 1 liter water = 34 ounces = 2 pounds. That's 10 extra pounds. The hotter it is, the more water you need to carry, which makes you sweat even more. So you have to carry even more water to compensate for sweating from the weight. Isn't that nice? 

I weighed 143 pounds at the end of my walk, making my limit about 37 pounds. My backpack weighed about 20 pounds and my top weight was 32-34 pounds. I couldn't have shouldered much more than that, which comports with the 25% formula.


Packing List

Below is a full inventory of everything I ended up taking on the walk. Everyone's list will be a bit different, but this is a pretty good roster of basic items.

  • Backpack (Deuter ACT Lite Women's 45+10 L)

  • Backpack rain cover

  • Hiking Boots (Keen Targhee II)

  • Ultralightweight Tent (Big Agnes 1 person)

  • Ultralightweight Sleeping bag (REI, 30 degree)

  • Clothing:

  • 3 pairs wool socks

  • 3 pairs underwear

  • 3 t-shirts

  • 2 pairs hiking pants

  • Acrylic pullover

  • Down jacket

  • Hat with brim

  • Beanie

  • Waterproof/wind proof shell jacket

  • Waterproof pants

  • 2 pairs shoe inserts

  • Flip flops

  • Safety Equipment

  • Mace (purchased at REI)

  • Safety whistle

  • Reflective safety vest

  • Orange safety flag

  • Plastic fork and spoon

  • Water bottles (I started out with a Platypus bladder, but the chemical taste was so terrible, I jettisoned it.)

  • Small compass

  • Headlamp

  • Hiking poles, and extra pole tip protectors

  • First Aid Kit: duct tape (for blisters), moleskin, band-aids, Neosporin, needle and thread, tiger balm, ibuprofen, lighter (sterilization)

  • Toiletries: toothbrush, floss, soap, q-tips, razor, sanitary napkins, deodorant, 1/4 roll toilet paper

  • Eyeliner and mascara

  • Small Ace comb

  • Sunblock (SPF 50)

  • Prescription medicine

  • Small super absorbent sports towel

  • Small bottle all-purpose soap

  • Plastic bag for dirty laundry

  • iPhone

  • Camera (SLR)

  • Extra camera memory cards

  • External battery pack (for phone)

  • Tchotchkes picked up along the way (just a few shells, 

  • Good luck charms (St. Christopher medal, "Salty," my nephew's favorite train)

  • Small wallet with about $40 and my ATM card

  • Money belt for extra money, credit card, keys

  • Pen and notebook

  • Extra Ziploc bags (2)

  • Camino Real credentials (2)


Things I didn't bring that may have been helpful:

  • Sleeping pad

  • Utility knife

  • Anti-histamine (for poison oak or bee stings)

  • Insect repellant

  • Sunglasses

  • Printed directions


Cost-cutting Measures

  • Look for sales, especially REI's monthly used gear sale. These happen once a month on the weekend. Be sure and get in line a few hours early to get a ticket, which will determine what time you enter the sale area. It's a bit of a crapshoot -- you never know what people have returned. And because you get only 10 or 15 minutes in the sale area, people tend to grab more than they need, try out, and return what they don't want maybe 15 minutes later. The upshot: You may get better gear if you're in the third group than the second group. I lucked out and got my tent, sleeping bag, shell, and down jacket at steep discounts, saving about 70% over retail. Contact your local store for details.

  • Ask friends or family to borrow gear.

  • Try an online gear exchange for discounted used equipment


3.5 Training

Training is key to a fun, successful trip; it ensures that you can safely carry the weight, without creating or aggravating any injuries. You'll also figure out your walking pace and build muscle strength, as well as confidence in your abilities.  

On this route, the average distance is 15-17 miles a day. I firmly believe that most people can walk this far, day after day; I've seen everyone from teenagers to septuagenarians tackle long treks. Even if you have doubts, give training a shot! At the very least, you'll get some exercise. And you might surprise yourself. (Of course, consult your doctor before undertaking a new exercise regimen.)


Before your departure date, give yourself a month or two to train, ideally with the backpack and shoes you'll use on the walk. Build up to at least 15 miles with a weighted pack. If you haven't walked very far before, you might start with 3 miles and a lightly weighted pack. Try taking a 2 walks per week, adding 2-3 miles and a few pounds each time. Be sure to hit some hills along the way.

Find a creative way to fit in the walks. Get up early and walk to work, or walk home. Walk with friends or family. Before you know it, you'll be thinking that 12 miles is an easy day.

If your pack or shoes continually cause you pain or give you blisters, consider getting new equipment. It won't get any better on the trail. And, of course, if you feel any pain that seems unusual, stop and get it checked out.

Note: It seems that 18 miles (with pack) is the upper limit of what most people cam comfortably walk in a day. Beyond that, it starts getting tough. Note that there are a few 20-mile days and one 26-mile day. You may be strong enough to tackle these (perhaps with the help of Advil), but if it seems too much you can always walk partway and bus or cab the rest.

  • Do the walk in segments. If you’re not sure you’re up to walking the whole path alone, or can’t afford the expense, do sections over an extended period of time. 

  • Invite friends to accompany you during all or part of the trip. Companions may be welcome in more isolated areas. You can also split costs.

  • Take a support car along. If you have a family member or friend willing to drive along your walk, you’ll be freed from carrying your backpack and from having to walk to food or accommodations that may be off the path. You might also switch off driving duties. 

  • Organize a group walk.

3.6  Walk Alone or With Others?

The walk can be a welcome chance to be alone and reflect. However, if you find that you can't walk quite as far with a backpack, want to reduce costs, are nervous about walking alone, or would like to share the experience with others, below are some alternatives:



3.7  Securing Food and Water  

In most places, there are restaurants or stores where you can pick up ready-made food or groceries.  

However, there are stretches where food and water are far between, and these isolated areas tend to be hotter. Whether you walk or bike, you'll stock up when you can and carry extra food and water with you. Be prepared to haul the extra weight. 

Also, you won't always have access to quality food. Sometimes the only options are greasy tacos or convenience store food. I actually gained weight on the first third of the trip. On a 330-mile walk in Spain, where the food was fresher and cooked in small family restaurants, I lost 17 pounds. This walk was more than double that distance, yet I only lost 5 pounds overall. I felt like Morgan Spurlock

In the Route section of this guide, the availability of food and temperature are indicated for each leg.


3.8  Carrying a Mobile Phone  

Leaving your mobile phone behind can be a liberating experience. Untethered to your life back home, you can better concentrate on the experience in front of you.


However, you might find it helpful to carry a phone in order to arrange lodging or in case of emergency. You may also want to access online maps, GPX points, use GPS, or use an app to track your progress, etc. If your phone has a decent built-in camera, you could trim some weight by leaving your stand-alone camera at home.

  • Reception varies with your carrier's coverage.

  • Carriers usually provide a map of coverage areas on their websites.

  • On Verizon, I got reception about 93% of the time. Reception was spottier in the mountains, as well as the stretch from King City inland to Mission San Antonio and out to Mission San Miguel. 

  • Note that you should be able to use your phone's GPS function without reception. You'll just need to be in line with the appropriate satellite (...wherever those are.)

External Battery Packs

If you decide to carry a phone, consider carrying extra batteries and or an external battery pack, in addition to your standard charger. Depending on your phone usage, you may burn through your battery life well before you're able to get to an outlet and recharge. And in some places, such as campgrounds, outlets may not be available (unless you're willing to leave your phone charging in a bathroom). External battery packs can greatly boost your uptime.


  • Depending on the model, external battery packs can provide 2 or more full charges for your phone. Other factors affecting performance include the model of your phone, and the age of its battery.*

  • Plug the pack into the wall to recharge. Note that it can take a few hours to fully top up.

  • There are solar chargers available. However, according to the many product reviews and backpacker forums that I've read, they don't seem to be reliable, take too long to charge, and don't collect energy on cloudy days (this presents a problem in the foggy lands north of Santa Cruz).

  • There are many lightweight options available.

  • Reception varies with your carrier's coverage.

  • Carriers usually provide a map of coverage areas on their websites.

  • On Verizon, I got reception about 93% of the time. Reception was spottier in the mountains, as well as the stretch from King City inland to Mission San Antonio and out to Mission San Miguel. 

  • Note that you should be able to use your phone's GPS function without reception. You'll just need to be in line with the appropriate satellite (...wherever those are.)

*As an example of output: In 2012, I bought the Mophie Juicepack Powerstation for about $90 at BestBuy. It weighs 10 ounces and rated at 4,000 mAh (milliamp hours), it provided about 2.5 phone charges per cycle for my iPhone 4 on the Verizon 3G network. As of April 2013, I've seen 13 ounce, 12000 mAh external battery packs, which theoretically might provide up to 7.5 phone charges.



3.9  Navigating (Print Guides vs. Online Guides)

Carry a print guide or use your smartphone to navigate. Or both.



Print Guides 


  • You may prefer a larger view of maps than you can get on a smartphone.

  • It's a good idea to have a printed version of the route, in case you lose your phone or it breaks.

  • Print guides won't burn battery life.


  • Can add extra ounces, especially if you're also taking a smartphone.


Smartphone/Online Guide


  • View guides online, via your smartphone.

  • If you have a question or need an alternate road, etc., you can easily access information via the Internet.

  • Upload GPX points (see route section below) to your smartphone and navigate with a GPS app* (low battery burn). 

  • Track and/or record your progress via GPS app.


  • If you lose or break your smartphone, your navigation tool is gone. At least until you can get to the next mobile phone store.



  • Walking

  • This guide is currently available in mobile format, with downloadable GPX points.

  • Ron Briery’s guide, CALIFORNIA MISSION WALK: A Hiker's Guide to California's 21 Missions along El Camino Real, is available in print or online.

  • Print Version: To order, email - $15 (includes postage). Also available at select mission gift shops.

  • Biking

  • Mike Miller's 2012 Camino Real Biking Itinerary includes daily mileage, lodging, cost. Route map forthcoming.


* GPS app recommendations for iPhone and for iPhone and Android. (I used MotionX-GPS.)

Back to Top



3.10  Physical Care on the Road

Proper Gear

Getting the right gear can help prevent injuries and burnout when you're on the camino. 


  • Although most items can be picked up along the road, it's essential that you get good hiking boots and a backpack that fits you correctly well before you start your trip. 

  • REI, as well as most outdoors stores, has knowledgeable staff that will fit you for your backpack and shoes.

  • You may not find the perfect fit on your first or even your second visit, but it's worth taking the time to get the right equipment.

  • Test your gear by taking it on training runs.

  • Note that you can return any item, for any reason at REI - no questions asked. (REI members don't even need a receipt.) If you road test your gear and find it doesn't work for you, they'll take it back.



First Aid Kit

A first aid kit is essential. Keep in mind that you won't ever be far from a pharmacy and since much of the path takes you along roads, you'll usually be pretty close to help - most people can make do with a small kit.

  • Useful items: needle and thread for blisters, topical anti-bacterial, band-aids, moleskin and/or blister tape, tweezers, pain reliever, hydration tablets, Mylar blanket, insect repellant, as well as prescription medicines and antihistamines (as needed).

  • Store the items in a Ziploc bag - it's lightweight and will allow you to quickly assess your stores.

  • Tips on first aid care here.


Listening to Your Body
  • Your body will tell you what you need to do. If you feel like you need to stop walking, take a rest and assess your situation. If you have a really bad feeling about walking along a certain road, don't proceed. If you meet someone that creeps you out, extricate yourself as soon as you can.

  • Remember that there is always an alternative to difficult situations. Remain calm. Ask for help.

  • Try to get an early start and avoid walking in the middle of the day (12-3pm), when temperatures are hottest.

  • Remember to pick up bananas, hydration tablets, or sports drinks / goo to keep up your salt and mineral levels.


Access to Restrooms 

Alas, there is no magical string of sparkling clean public bathrooms along the way.

  • As you're walking, you'll have to find bathrooms in restaurants, gas stations, farmworkers' porta-potties, etc. Ask first and people will almost always oblige. If you're in a store, you might purchase a small item to offset your use of services. 

  • The density of toilets along the path correlates to the density of food and lodging.

  • Carry 1/4 roll of toilet paper with you, for side-of-the-road relief.



Most campgrounds and have showers, but often you'll need quarters to operate them. 

Fort Hunter Liggett Primitive Campground, near Mission San Antonio, does not have showers. 

Back to Top


3.11  Safety

Carrying Money

Since almost all establishments now take debit cards, so there's no need to carry a lot of cash or traveler's checks.


  • You won't be more than a day's walk from an ATM at any point. During most of the walk, you'll be a lot closer.

  • It's a good idea to carry at least $100 in emergency money at all times.

  • Take a spare debit or credit card along, in case you lose your primary card.

  • Keep $40 and your primary debit card in a zippered jacket pocket and use a money belt to store the remaining money, spare debit or credit card, and any other valuables.


Walking Along Roads  

On quite a few legs of the camino, you'll be traveling on busy roads. Many roads have wide shoulders or soft farmland that walkers will enjoy, but some shoulders are pretty narrow.

  • Of course, be aware of your surroundings at all times.

  • For walkers, best practice is to walk against traffic, so you can see oncoming vehicles. For cyclists, of course, you'll bike with the flow.

  • Around blind curves, walker may want to switch and walk with traffic.

  • Try not to walk during commute hours, when traffic is heaviest.

  • Don't walk before dawn or after nightfall.

  • Safety equipment: Consider carrying a reflective safety vest (you can also attach it to the back of your pack), bike lights, or flag.

  • Non-exhaustive List of Busier Roads (Legs 9-20 forthcoming):

  • Leg 1: Highway 116 between Sonoma and Petaluma - wide shoulder for about 5 miles; 101 (between Petaluma and Novato) - wide shoulder, about 3 miles.

  • Leg 5: Bear Creek Road (Santa Cruz Mountains) - Minimal shoulder, windy uphill road for about 4 miles.

  • Leg 6: Sunset Road (Watsonville)

  • Leg 7: San Juan Grade Road (Salinas) - Minimal shoulder and traffic for about 5 miles, from the intersection of San Juan Grade Road and Crazy Horse Canyon Road to the intersection of San Juan Grade Road and East Boronda Road.

  • Leg 8: River Road (Salinas Valley) - Small shoulder and big trucks for 8 miles, from the intersection of Highway 68 and River Road to just before the intersection of River Road and Chualar River Road. After that, the road runs alongside farms and you'll be able to walk on the soil.


Accepting Rides

It's very likely that at some point, a motorist will offer you a ride. Of course, the vast majority of people mean well and are just excited to help you. It's tempting to accept when you're exhausted. But, obviously, there's a danger factor. Taking a ride is a personal decision, and worth some thought before you set out.

Note: I decided against accepting any rides. Not only did I want to walk the whole way, I didn't want to get into a habit of getting into strangers' cars, lest my judgment start getting lax. Although I wanted to put my faith in humanity, as a woman walking solo I couldn't quite justify the risk.



Scary Animals and Plants

Throughout the hike, you'll see signs in wooded areas warning you about the presence of rattlesnakes, mountain lion, ticks, and poison oak. Black bears also range throughout the state.

Know that mountain lion and black bear attacks are very rare. The only danger that you'll definitely encounter is poison oak. 

Below are links to tips on identifying and dealing with:



Tip: I took along a small can of mace. While in mountainous and isolated areas, I kept it cocked and within arm's reach. (And then I accidentally sprayed myself. That didn't keep me away from me. What?)


Back to Top

4.0  Arriving at Your Destination

To add to the big list of things to think about, you might consider how you want the last day of your walk to look, as well as how you'll travel back home.

When you finish your walk, you may want friends and family to greet you at your endpoint. You may want some alone time. (Or some combination thereof.) Of course, what you may want at the outset may change as you near the end of your walk.  

If you can afford to do so, it's a nice idea to decompress before heading home. Especially if you've walked a considerable distance, you may be pretty tired and it can be quite jarring to jump back into your normal routine. You might take a few days to just chill out. 

So, how will you get back home? If it's possible for you to take a train or to drive home, you'll be able to further ease back into your everyday life. Personally, I couldn't bear to take a 1.5 hour flight from San Diego to San Francisco over a route that took me nearly two months (1,368 hours) to cover on foot.

Back to Top

5.0  Coming Home / Reentry

You've walked anywhere from 12 to 800 miles through California. Every day, you got up, put on the same pair of shoes and one of two pairs of pants, hoisted 20+ pounds on your back, trekked about at least 12 miles in one direction, and had to find food and shelter. You constantly experienced new sights and sounds, observed your behavior in different contexts, and met people you might never have talked to otherwise.

Whether or not you had expectations, you've probably been changed by it all. At the very least, you're in better shape.

Then you go home. While you do get to wear a greater variety of clothes, you perform the same mundane tasks as everyone else, see many of the same things each day, and return each night to the same familiar location. How do you process your walk, especially as there are probably few people who have had similar experiences? How might you use this experience to improve your life, and possibly the lives of those around you?

These were the questions I had as I finished my walk. I had some general reculturation issues, which were compounded by some unexpected family and financial matters. I also knew that I needed to pursue a new line of work, but I didn't feel inspired to search. The adjustment was difficult and took far longer than I expected, but I tried to have patience with it, talk with friends who had been on similar treks, and begin work on the trail guide.


I've spoken with others who have undertaken similar treks, and learned that they have had many of the same reintegration issues. While you may slide seamlessly back into everyday life, it's worth preparing yourself for the possibility of some reentry shock. 


Read more about reintegration issues and coping mechanisms in this ABC News piece, a short but concise UMass post for returning study abroad students, and 10 Reentry Challenges and Reentry Tips from UoP.

Back to Top

Anchor 1
1.0 Planning Overview
2.0 Logistical Consideratons
3.0 Planning Your Walk
4.0 Arriving at Your Desination
5.0 Coming Home / Reentry
bottom of page