Hicks, his parents and three siblings from West Chester, Pa., were on vacation, according to Alexandra Picavet, spokeswoman for the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.
Some of the family members were hiking along the Coastal Trail three-quarters of a mile south of Muir Beach when Hicks fell around 1 p.m., Picavet said.
Hicks and another sibling had gone ahead and walked down a "social trail", an unofficial, unconstructed pathway off the main trail, to get a better view, Picavet said.
Hicks was bracing himself on rocks as he sat down near the edge of the cliff, when he fell 400 to 500 feet to his death, Picavet said.
His sibling ran back and notified his parents, and Hicks' father made his way down the cliff to his son, Picavet said.
The Muir Beach Volunteer Fire Department arrived first and gave Hicks CPR to no avail, Picavet said. National Parks Service lifeguards on a jet ski brought Hicks' body to Muir Beach, where he was pronounced dead at about 2 p.m.
Speculation that Hicks had been using his cell phone when he fell has been discounted, Picavet said.
"I can definitively say a cell phone had nothing to do with it. That was speculation by someone who was not at the scene," Picavet said.
The West Chester Area School District posted news of Hicks' death on its website.
The district said Hicks was an incoming senior at B. Reed Henderson High School, a member of the National Honor Society and played varsity ice hockey and soccer.
Hicks, a well-liked and highly regarded student, showed a strong interest in pursuing a career in medicine and health care, district officials said.