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A Guide to Hiking the Bay Area

Hiking the Bay Area: Trails

One of the best aspects of the Bay Area trails is their wide variety. There are trails in county, state and national parks; trails created from paved road, crushed gravel, dirt and grass; and trails that pass by every kind of scenery imaginable, from the stunning Pacific Coast to towering redwoods. There are so many trail options in the Bay Area, in fact, that it can be a bit overwhelming. But on the plus side, you should be able to find just what you're seeking. Here are a few of the most popular trails [source: Bay Area Hiker].

  • Angel Island Loop Trail. You have to take a ferry to reach Angel Island, the largest island in San Francisco Bay, but it's worth it. The island has a fascinating history: It was once a U.S. Army post and also processed 175,000 immigrants, mainly from China, from 1910 to 1940. The easy, 5-mile (8-kilometer) loop trail overlooks the old Camp Reynolds, an 1863 Army post built to protect San Francisco Bay. It also affords views of Point Blunt, which once held an artillery battery -- and where you may hear and see harbor seals today. The trail winds to the top of 788-foot (240-meter) Mt. Caroline Livermore, where you can gaze at Ayala Cove, Tiburon and the Golden Gate [sources: California Department of Parks and Recreation, Military Museum].
  • Matt Davis-Steep Ravine Loop, Mount Tamalpais State Park. Sitting just north of the Golden Gate Bridge, 2,571-foot (784-meter) Mt. Tamalpais features redwood groves, oak woodlands and stunning views from its peak. There are more than 50 miles (81 kilometers) of trail here; the Steep Ravine Loop via the Matt Davis Trail is one of the most popular. This 7.3-mile (11.8-kilometer) hike from the Stinson Beach Trailhead passes a steep, lush canyon, waterfalls and a wide variety of flora and fauna. It's moderately difficult [sources: California Department of Parks and Recreation, Bay Area Hiker].
  • Coast Trail from Palomarin Trailhead to Alamere Falls, Point Reyes National Seashore. More than 150 miles (241 kilometers) of hiking trails crisscross Point Reyes National Seashore, an impressive wilderness area with more than 1,500 species of plants and animals scattered among its expansive beaches, windswept grasslands and wooded ridges. In summer and fall, yellow jackets can be an issue, although park staff post notices of problem areas. The 7.5-mile (12.1-kilometer) out-and-back trail to Alamere Falls, a 40-foot (12-meter) waterfall, which tumbles into the Pacific Ocean, isn't too tough, although it contains two tricky scrambles near the end, after you pass Pelican Lake -- one a downhill cut through bare rock, and the second a drop to the beach via crumbly rock [sources: National Park Service, Bay Area Hiker, Waterfalls West].
  • Castle Rock State Park. Sitting along the crest of the Santa Cruz Mountains, this state park is filled with redwoods, Douglas fir, steep canyons and unusual rock formations. Its 4.7-mile (7.6-kilometer) partial loop trail is never that crowded, so it's easy to enjoy the fantastic scenery [source: Bay Area Hiker].
  • Summit Loop, San Bruno Mountain County Park. An easy 3.5-mile (5.6-kilometer) loop takes you to San Bruno's 1,314-foot (401-meter) summit and back along dirt trails. The trails are well-groomed, although rocky. Still, it's considered a good hike for beginners. Views are good; you can spy downtown San Francisco, the East Bay hills and the Santa Cruz Mountains from the ridge. Spring wildflowers that pop up here -- lupine, manroot and bluedicks, to name a few -- are outstanding [source: Bay Area Hiker].