Great Bay Area Hikes
by Serena Llamera, PTA, CSCS
Enjoy the final weeks of Bay Area sunshine (get your dose of vitamin D) and smell the fresh air! You don’t have to go far to explore your scenic “backyard.”
Here are some of my favorite places to hike/trail run in the San Francisco Bay Area:
Land’s End: On a clear day, you can see spectacular views of the Golden Gate Bridge and Marin Headlands. Park at the El Camino del Mar Parking Lot and take the Coast Trail to the Mile Rock Lookout Trail. You could hike down to the Mile Rock Beach which is about 3 miles out, but remember that you have to come back up a steep slope and climb those 100+ stairs (so you can skip the stair master for the day). From the parking lot, you can also head down towards the old remains of Sutro Baths and check out Sutro Sam (river otter) who is still at home there.
Point Reyes National Seashore: This is a moderate 7.5 mile roundtrip hike with some incline, but so worth it because you get to see a rare 40 ft. tidefall, which is a waterfall that flows directly into the ocean. (1 of 2 on this coast–the other is in Big Sur). To get to Alamere Falls, park at the Palomarin Trailhead and take the Coast Trail. Here, watch out for poison oak, which is prevalent in the Bay Area. Most of this trail goes up and down and passes by 2 lakes. At the end of the trail, you will end up at top of the waterfall with an amazing view of the beach below. Caution: it is tricky and slippery going from the top of the waterfall down to the beach, so take your time and have good footing. http://www.bahiker.com/northbayhikes/palomarin.html
Mount Tamalpais: ($8 to park in the lot, free to park on the side of the road)
Take the Steep Ravine Trail starting at the Pantoll Ranger Station. This 4 mile roundtrip dirt trail follows along a little river, so it feels like you are going through a rainforest most of the way. The trail takes you over the river a number of times through small wooden bridges. Midway through, you can climb down a wide, sturdy ladder about 10-ft high. Towering redwood trees provide a comforting shade through most of your hike. At the end, you cross Highway 1 and you get to a cabin/campsite (difficult to get reservations here by the way) and down to the beach. Or you may venture another mile further to Stinson Beach. Staring at the Ranger Station is mostly downhill, so some people opt to start from Hwy 1 and go uphill to the ranger station. I’ve tried both ways-they’re both fun! Caution: during certain seasons and during dusk, watch out for mosquitoes (use bug repellant). The dirt trails may be wet and muddy. http://www.redwoodhikes.com/Muir/SteepRavine.html
This is the only place to hike in the Bay Area that I know of where they charge an entrance fee ($7/person over 16 years old) but it is also the closest place to see the Giant Sequioa trees in California (others include Calaveras Big Trees and Yosemite). The fee helps maintain the wood plank main trail which makes a 2 mile level roundtrip loop around these ginormous trees. This is also one of the few wheelchair-accessible and stroller-friendly trails around. If you are looking for an adventure in elevation, you may opt for the Oceanview trail which makes a 2.5 mile loop connecting to the Main Trail.
Tilden Park : This is an easy 1 mile loop around Jewel Lake which is great for kids by the way, because afterwards you can drive the kids to ride the Merry-Go-Round and the miniature steam train, and feed lettuce and celery to the cows and sheep at the Little Farm. Park at the Little Farm
Another great easy hike is around Lake Anza (roundtrip loop is about 1 mile). Park at the end of Lake Anza Road.
Crystal Springs Reservoir :
Sawyer Camp Trail: This is a fairly level, paved asphalt trail so it’s accessible to everyone including wheelchairs, strollers, cyclists, roller skaters, skateboarders so stay to the right if you’re going for a stroll. You get a view of Crystal Springs Reservior all along this trail. It’s 3 miles to the set of restrooms, or you may go further and make it 12 miles roundtrip. http://www.bahiker.com/southbayhikes/sawyercamp.html
Tips for Hiking:
Make sure you plan ahead!
1) Bring plenty of water. Hydrate yourself.
2) Bring a friend or two (or more) for company.
3) Protect yourself from the sun: hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen.
4) Wear comfortable, sturdy shoes/boots. Make sure the shoes have been broken in before taking them for a good hike.
5) Recognize poison oak (if you see leaves of 3, let them be). Itchy, red spots on the arms and legs can become blisters and ooze. Very uncomfortable (my husband had it twice). Wear long pants and sleeves.
6) Stretch out before you hike: calves, quads, hamstrings, hips and back.
7) Plan to go to these places on a clear sunny day for the best views.
8) Wear layers because weather is unpredictable, especially along the coast.
9) Pack snacks and a lunch. There are no places to grab lunch except for Muir Woods.
10) Arrive early. Parking fills up by 10AM on weekends. It’s also less crowded on the trails.
11) Check the trail map, so you know where you’re going.
12) Pace self and set reasonable distance goals. If you are having a hard time carrying a conversation, you may be overexerting yourself. Take rest breaks.
13) Use hiking sticks. Not only do you get an upper body workout, you burn more calories. When you use hiking sticks while you’re going down hills and stairs, you will also place less stress on your knees.
14) Bring a camera for those memorable moments and achievements!
15) Use a backpack with a waist strap to distribute the weight to your hips instead of through your spine and shoulders.