Best Hikes Near San Francisco  by Linda Hamilton

Best Hikes Near San Francisco Guide Book

by Linda Hamilton (Falcon Guides)
Best Hikes Near San Francisco  by Linda Hamilton
Take a Hike! Who says you have to travel far from home to go on a great hike? Best Hikes Near San Francisco details forty of the best hikes about an hour’s drive from the greater San Francisco area: • San Francisco and the Bay • Point Reyes and West Marin • Mount Tamalpais area • Mount Diablo/Las Trampas foothills • San Mateo County coastline • Northern Santa Cruz Mountains • East Bay foothills/San Pablo • Oakland/Berkeley Hills • Sunol Ridge Ranging from easy nature walks to strenuous day hikes, this guide offers something for every hiker—all within easy reach of the city. Each featured hike includes a brief route description; at-a-glance data including the length and difficulty level; thorough directions to the trailhead; directional cues; and a detailed, accurate trail map. Inside you'll find full-color photos and maps; approximate hiking times, canine compatibility, fees and permits required; and sidebars on local lore, points of interest, and area wild

© 2009 Linda Hamilton/Falcon Guides. All Rights Reserved.

Trails from the "Best Hikes Near San Francisco" Guide Book
Displaying trails 20 of 40.

Displaying trails 1 to 20 of 40.

You have to love a hike that you can only reach by ferry. But the Angel Island hike does not take you away from it all. Instead, you take in gobs of civilization from a lofty and isolated plateau. On a clear day from the top of Mount Livermore, you can see all four major bridges on the Bay. You can watch the fog roll over the city like a slow-moving avalanche. Even with limited visibility, you can admire landmarks of the unique San Francisco skyline, the street-faire towns of Sausalito and Tiburon, and a prison-toprison view from San Quentin to Alcatraz, both with their fascinating histories. That’s the keyword here: history. Angel Island, the largest island in San Francisco Bay, spans a microcosm of U.S. history, from its days as hunting ground for native Americans to serving as a Civil War post for the Union and a prisoner-of-war camp during World War II, and finally, as a public park. Trails Surface: A single-track, well-maintained footpath leads to Mount Livermore. A less maintained path leads down to a double-track dirt road, then the paved road around the perimeter of the island.
Tiburon, CA - Hiking,Mountain Biking - Trail Length: 6.2
Come here to watch the elephant seals in their yearly rituals. From April through November, you can hike the trail yourself, but you must obtain a hiking permit to enter the Wildlife Protection Area at Año Nuevo Point. Molting elephant seals bask on beaches that are visible from viewpoints along the designated path. During the December 15 to March 31 breeding season, you can see the reserve only by joining one of the regularly scheduled guided walks. These highly informative walks have been designed to minimize disturbance to the animals and their natural habitat. Advance reservations are recommended and can be made as early as October. Beyond the seals, you’ll find another 4,500 acres in the park to explore. Trails Surface: Loose sand and some rocks.
Pescadero, CA - Hiking - Trail Length: 3
The 5,067-acre Anthony Chabot Regional Park offers walks by burbling creeks, through groves of eucalyptus, redwood, and oak, over hills alive with swaying grasses, and along the rim of the well-loved Lake Chabot. The terrain ranges from gentle to rugged, with flat uplands, steep-sided ravines, and the deep, narrow Grass Canyon. Elevation ranges from 235 feet at Lake Chabot to about 1,200 feet at Vulture’s View. The area reflects the small but mighty Chabot, who helped create and preserve the area as you see it today.
Oakland, CA - Hiking,Horseback Riding,Mountain Biking - Trail Length: 8.7
This 11-mile loop is a satisfying jaunt through the largest continuous stand of ancient coast redwoods south of San Francisco. Following the contours of the hillside, the Sunset Trail brings you through several deep canyons and cascading creeks. Berry Creek Falls Trail takes you past a series of waterfalls and through a deep basin. The Golden Cascade and Silver Falls feature just that: manes of silver water against golden earth. Berry Creek Falls is a 60-foot vertical sheet of white water falling down dark glistening rocks. Out of the canyon, the Skyline to the Sea Trail takes you through lush canyons past downed trees and more red giants. Trails Surface: Single- and doubletrack dirt trail.
Boulder Creek, CA - Hiking - Trail Length: 11.6
You have your choice of 70 miles of trails in this nearly 7,000-acre preserve. This hike passes through two old mining town sites, Somersville and Nortonville, past many mine openings, and the Rose Hill Cemetery. You can explore air shafts for the old coal-mining tunnels and check out “Jim’s Place,” a mysterious underground dwelling. Hike through areas of grassland and mixed evergreen forest. Black Diamond is the northernmost location of Coulter pine, black sage, and desert olive. Springtime hosts abundant wildflowers. Leave time to tour the underground mining museum and the Hazel-Atlas Mine, which supplied sand for the Hazel-Atlas Glass Company of Oakland from the 1920s through the 1940s. Trails Surface: The footpath is dirt and sandstone, widening on the Black Diamond and Nortonville Trails to allow for bicyclists; the end of Black Diamond Trail is paved service road, which becomes dirt footpath again on Coal Canyon Trail.
Antioch, CA - Hiking - Trail Length: 5.2
Briones Regional Park offers long, ambling walks through grassy, rolling hills spotted with oak trees, some lovely views both of distant towns and landmarks and of neighboring parkland, with the pleasant surprises of lagoons and a contrasting dense, damp woodland. Hawks, eagles, and turkey vultures soar and circle above the canyons. Black-tailed deer love to munch on brush in the deeper canyons. There are several small creeks lined with ferns and shrubs, and patches of sun-loving wildflowers grow along most of the trails. The landscape changes seasonally from summer gold to winter green, and gives you a taste of California’s Spanish ranch past. Trails Surface: Packed dirt doubletrack trail, single-track dirt trail, and one creek crossing.
Orinda, CA - Hiking,Horseback Riding,Mountain Biking - Trail Length: 7
In the secluded wilderness of 3,560-acre Butano State Park, you have the opportunity to walk miles under pillared groves of coastal redwoods. As a matter of fact, most of this hike is under the shade of trees that insulate you from the outside world. Stop on numerous wooden bridges to admire cascading and gurgling creeks. Take in views from the contrasting high ridges among dry manzanita and knobcone pines. From the ridges you see an unforgettable picture of the densely wooded Santa Cruz Mountains and the sweeping Pacific Ocean. The camping here is great, the crowds minimal. Trails Surface: Single- and doubletrack dirt trails featuring many wooden bridges crossing creeks.
Pescadero, CA - Hiking,Horseback Riding,Mountain Biking - Trail Length: 8.3
Castle Rock State Park is on one of the highest ridges in the Santa Cruz Mountains. The hike features great variety: cool, dark mixed forests, creeks and a seasonal waterfall, dry, manzanita-lined ridges, grassy hills, oak savanna, and above all, rock formations. The boulders come in amazing shapes, with curves, crevices, and caves. On weekends, you will see climbers navigate their way up 90-degree rock faces with chalky fingers. The giant boulder that gives the park its name sits in high woodland toward the end of the hike. There are interpretive exhibits and scenic overlooks that show off the park’s 5,300 acres and over 50 miles of hiking paths. Trails Surface: Single- and some double-track dirt trail; rocky paths passing between giant boulders.
Los Gatos, CA - Hiking,Horseback Riding - Trail Length: 6.1
A popular family trail, this wide and pleasant dirt path follows the cliffs above the bay. It occasionally heads inland through scrub and eucalyptus trees, then works back to stunning views of the Golden Gate Bridge. A short stint on city sidewalks takes you past the mansions of upscale Sea Cliff. The hike heads to historic China Beach, where you can talk to surfers returning from a morning at Lands End, the popular surfing spot you can see from Eagle’s Point. Trails Surface: A double-track dirt trail narrows to a single-track. One short stint is on city sidewalks.
San Francisco, CA - Hiking,Mountain Biking - Trail Length: 4.3
This hike could be considered the “best of Mount Tamalpais,” featuring the diverse habitat of the 6,300-acre state park and incredible views of the bay, cities, foothills, lakes, and ocean. Enjoy thick, quiet woodlands of coast redwood, Douglas fir, oak, bay, and madrone trees, as well as trickling waterfalls and cascading streams in moist ravines and canyons. Step out in wide, sloping, grass-covered meadows and along hillsides of gnarled manzanita and coyote brush. Pass by statuesque outcroppings of green serpentine and white chert and by tall banks of red, sunburnt soil and mossy green growth. The route also walks you through Mount Tam history, from popular East Peak down the Old Railroad Grade to the tavern at West Point Inn, and to an outdoor amphitheater with stone seats built in traditional Greek style. Trails Surface: Some paved road, dirt fire road with an easy downhill grade, and single-track dirt trails through woods, chaparral, and grasslands. One trail has a short, steep, rocky incline.
Mill Valley, CA - Hiking,Horseback Riding,Mountain Biking - Trail Length: 7
The self-guided nature trail guide available at the trailhead encourages you to stop and notice the details on your walk through the 235-acre preserve. It makes for fun, learning, and discovery along this loop trail rich in rare vegetation. Or you can just walk through the thick brush and breathe. Descend a canyon under bays and oaks and hear the trickling of San Leandro Creek below. Follow the ridge on a narrow footpath through dense shrubs, mostly huckleberries. Short side trails take you up to bald vistas, home to rare manzanitas and hosting soothing pastoral views of the surrounding foothills. Trails Surface: Well-maintained, narrow dirt path with one short set of downslope stairs.
Oakland, CA - Hiking - Trail Length: 2.4
This hike takes some planning. You only want to walk on the beach part of this loop at low tide (1 foot or under). Awaiting you there is the longest intertidal reef in California, an unforgettable experience. But even if you arrive at high tide, you can enjoy a walk along coastal bluffs with Pacific views, passing over a creek and through a grove of old, tall cypress trees shaped by the salty winds. A short stint past the wood-framed homes and the haunted favorite haunt, Moss Beach Distillery, takes you to a trail on open space through seaside scrub and grassland along the cliffs. Over the ridge to the east is the fishing harbor of Pillar Point and a trail through a bird watcher’s paradise. Trails Surface: Single-track, dirt trail along bluffs, roadside walking, a paved trail down to the marsh; a couple of miles on sandy and rocky beach; tide pools.
Moss Beach, CA - Hiking - Trail Length: 3
A trek in 3,882-acre Las Trampas Wilderness promises you windswept ridges, rugged jigsaw rock outcroppings, dusty valleys, moist spring-fed ravines, and trails curving through sunny grasslands and under the shade of pungent bay trees. This hike also includes a couple of great calf-burning, heavy-breathing 1,000-foot climbs up Rocky Ridge and the Devil’s Hole. But you are rewarded with breezy, expansive views of the San Francisco Bay, the city skylines, the distant Delta, and majestic Mount Diablo and its valleys. Look carefully around you and you’ll see the abundant wildlife that lives in Las Trampas today and the remains of animals, plants, and geological features that tell a story that’s about twenty-five million years old. Trails Surface: Paved path to single- and double-track dirt trails.
San Ramon, CA - Hiking - Trail Length: 6.5
The Marin Headlands feature 15 square miles of beaches, marsh, lagoon, grasscovered valleys, and coastal hills with magnificent views. There is a large population of wild animals, including bobcats, mountain lions, and hunting raptors. You’ll see about 150 years of military history, with batteries, bunkers, cannons, and missile launching sites all along the hike, adding an eerie contrast to the natural beauty. The walk also includes a tour of the Point Bonita Lighthouse that takes you through a hand-chiseled tunnel and across a suspension bridge to the dramatic site on a deteriorating cliff. Trails Surface: Double-track and single-track dirt trails; a stretch of walking the beach and a sandy trail along the cliffs; a paved path to the lighthouse and some walking beside the road.
Mill Valley, CA - Hiking,Horseback Riding,Mountain Biking - Trail Length: 8.2
A little bit of everything and a hike that takes you away from it all: This is an exhilarating walk along the conifer shores of Alpine Lake, up through a dark redwood forest onto a manzanita-covered ridge with good views. Along the way, you can pick huckleberries in the early fall, and admire many water-loving flowers among the ferns and mosses along the banks. This is treasured watershed land in Marin, for both its consumer and recreational value. Trails Surface: Gravel and dirt road followed by a narrow dirt path that climbs rather steeply for about 800 feet and is a bit rocky in places. A double-track fire road takes you back down to the dam.
Fairfax, CA - Hiking,Horseback Riding,Mountain Biking - Trail Length: 5.2
McNee Ranch State Park and Montara State Beach McNee Ranch State Park (625 acres), adjacent to Montara State Beach, Gray Whale Cove State Beach, and Montara Mountain, offers a hillside climb with views and two short walks to caramel-colored beaches with wild, seething surfs. A stroll on the bluffs above the Cabrillo Highway, with glorious Pacific views, takes you to the historic McNee Ranch, in the shade of Monterey cypress and Monterey pine trees. Prepare to use those calves as you ascend both moderate and strenuous grades to the top of Montara Mountain (1,898 feet). Trails Surface: Sand and stairs lead to the beach. Single-track dirt trail through McNee Ranch, followed by dirt fire road and broken pavement with some steep portions. Trail floor becomes granite rock, then dirt and gravel at the top of Montara Mountain.
Half Moon Bay, CA - Hiking,Horseback Riding,Mountain Biking - Trail Length: 8.1
It’s understandable why the Miwok Indians chose to keep a village at the base of Mount Burdell for 6,000 years. The rise they called Olompali had oaks shedding acorns, their main food source, and grasslands that supported plenty of animals to hunt for food. Starting in Novato’s backyard, this hike ascends this once bountiful mountain, now passing quarry sites. It takes you over great expanses of golden grassland, sprinkled with a rainbow of wildflowers and butterflies in spring. It dips under the dappled shade of bay and oak trees, along gurgling seasonal creeks, then back onto open hillsides before you finally reach the ridge of this extinct volcano, Novato’s highest hill. A low stone wall invites you to sit. Though hardly wilderness with a repeater station and satellite atop the crest, the views are still rewarding. Trails Surface: The dirt trail is rocky in places. It climbs through oak savanna and drops 1,400 feet in elevation. Much of the trail is in shade. The hike ends on a gravel fire road.
Novato, CA - Hiking,Horseback Riding,Mountain Biking - Trail Length: 5
While creeks running down Mount Diablo may dry in summer, the reality is that there are always cool canyons, and even on hot days, cool breezes cross upper elevations on the less-traveled north side of the mountain. Because the trails here are protected from the sun most of the day, Donner, Back, and Mitchell Canyons have among California’s best wildflower shows. The seasonal waterfalls in the upper reaches of Donner Canyon, especially in Wild Oat Canyon along the Falls Trail, are spectacular. Trails Surface: Double-track, dirt trail; narrow, single-track trail with some rocks to traverse.
Walnut Creek, CA - Hiking - Trail Length: 5.9
Mount Diablo, the once sacred mountain of the Miwok Indians, continues to be sacred to today’s Bay Area hikers, mountain bikers, equestrians, and nature lovers. On this hike, you can watch rock climbers, scramble up a few boulders yourself, or search for ancient ocean fossils at Rock City; bird and butterfly watch and enjoy a hearty oak-laurel and gray pine forest on the Juniper Trail; identify wildflowers on the Summit Trail; barbecue at any of a number of picnic areas on the way up; learn about local history, geology, and wildlife at the Summit Museum; and take in breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean and the snow-crested Sierra from the observatory tower at the 3,806-foot peak. Trails Surface: Single- and doubletrack dirt trails; the trail crosses over a paved road several times and includes a short walk over a paved parking lot.
Walnut Creek, CA - Birding,Climbing,Hiking,Horseback Riding - Trail Length: 8.5
On the first mile of your hike in Muir Woods, you’ll contend with lots of cameraswinging tourists. Overwhelmed by the ancient trees and touched by the sheer tranquility of the place, many walk as if in a cathedral, whispering and respectful. Venturing past the milling masses, you are rewarded with solitude. There for your discovery are ridge trails lined with young pine trees dripping with grandfather’s beard, bay and alder woodlands with flitting bushtits and hammering woodpeckers, sunny meadows, bridged streams with feathery ferns, hills full of huckleberries, and panoramic views of the Pacific. Trails Surface: 1 mile of paved pathway, then well-maintained, mostly single-track dirt trail.
Mill Valley, CA - Hiking,Horseback Riding - Trail Length: 6.3