Bay Area Hiker Favorites

Morgan TerritoryMorgan Territory Regional Preserve
This remote preserve feels wild and somewhat lonely. Just south of Mount Diablo and adjacent to Round Valley and Los Vaqeuros, Morgan Territory is part of a continuous east bay open space chain, enabling long challenging hikes. But in the temperate months of early spring, you might be content to hike a few easy miles through wildflower dotted grassland.
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Los VaquerosLos Vaqueros Watershed
This long loop ascends through grassland where golden eagles nest, then drops down through oak, sagebrush, chamise, and manzanita to a beautiful reservoir. A lonely and peaceful trek on wide hiking-only fire roads.
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McNee Ranch McNee Ranch
A steep out-and-back climb on fire roads, affording unobstructed views of the ocean, Mount Tamalpais, and Mount Diablo. Lovely chaparral, and lots of huckleberry, thimbleberry, gooseberry, and currant along with ceanothus, chinquapin, and manzanita on the ridge.
View photos from the featured hike.


Buzzard's Roost Big Basin/Buzzard's Roost
An amazing out-and-back hike on narrow paths, starting in the redwoods and climbing through chaparral and pine to a spectacular view at slickrock Buzzard's Roost. Huckleberries and tanoak can be found throughout the hike, and pines, chamise, and manzanita are common in the higher elevations.
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Steep Ravine Trail Mount Tamalpais/Matt Davis, Steep Ravine, and Dipsea Loop
This journey through woods and grassland may be the perfect Mount Tam hike. From a small street in Stinson Beach you'll climb through a forest of Douglas fir and oak, angle across grassy hillsides, then descend a deep canyon with waterfalls and lush plantlife. The last stretch of this 7 mile hike, on Dipsea Trail, features fantastic views north and west.
View photos from the featured hike.


Sunol Sunol Regional Wilderness
Wilderness is increasingly hard to find in the bay area, and happily Sunol's rugged beauty is protected from subdivisions and strip malls. The loop hike climbs along a creek lined with flowers in the spring, past dramatic caves on the side of the trail, to a wide fire road. Walking through grassland dotted with oak, the only sounds audible are from airplanes descending to SFO. After a short climb, you reach an unforgettable rock outcrop that offers clear views south. Then the hike drifts downhill on a tiny path and returns to the trailhead. There are lots of other trails to explore, and the option of entering Ohlone Regional Wilderness, for the bay area's premier get-away-from-it-all experience.
View photos from the featured hike.


Castle Rock Castle Rock State Park
No park or preserve compares with Castle Rock, the most popular hike at Bay Area Hiker. The partial loop accompanies a creek through the woods, then climbs through and past huge sandstone formations. After winding downhill through oaks and madrone, the hike edges along a rocky hillside, with incomparable views west. A few large flat boulders make great contemplation rocks, and tafoni formations sit right off the side of the trail. Castle Rock Falls comes next, and then a visit to a rock formation that will spark your imagination, Castle Rock.
View photos from the featured hike.


Fremont Older Fremont Older Open Space Preserve
This old south bay ranch property has so much to offer in every season. The loop hike ascends through mixed woodland to grassland, then drops down to an old orchard and climbs back up to Hunters Point, with great views to Mount Hamilton and Mount Umunhum. Good wildflowers in the spring, and pretty foliage in the autumn.
View photos from the featured hike.


Old stone fence at Santa Teresa Santa Teresa County Park
Not much true wilderness at Santa Teresa, but the loop hike meanders through grassland dotted with wildflowers in the spring, making a short climb to the ridge and then dropping down through rocky hillsides to the trailhead. This park is an important oasis in the south bay's rapidly vanishing open space. Nice views in all directions along the way.
View photos from the featured hike.


Almaden Quicksilver Almaden Quicksilver County Park
Native Indians introduced white settlers to cinnabar, who found it could be transformed into mercury, or quicksilver. Almaden Quicksilver was mined for years, until mercury was exposed as a hazardous substance. The mines at Almaden Quicksilver shut down, and the land was off limits due to contamination. Now cleaned up, Almaden Quicksilver is a preserve in the lovely southwestern Santa Clara valley. The Sierra Azul looms to the west as you ascend, via old fire roads and one tiny path, to a ridge. As you make your way back down toward the trailhead, you'll pass an old mine and ruins of English Camp, where miners lived. The park, nestled back on a quiet road, retains a sense of peaceful which belies its past. There's a variety of plant communities, and nice wildflower displays in spring.
View photos from the featured hike.


Abbotts Lagoon Point Reyes/Abbotts Lagoon
This short out-and-back hike winds through grassland and past a lagoon, ending at a bluff overlooking the ocean. A great relaxing and quiet hike, perfect during spring's peak wildflower season, when everyone else is crammed onto the trails at Chimney Rock.
View photos from the featured hike.


Sam McDonald County Park Sam McDonald County Park
Of all the forested parks on the west side of the Santa Cruz Mountains, Sam McDonald is perhaps the best kept secret. The park's two halves are separated by Pescadero Road; group camp sites are all on the north side, while the south side is laced with trails and fire roads. McDonald's entrance is poorly signed, and there are better known destinations nearby, but it's worth seeking out the park. Hiking only paths wind through a quiet mixed forest (heavy on the redwoods), gradually climbing to a grassy ridge with sweeping views south.
View photos from the featured hike.



















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Seasonal Picks

Winter
Temperatures are cool, hillsides become refreshed with new coats of green, and waterfalls spill down mountainsides. Avoid trails with heavy bicycle, equestrian, and cow use during the wettest months of the year, unless you mind trudging through mud. Check with management agencies for trail closures, particularly at forested parks and preserves.
Dawn Falls The falls are just 2 miles from downtown Larkspur, and it's an easy and fast hike through a stunning redwood canyon.
Cascade Falls Late winter's wet gush combined with early wildflowers makes this easy 1.2 mile out and back hike to Cascade Falls a winner.
Carson Falls The hike to the falls is a safe bet after storms, as there are few trees to fall and obstruct the fire roads and trails. Carson Falls is really stunning, partly because it is so unexpected. While we expect falls in wooded mountainous parks, this cascade seems to drift out from a meadow to a sudden sharp drop off. There are few places in the bay area where you can sit at the top of a waterfall, and Carson Falls is one of them.
Cataract Falls A Marin County classic, with a series of waterfalls descending through a steep forested canyon.
Mount Diablo's Donner Canyon Muddy, wet, and worth it. When a bay area snowstorm gives our highest peaks a dusting, the road to the top of Diablo is usually closed, but you can hike into the park from this trailhead. You'll probably see early wildflowers, and trek past a series of gorgeous waterfalls. Expect to get your feet wet crossing unbridged streams.
Big Basin In winter the park's attendance drops and the waterfalls are at their peak. Do check road conditions for Highway 236 before you head out after a big storm.
San Pedro Valley Park A dramatic waterfall and hillsides of manzanita make this park my favorite for winter hikes.
Uvas Canyon Nice falls and solitude. Hummingbirds are commonly spotted feeding from a spectacular flowering currant shrub on Alec Canyon Trail.

Spring
Wildflowers are always the big draw in spring, and grassland parks are the most reliable destination when you're searching for seasonal blooms. This is a good time to visit east bay parks that are uncomfortably hot in summer.
Morgan Territory Plenty of flowers in the grassland and woods.
Los Vaqueros Adjacent to Morgan Territory, the watershed features miles of rolling grassland hills. The park is hot and very windy in summer.
Sunol Cattle munch some flowers, but they leave plenty for hikers. Soft spring days temper some steep hills.
Briones A reliable destination for flowers, particularly along Old Briones Road.
Pleasanton Ridge At the highest peaks of this park steep hillsides are peppered with blooms.
Mission Peak Cows make a mess of the trails in winter, and summer is very hot, but pick a gentle spring day and enjoy great views and whatever flowers escape the bovines.
Black Diamond Mines In addition to grassland flowers, be sure to seek out bush poppy in the chaparral of Ridge Trail.
Russian Ridge Reliable carpets of flowers along the grassy ridge.
San Bruno Somewhat of a surprise. Year after year, Summit Loop Trail features a variety of flowers throughout terrain that is mostly chaparral.
Monte Bello Nice carpets of owl clover and other common flowers all the way up to the top of Black Mountain.
Edgewood One of the best parks for spring flowers. Serpentine soil fosters some unusual blooms, and you'll also see everyday flowers in the woods and grassland.
Ring Mountain Visit in May for a chance to see blooming Tiburon mariposa lilies, which exist nowhere else on earth.
Santa Teresa Within shouting distance from urban San Jose, Santa Teresa's native wildflowers thrive in serpentine soil.
Mount Burdell Huge old buckeye trees bloom in concert with plenty of wildflowers.
Point Reyes/Abbotts Lagoon While the masses are wildflower hunting at nearby Chimney Rock, you can bask in solitude at Abbotts Lagoon, where there are many annual plants as well as a thicket of salmonberry.

Summer
My least favorite hiking season. Roads and trails clog with tourists, flies hassle you, and the heat can really sap your strength. Stick to forested parks on the peninsula and coastal preserves. Mount Diablo and Mount Tamalpais sometimes close due to high fire danger.
Tubbs Island, San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge Cool breezes soothe your brow on an 8 mile trek through marshes green even in August.
Muir Beach The trailhead might be crowded, but you'll leave everyone behind as you climb into the Headlands.
Rodeo Beach Particularly pleasant in summer fog. No shade along the trail.
Point Reyes/Bear Valley You won't have the place to yourself, but the paths around this trailhead are mostly shaded, and you can hike all the way to the ocean.
Point Reyes/Estero This lonely and primitive trailhead is the staging area for a hike to the shores of Drake's Bay.
Point Reyes/Muddy Hollow Little shade, but cool temperatures usually prevail. This is also a great spring hike if you're a salmonberry fan.
Sam McDonald County Park An alternative to Memorial and Portola parks, McDonald offers cool woods and relative solitude.
Purisima Creek Redwoods A year round running stream and redwood shaded trails make this preserve a winner.
Huckleberry Botanic Preserve Cool wooded paths and ripe huckleberries in late summer.
Fort Funston Beautiful summer flowers throughout the dunes.

Autumn
A good time to visit some forested parks that are crowded in summer, but prone to winter storm damage. Black oaks and big-leaf maple foliage give transplanted easterners a nostalgic thrill.
Olompali Huge variety of oaks, including the autumn favorite black oak.
Samuel P. Taylor Visit an old pear orchard in Devil's Gulch
Castle Rock State Park This park is great any time of the year, but it's nice to visit when the black oaks are ablaze with color.
Sanborn-Skyline Lots of big-leaf maples and black oaks in the western section along Skyline Boulevard.
Annadel State Park Black oaks are common.
Fall Creek Unit Big-leaf maples line the creeks.