San Francisco Area Hikes

By Jane Huber
view from mount tamalpais
Marin County viewed from the summit of Mount Tamalpais (Photo © Robert Holmes)

Bay Area parks and preserves offer a dramatic variety of landscapes, from rugged redwood-forested canyons to breezy coastal bluffs, grassy rolling hills to sunny chaparral-coated hillsides. A gentle Mediterranean climate encourages year-round hiking, and there may be no better four-season destination than Mount Tamalpais, north of San Francisco in Marin County. The Steep Ravine-Matt Davis loop provides splendors every month of the year, with carpets of colorful wildflowers in spring, rushing waterfalls in winter, clouds of butterflies in summer, and autumnal creekbeds littered with maple leaves.

The whole area is teeming with wildlife, even in parks adjacent to bustling neighborhoods. You may see coyotes a stone's throw from Silicon Valley, herds of tule elk roaming coastal bluffs at Point Reyes, and golden eagles soaring over the waters of East Bay reservoirs. Mount Diablo, a huge state park in the East Bay, provides habitat for all kinds of wild creatures, from tiny ladybird beetles to lanky mountain lions. The Mitchell Creek-Eagle Peak loop is a spectacular tour of the steep trails on the northeastern flank of 3,849-foot Diablo, where hikers may see scores of wildflowers (some endemic to the mountain), drifts of butterflies, bobcats, hawks, and even horned lizards.

Bay Area hikers can set out from hundreds of trailheads, for short saunters or multi-day backpacking treks. You don't have to drive all day for a great hike, and if you start from San Francisco proper, you don't have to drive at all! Angel Island juts out of San Francisco Bay just north of the city, and is a prized destination for natives and tourists alike. Access is by boat only, so unless you have a yacht stashed in your backyard, you'll make the trip to Angel Island by public ferry. From Angel Island's dock, the trail climbs gently through coastal oak woods and grassland to the top of Mount Livermore, where the views to San Francisco, the Golden Gate Bridge, and the Marin Headlands are breathtaking. You can even camp in one of the island's hike-in sites, and spend the night gazing at the stars and city lights.

Whether you want to walk with your dog, take your kids to a nature center, push a loved one on a specially-designed wheelchair-friendly path, or spend all day ascending to a mountaintop, there's something for every hiker in the Bay Area. Happy hiking!

Published: 25 May 2004 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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