San Francisco's Top 10 Dayhikes

The best local trails, as selected by BACKPACKER Local scouts Paulina Dao and Daniel Markey
Author:
Publish date:
Social count:
93

In the Bay Area, easy-access trails treat hikers to spectacular coastal walks, big-view summits, primeval redwood forests, and cascading waterfalls--all within a couple of hours of town, often less. So, with so many standout options nearby, you know these local favorites really have a little something special. 

PAULINA DAO'S TOP 5

A cascade at Uvas Canyon County Park

A cascade at Uvas Canyon County Park

1. Uvas Canyon County Park

Trailhead: Uvas Canyon County Park
Mileage: 6.4 (round-trip)
Drive from town: 1.5 hours

Uvas Canyon County Park is a little gem in the South Bay with many choose-your-own-adventures. The trail gets you up close and personal with three waterfalls. Most people hike the short and family-friendly waterfall loop, but you can easily add on extra miles by bagging some unremarkable peaks or adding Alec Canyon and the often-dry Triple Falls to your day as well. [NOTE: Uvas Canyon County Park is closed in early 2018 as road construction wraps up, but it's scheduled to open soon. Keep this one on your list for spring and beyond.]

On the Peters Creek Loop

On the Peters Creek Loop

2. Peters Creek Loop, Portola Redwoods State Park

Trailhead: Slate Creek 
Mileage: 11.5 (round-trip)
Drive from town: 1.5 hours

Escape the crowds and head to Portola Redwoods State Park. This park receives such low traffic that the visitor center is often unmanned. The Peters Creek Loop takes you deep into a pocket of redwood forests where a small creek peacefully babbles. It’s a perfect way to escape the city. Most of the trails connect so you can extend your hike further and head to Tiptoe Falls, or you can opt for a shorter day.

Tule elk at Tomales Point

Tule elk at Tomales Point

3. Tomales Point, Point Reyes National Seashore

Trailhead: Pierce Point Ranch
Mileage: 10 (round-trip)
Drive from town: 1.5 hours

Tomales Point gets you on the rugged and wild northern coast of California. What it lacks in elevation, it makes up for with majestic coastal bluffs with the deepest-blue waters. If you’re lucky, you’ll run into a herd of Tule elk or two. Tomales Point is far enough to feel like you’re leaving the Bay Area, but not too far so you can still get back and make your dinner reservation with time to spare.

Matt Davis-Steep Ravine Loop

Matt Davis-Steep Ravine Loop

4. Matt Davis-Steep Ravine Loop, Mount Tamalpais State Park

Trailhead: Belvedere Ave, behind the Stinson Beach Fire Station
Mileage: 6.5 (round-trip)
Drive from town: 1.5 hours

The Matt Davis-Steep Ravine Loop takes you from Stinson Beach into the hills north of San Francisco. Along this trail, you explore a magical waterfall ladder and finish on golden hills overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

berry creek falls

5. Berry Creek Falls

Trailhead: Skyline to the Sea
Mileage: 10 (round-trip)
Drive from town: 1.5 hours

Forget the crowds at Muir Woods. Get up and close and personal with towering redwoods at Big Basin Redwoods State Park. This 10-mile hike hits up three gorgeous waterfalls. Rated strenuous, it doesn’t feel very strenuous at all since the first half of the hike is all downhill. The climb back up to your car is gradual and won’t destroy your quads, either.

DANIEL MARKEY'S TOP 5

Sonoma Coast Flowers and Ocean

1. Sonoma Coast State Park

Trailhead: Goat Rock Road
Mileage: 5 (round-trip)
Drive from town: 2 hours 

California has a lot of coastline, so this selection could have gone many ways. But when considering the balance of proximity to the greater metropolitan area and tranquility, this one is great. Park at Goat Rock and start off heading south along the beach, taking in the lovely scenery and colorful beach rocks. Just short of a half mile, follow the trail up the bluffs to the next parking area, where you can continue south on your trek over a large hill and then join the Kortum Trail, heading back down along the bluffs overlooking the beach. Stage a car at Shell beach and this is about 2.5 miles, or make it an out-and-back to Goat Rock. Photo opportunities abound with views to Arch Rock out in the Pacific Ocean. When you are finished, grab a cup of joe and relax in an Adirondack chair outside of Café Aquatica. Nearby public and private camping is available if you'd like to make a weekend of it.

Spring on the Kings Canyon Loop

Spring on the Kings Canyon Loop

2. Kings Canyon Loop, Moraga

Trailhead: Val Vista
Mileage: 7 (loop)
Drive from town: 30 minutes

This is my “backyard” hike and my favorite trail run: I will be out there frequently in the coming months training for my next marathon. Park at the Val Vista Staging Area and turn left. This hike passes through a variety of ecological zones and features a deceptive amount of climbing. I prefer to attack the loop in a clockwise direction, getting the big climb out of the way in the beginning. In this direction, the opening half features sweeping views of Moraga and points east, including Las Trampas Regional Wilderness. The return leg is more canopied. Stop for lunch at the “halfway” bench with lovely views of the Upper San Leandro Reservoir. O.k., it is a fake lake with the standard bathtub ring around it, but it is still nice to see migrating fowl, turkeys, and blue herons. Hike early to hear the turkeys and coyotes engaged in their morning orchestra. Hike at dusk to catch a proud Columbia Black-tailed deer buck prancing across a meadow. 

The Star Flower Trail at Redwood Regional Park

The Star Flower Trail at Redwood Regional Park

3. Redwood Regional Park

Trailhead: Skyline Gate Staging Area
Mileage: Choose your own adventure
Drive from town: 30 minutes

This hike has a little bit of everything that one might expect in the woods in Northern California, and it is so close to Oakland that you can do this any day of week. On a typical pleasant weekend there is a throng of people here, but once you figure out where to park it is a great walk in the woods and you can almost forget you are in the Big City. Passing the Girl’s Camp, you descend along the Stream Trail into a grove of magnificent redwoods. Tack over to the West Ridge Trail and be on the lookout in winter for migrating ladybugs (they stop off here in the winter and cluster along shrubbery). There are many options for trails and loops, so choose your own adventure! My favorite: Enter from the north from the Redwood Trail that leads to EBMUD land. Make it a one-way, family-friendly hike by leaving another car at the Redwood Gate, or make it more of a lung-buster by taking the Madrone Trail loop or the East Ridge Trail.

Summit view, Mt. Diablo

Summit view, Mt. Diablo

4. Mt. Diablo via South Gate, Mt. Diablo State Park

Trailhead: South Gate Summit Trail
Mileage: 12 (round-trip)
Drive from town: 50 minutes

For folks looking for an adventurous dayhike or even an overnight (two campgrounds along the route), this prominent mountain offers scenic views and a great opportunity to get outdoors without traveling all the way to the Sierras. I start at the South Gate before the park opens, parking along the road in a Danville neighborhood. The first half of this hike is pretty much all uphill, and then when you come back on the downhill, it can be steep enough to keep you from speed walking. Take a side excursion to “Rock City,” a fun spot for kids and the child in all of us. (Note: Be cautious during tarantula mating season, the arachnids don’t like to be photographed this time of year.) Speaking of Sierras, from the observation post on top you can see them on clear days! 

Bald Mountain

Bald Mountain

5. Bald Mountain, Sugarloaf Ridge State Park

Trailhead: Stern Trail 
Mileage: 6.5 (round-trip)
Drive from town: 1.5 hours

This area was damaged by wildfires in fall 2017, and subject to closures; check to see it is open before hiking. Some trails reopened on February 1, 2018. 

I am writing about this trail without yet seeing the devastating impact of the fires: But for those who haven't seen the impact of fires on the ecosystem up close--or the speed with which flora and fauna bounce back--this hike should be on the shortlist for spring. In the best of times, I love this trail because it is a great way to begin a trip to wine country. Burn some calories before you hit your first wine tasting of the day. Take in the sights of this hilly country with sweeping vistas to Mt. Tamalpais, Mt. Diablo, and other parts of the Bay Area. Peer down into Napa Valley from this vantage point. Start up the Stern Trail before connecting to the Bald Mountain Trail. After taking a break on top and enjoying the scenery, return on the Gray Pine Trail. Be smart with your pets, as this is mountain lion and coyote country. There is a campground at the base and the Robert Ferguson Observatory offers overnight rentals for the astronomy fans out there.

Popular Content