My partner, Allison, and I love hiking. We have a tradition: every Monday, we pick a new place, pack up some Clif bars, lots of water, and my sweet camera, and go for a day hike. In the last three months we’ve explored nearly fifteen different parks. If you live in the Bay Area and are looking for a cool place to spend your day, I have three great suggestions, with pictures! Click on any photo to see its gigantic, full-size version.
El Corte de Madera Open Space Preserve
Here it is on Google Maps. If you zoom in far enough, you can see the small parking lot right on Skyline Boulevard near the entrance. I’ve been here many times and usually hike this loop.
There are plenty of great redwood forests in the area that are worth your time. El Corte de Madera is huge and sprawling but somehow not as well known. Because of this, it tends to be less crowded than places like Big Basin. This place definitely has a ‘magical forest’ vibe. Once you get away from the road, this becomes one of the quietest parks you’ll ever go to. The “Resolution Loop” that I linked to above is a nice 6 mile loop with very little elevation change, making it a good casual hike for bringing friends to. It also stays relatively cool during hot summer days, so it’s a good alternative to the usual exposed hikes in the area.
Wilder Ranch State Park – Ohlone Bluff Trail
Here it is on Google Maps. Parking fee is ten dollars and it’s worth every penny. Just park and follow the signs for the Ohlone Bluff Trail. Then just follow that trail for as long as you feel like.
This is a great place to go to get a unique California experience. This trail, just outside of Santa Cruz, simply follows the ocean cliffs for miles. It’s completely flat, so it’s not particularly challenging, but going there just feels good. On one side you have the Pacific Ocean and on the other you have farms growing artichokes and other things we couldn’t identify. Seeing the farmers go about their work is somehow calming. Literally around every corner is some interesting sight to see, whether it be a rock slab covered in lounging seals, a sweet cave, or an abandoned railway. A simultaneously stimulating and relaxing hike.
Russian Ridge Open Space Preserve
Here it is on Google maps. You have to drive up some winding mountain roads to get there.
Russian Ridge has the distinction of giving you spectacular views of both the Bay itself and the Santa Cruz mountains, occasionally at the same time. If the weather is good enough you can see the skyscrapers of San Francisco about 25 miles away. As parks go, this one is pretty small, but there’s slightly more elevation change than the previous two and it’s mostly completely exposed. Bring a good amount of water with you. It’s likely you’ll spot deer. Allison and I have also spotted foxes and a weasel. Check out the massive panoramic shot below for an idea of the great view.