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One of the most popular trails in all of Point Reyes is the easy, but crowded, out-and-back 8.2-mile Bear Valley Trail that leads from the Point Reyes Bear Valley Visitors Center to Arch Rock. Instead of following the crowds, take the trail less traveled and earn your seaside picnic lunch with this 12.5-mile loop. This loop from the Point Reyes Bear Valley Visitors Center adds a couple miles and a bit of elevation to the standard Bear Valley out-and-back hike, but it also adds views. BIG TIME VIEWS!

Starting at the Bear Valley trailhead, take the Mount Wittenberg trail and begin your climb up to Mount Wittenberg, the highest point in the area. The steep switchbacks will lead you through a lush fern-covered forest, before reaching a clearing and the first ocean views. You can choose to take a short jaunt to the top of Mount Wittenberg and check out the views from 1407ft. After taking in the views (and returning from the top of Mount Wittenberg), briefly connect onto the Sky Trail before heading steeply down the mountain on the Woodward Valley Trail.

As you work your way down the Woodward Valley Trail, you’ll slowly wind down to the water while admiring jaw-dropping views of Sunset Beach and the cliffs to the north before taking the next switchback and getting equally stunning coastal views to the south. This stretch of the trail offers some of the best views in all of Point Reyes.

After connecting to the Coast Trail, take the short detour to Kelham Beach and spend some time lounging on the pristine white sands and admiring Arch Rock. Once you’re sufficiently relaxed, head back up to the Coast Trail and continue south until you reach the Bear Valley Trail. Take the Bear Valley Trail for a flat 4-mile creek-side walk back to the Point Reyes Bear Valley Visitors Center.

The Trailhead:

The Bear Valley Trail is the wide fire road that begins when the Bear Valley Visitors Center Road ends.

The Route:

From the Bear Valley Trail, take the Mount Wittenberg Trail. Go to the top of Mount Wittenberg and then stay straight to connect to the Sky Trail (do not go towards Sky Camp). Take the Woodward Valley and then head South on the Coast Trail. Take the short path to Kelham Beach before continuing South on the Coast Trail. Connect to the Bear Valley Trail and take it back to the Point Reyes Bear Valley Visitors Center. Visit the National Park Service for a great map of the trails around the Bear Valley Visitors Center.

Other details:

Parking: Parking lot

Fee: No fee

Restroom: Flush toilets at the trailhead

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[et_pb_section bb_built=”1″ admin_label=”Section” fullwidth=”on” specialty=”off”][et_pb_fullwidth_image admin_label=”Fullwidth Image” src=”http://www.treesandtents.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/MontaraMountain_SanPedro.png” show_in_lightbox=”off” url_new_window=”off” use_overlay=”off” animation=”off” use_border_color=”off” border_color=”#ffffff” border_style=”solid” alt=”Hiking Montara Mountain from San Pedro Valley Park is a scenic alternative from the busy trailhead on Highway One. Hikers who make it to the top are rewarded with 360 degree views.” /][/et_pb_section][et_pb_section bb_built=”1″ admin_label=”section”][et_pb_row admin_label=”row”][et_pb_column type=”4_4″][et_pb_text admin_label=”Text” background_layout=”light” text_orientation=”left” use_border_color=”off” border_color=”#ffffff” border_style=”solid”]

With a jaunt to the top of Montara Mountain, this hike is a longer and more challenging version of the Brooks Falls Loop. By continuing to the summit of Montara Mountain before looping back on the Brooks Creek Trail you extend the hike by six miles and almost 1,000 feet of elevation.

From its highest peak, Montara Mountain offers stunning 360 degree views of the entire Bay Area. Getting to the top of the mountain is no easy feat. The most popular route to Montara Mountain begins from a trailhead off of Highway 1 and follows the Montara Mountain North Peak Access Road, a steep, badly rutted fire road. While the steep climb up the mountain can be a challenge, for me the most difficult part is trying not to slip on loose gravel on my way back down the trail. Approaching Montara Mountain from San Pedro Valley County Park is a more scenic route that greatly reduces the amount of time spent on the slippery gravel fire road. And it is my new favorite way to summit Montara Mountain!

The Trailhead:

The trailhead is located next to the bathrooms, opposite from the visitor center.

The Route:

From the trailhead take the trail on the right and follow the signs toward Montara Mountain. You will climb up the mountain via a series of nicely graded switchbacks. At mile 1.3 there will be a viewpoint with a bench and a trail marker for the Brooks Creek Trail. You will continue climbing on the Montara Mountain Trail until you get to the Montara Mountain North Peak Access Road trail. Continue to follow the trail up the mountain until you get to the radio towers at the top. At this point the trail splits in two and each section of the trail leads to one of the two radio towers. You can choose to visit both peaks or just one. After taking in the view, turn around and follow your steps back to the Montara Mountain Trail that you came in on. Take the Montara Mountain Trail junction and follow the trail until you reach the Brooks Creek trail junction. Take the Brooks Creek Trail back to the visitor’s center and the parking lot.

Other details:

Parking: Parking lot available at San Pedro Valley County Park

Fee: $6

Restrooms: Available at the trailhead

Camping: The group campsite can be reserved for Youth Groups by calling 650-363-4021

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At only 2.5 miles, the Brooks Falls Loop is the perfect trail for an early morning or after-work trek. While the loop can be completed in either direction, to take full advantage of the coastal views I recommend starting at the Montara Mountain Trail and then connecting to the Brooks Creek Trail.

The star of the park is a seasonal waterfall that cascades 175-feet down the side of Montara Mountain. The elusive waterfall can only be seen after several days of heavy rain, but this is a magical hike any time of year. The hike begins with a series of switchbacks through a thick Eucalyptus forest. As you continue to climb, the Eucalyptus thin and are replaced by large moss-covered Manzanita trees. Over the course of the hike you are treated to views of both the Pacific Ocean and the peaks of the northern range of the Santa Cruz Mountains. After continuing onto the Brooks Creek Trail, the trail narrows as you work your way back down the mountain, and eventually walk alongside Brooks Creek via the Trout Farm Trail.

This park was thoughtfully designed for visitors, with detailed trail markers, a visitors center that hosts weekend events, and benches placed at prime viewing areas along the trails. The park also has several large picnic areas that can be reserved for private functions and camping area for youth groups.

If you want a more challenging hike, this trail can be extended by 6 miles by continuing to the top of the Montara Mountain Trail before turning around to meet the Brooks Creek Trail. See the park map for a detailed view of the trails.

The Trailhead:

The trailhead is located next to the bathrooms, opposite from the visitor center.

The Route:

From the trailhead take the trail on the right and follow the signs toward Montara Mountain. You will climb up the mountain via a series of nicely graded switchbacks. At mile 1.3 there will be a viewpoint with a bench and a trail marker for the Brooks Creek Trail. Follow the Brooks Creek Trail for about a half mile to the seasonal waterfall viewing area (a raised bench next to the trail). Continue to follow the Brooks Creek Trail back into the Eucalyptus grove and take the Trout Farm Trail junction. Follow Brooks Creek as you walk along Trout Farm Trail and return to the parking lot.

Other details:

Parking: Parking lot available at San Pedro Valley County Park

Fee: $6

Restrooms: Available at the trailhead

Camping: The group campsite can be reserved for Youth Groups by calling 650-363-4021

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The Stanford Dish Trail is an easy 3.6 mile walk on the Stanford Campus. The wide paved path that winds along the rolling hills adjacent to the campus is popular with walkers and runners. While the trail overall is an accessible, family-friendly walking route, there are some steep sections. If you begin your walk at the Stanford Avenue trailhead the initial climb will get your blood pumping!

The Oak trees that scatter the preserve offer little shade on the exposed trail. The Stanford Dish Trail is named after the radiotelescope, which can be seen prominently from the high points of the trail. Sometimes the radiotelescope will be moving slowly, and in my mind I always picture groups of scientists in high-tech bunkers puzzling over long equations and bits of code, trying to get the angle of the dish just right. Although the Dish is a prominent feature on the trail, there is plenty of time to enjoy the landscape and the sweeping views of Palo Alto and the East Bay hills.

The university’s conservation biology program works to restore the area around the dish by nurturing native plants and grasses, and by protecting the habitats of threatened animals like the California tiger salamander. There are signs of wildlife all over the park, and for such a popular trail there are often wildlife sightings. Coyotes, bobcat, and deer inhabit the land but are often elusive, but the wild turkeys are much easier to hear and spot.

The Stanford Dish Trail is open from sunrise to sunset. For a monthly list of hours visit Stanford’s website.

The Trailhead:

The loop trail has three entrances, but the most popular trailhead is at the intersection of Stanford Ave. and Junipero Serra Blvd.

The Route:

This easy to follow, paved loop trail is popular with runners and walkers. Some sections of the trail are steep, but overall it is an easy hike.

Other details:

Parking: Street parking is available on Stanford Avenue, but at peak times finding a space can be a challenge.

Fee: No fee

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When the clouds clear in San Francisco, head to Pacifica for a challenging ridgeline walk with stunning views. As you hike the Sweeney Ridge Trail, you’ll pass a Nike Missile site and the San Francisco Bay Discovery site as you take in views of the Pacific Ocean and San Francisco Bay.

I prefer starting the hike with the challenging uphill climb from the trailhead directly behind Shelldance Orchid Gardens. After the initial climb you are treated to a reprieve as you walk along the ridgeline and take in the views of the Pacific Ocean, the San Francisco skyline, and the planes diving down to the San Francisco airport.

The majority of this hike meanders through coastal scrub and offers very little shade. The ridgeline can be extremely windy and on foggy days all of the views are obscured. On a warm day you’ll want to pack a hat and sunblock, and in the winter you’ll want to come prepared with plenty of wind-fighting layers.

This is only one version of the Sweeney Ridge hike. Sweeney Ridge Trail is also accessible from Sneath Lane, and Skyline College. To see a complete trail map, including the locations of the many trailheads go to Pacifica’s website.

The Trailhead:

Located directly behind Shelldance Orchid Gardens, the wide trailhead is easy to spot. From the parking lot, take the Mori Ridge Trail. At the top of the hill the trail will merge with the Sweeney Ridge Trail, stay to the right and head towards the Nike Missile site. Continue on the Sweeney Ridge Trail until the trail dead-ends at the Portola Gate. You’ll backtrack a bit and then take the Meadow Trail towards the Horse Trail. Stay to the right and follow the Horse Trail as it loops back to meet the Sweeney Ridge Trail. After meeting back with the Sweeney Ridge Trail follow the trail back to the Mori Ridge Trail and the trailhead.

The Route:

In addition to stunning 360-degree views (fog permitting), this out-and-back hike passes a Nike Missile site and the site where the Spanish explorer, Portola, accidentally discovered the San Francisco Bay.

Other details:

Parking: Parking lot

Fee: No fee

Restroom: A pit toilet is available on the trail and porta-potties are available in the Shelldance parking lot

 

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Located just minutes from Hwy 280, Sawyer Camp Trail is an easy excursion in San Mateo County. Part of the Crystal Springs Regional Trail, this is one of my favorite family friendly trails. The flat, paved path offers something for everyone- kids can ride their bicycles while mom and dad run or walk, and the benches scattered along the trail mean that even grandma and grandpa can enjoy the trail at their own pace.

Although this popular trail can get crowded on the weekend, it is still one of my favorite places. I love taking in the bright blue waters of Crystal Springs and watching the fog cascade over the lush green mountains of the Coastal Range. And if the natural surroundings weren’t enough I am almost always guaranteed wildlife sightings whether it is a deer, baby bunnies, or a low flying hawk. This is a perfect trail to “get away from it all” while retaining the ease of a paved walking path.

In order from North to South, the Crystal Springs Regional Trail is broken into three parts: San Andreas, Sawyer Camp, and Crystal Springs. These trails combined offer over 17 miles of walking, biking, and equestrian enjoyment. (Portions of the Crystal Springs trail are currently under construction, so check the website before heading out.) You can access a map of the entire trail on the San Mateo County Parks website.

The Trailhead:

Located at the intersection of Skyline Blvd. and Crystal Springs Rd. There is limited parking at the trailhead, but plenty of parking along the road.

The Route:

This out-and-back hike is 7 miles total, but when combined with the Crystal Springs and San Andreas trails you have more than 17 miles of trail to enjoy. The trail is clearly marked with mile markers, so you can easily track your distance and customize this walk to fit your needs.

Link to Map:

Get a map of the entire Crystal Springs Regional Trail here.

Other details:

Parking: Street Parking

Fee: No fee

Restroom: Pit toilets are available at several points along the trail

 

 

 

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This gorgeous hike tops my list as one of the best hikes in the Bay Area. Located on the Sonoma Coast, just north of Jenner on Highway 1, Stillwater Cove Regional Park has it all. The hike consists of an interpretive trail that winds through a canyon of lush ferns and towering old-growth redwoods, and ends with a short out-and-back hike to a small seaside cove and picnic area.

The entire hike is only 3-miles, but you can pack a lunch at make an afternoon of it. I recommend starting the hike with the redwoods interpretive trail, including making a side trek to the old schoolhouse. After completing the interpretive trail follow the path out to the beach and spend the rest of the afternoon combing the shore for seashells and enjoying the water.

This is a great hike to do with families or out of town guests. If you want to spend the weekend on the coast you can try reserving a site at Stillwater Cove Regional Park or arrive early to snag one of the three walk-up campsites. You can reserve a site through the Sonoma County Regional Park’s website.

The Trailhead:

As you enter the park, follow the signs for the day use parking. The trailhead is located at the western end of the day use parking lot.

The Route:

From the parking lot, enter the single trailhead and follow the trail down into the canyon. The trail will split in two. I recommend taking the loop trail to the Canyon and Fort Ross Schoolhouse first. (Try to pick-up one of the laminated nature brochures and follow along with the numbered markers.) After completing the Canyon loop, follow the trail to the Cove.

Map:

Go to Sonoma County’s website to download a map of the trails.

 Other details:

Parking fee: $7

Restrooms: Located in the campsite, not far from the trailhead

 

 

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Water Dog Lake is a bit of nature in Belmont’s backyard, literally. Even though the trail runs behind apartment buildings, there is an abundance of wildlife. On my most recent trek, I saw a rattlesnake and several bunnies. This is also mountain lion territory, and while sightings are rare mountain lions have been spotted on the trail.

There are always a lot of happy hiking dogs on the trail and some even get to take a dip in the pond (although you should watch out for mossy water that can make dogs sick!). This route consists of two loops, but you can easily customize the hike to make the route longer or shorter. Large Oak trees shade the inner loop (Water Dog Lake Loop Trail) as it follows the shoreline of Water Dog Lake in the lower canyon. The outer loop (Lake Loop Trail and John Brooks Trail) gets a fair bit of sun and can get quite hot in the summer months. While portions of the outer loop are shaded, the majority of the trail does not have shade.

While the Lake Loop Trail can be crowded, most people don’t hike the full loop. If you continue the loop to John Brooks Trail and the Berry Trail you will be rewarded with solitude. Adventurers are rewarded and if you search a bit you just might find an old abandoned car on a small, unmarked trail just past the John Brooks Trail and Berry Trail junction.

The Trailhead:

Located at 2400 Lyall Way, just past the intersection of Lake Rd., the trailhead is located between two apartment buildings. The trail is well-signed and easy to spot, just look for the “dirt driveway” with the gate.

The Route:

The route consists of two loops. Take the Lake Loop Trail to the Water Dog Lake Loop Trail. After completing the first loop, get back on the Lake Loop Trail and head left to the Hallmark Drive trailhead. To complete the larger loop, instead of heading back the way you came, take the John Brooks Trail to the Berry Trail before meeting up with the Lake Loop Trail again and heading back to the original trailhead.

Link to Map:

Belmont’s city government page has a great map of the canyon, including alternate trailheads.

Other details:

Parking: Street Parking

Fee: No fee

Restroom: No restrooms

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Slightly less scenic than its counterpart to the south, the San Andreas portion of the Crystal Springs Regional Trail offers stunning views of the San Andreas Lake and features markers for the famous San Andreas faultline.

I believe that all open space areas deserve love, and I hate to say anything negative about a trail, but this trail should come with some warnings. A large part of the trail parallels Hwy 280. In fact, in some areas, the highway is so prominent that it can’t be ignored. If you’re searching for peace, quiet, and some time amongst the trees, I recommend that you start the hike where Hillcrest intersects Skyline Blvd. (At this point, the trail technically transitions from the San Andreas Trail to the Sawyer Camp Trail.) After the Hillcrest intersection, the trail transitions from a narrow dirt path into a wide, multi-use paved trail. After passing over a bridge that damns the San Andreas Lake, the shaded path meanders through Oak groves and passes several picnic spots.

The Crystal Springs Regional Trail is broken into three parts: Sawyer Camp, Crystal Springs, and San Andreas. These trails combined offer over 17 miles of walking, biking, and equestrian enjoyment. (Portions of the Crystal Springs trail are currently under construction, so check the website before heading out.) You can access a map of the entire trail on the San Mateo County Parks website.

The Trailhead:

There are many entrances to the trail. If you want a longer hike you can start at the entrance at Skyline Blvd, just south of Cambridge Lane. For a shorter, but more scenic walk start at the trailhead at Hillcrest Blvd. near Skyline Blvd.

The Route:

This out-and-back hike is 9.3 miles total, but when combined with the Crystal Springs and Sawyer Camp trails you have more than 17 miles of trail to enjoy. The trail is clearly marked with mile markers, so you can easily customize this hike to fit your needs.

Link to Map:

Get a map of the entire Crystal Springs Regional Trail here.

Other details:

Parking: Street Parking

Fee: No fee

Restroom: Pit toilets are available at several points along the trail

 

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The Estero Trail has less traffic, but all the charm of the more popular trails in Point Reyes. This 7.5 mile trail crosses an estuary and winds along the coast before ending at Sunset Beach. The plentiful wildlife sightings along this trail are sure to delight bird watchers and nature lovers.

The trail begins with a jaunt through a Eucalyptus grove, but don’t let that fool you because most of the trail is exposed and offers little shade. After exiting the trees you will come to a bridge that crosses a tidal estuary. It was here that we were treated to our first wildlife sighting- an otter splashing under the bridge.  After passing through the estuary the trail starts climbing, and you will cross through a series of gates as you enter and exit several grazing areas for the spoiled cows that get to call Point Reyes home.

Take in the gorgeous coastal views as you traverse the hills. Be sure to be on the look out for birds and wildlife. During our walk we saw two coyotes stalking the hills, a bevy of quail, and couple of Great White Herons. Follow the trail until you reach Sunset Beach and then turn around and head back. While this hike is beautiful, don’t expect a wide sandy beach as your reward. Sunset Beach feels more like an estuary than a traditional beach.

If you want to extend your hike you can follow signs to Drakes Head (the turnoff is located around mile 2.5) for some of the best views in Point Reyes.

The Trailhead:

From Sir Francis Drake Blvd., the trailhead and parking area is one-mile up Estero Rd.

The Route:

Take the Estero Trail to the Sunset Beach trail. When the trail dead ends turn around and retrace your steps. For a map of the trail and the connecting trails view the North District Hiking Map.

Other details:

Parking: Parking lot

Fee: No fee

Restroom: Pit toilets available at the trailhead

 

 

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