Six Bay Area Hiking Challenges that Make Planning Hikes Easy

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2023 has gotten off to a very muddy start in the Bay Area. But don’t despair, while the weather might not be cooperating, these six San Francisco Bay Area hiking challenges make it a little easier for you to accomplish your hiking goals.

If you’re anything like me, you start the year full of enthusiasm, ready to kick butt and slay some goals. But, by mid-January you’ve run out of steam because you haven’t been able to check anything off of your list, and you just want to chuck all those goals out the window. Who’s with me?!

Hiking Challenges in the San Francisco Bay Area

If this sounds familiar, you need to check out these six hiking challenges that make it easy to succeed. I love these challenges because they remove the planning overwhelm by providing maps and routes, and most of them have a handy checklist so you can see your progress in action. The only thing you need to do is choose your challenge and hit the trail!

Santa Clara County Parks #PixInParks

Santa Clara County Park’s Pix In Parks challenge usually begins in the summer. This challenge encourages you to hike seven trails and share your hike on Instagram. Hikers who complete the challenge can receive a free t-shirt or bandana. While we are waiting for the details for the 2023 challenge, you can access the trail guides and maps for each hike in the challenges for years 2017 to 2022 on the park’s website.

The Santa Clara County Parks Challenge features hikes at some beautiful parks.

East Bay Regional Park District Trails Challenge

2023 is the 30th Anniversary of the East Bay Regional Park District’s Trails Challenge! The 20 hikes in this year’s challenge range in length from 1 mile to 12 miles. To complete the challenge, participants need to hike 5 of the 20 trails, or hike a total of 26.2 miles (the same distance as a marathon). To participate in the 2023 challenge you can download a PDF guidebook, or pick-up a printed guidebook at the park headquarters in Oakland or at one of the park visitors centers. If you are new to hiking or don’t want to complete this challenge on your own you can join one of the park’s group hikes led by trained naturalists.

The East Bay hiking challenge is a great challenge to complete in the spring when the hills are bright green.

Sonoma County Trails Challenge

Sonoma County’s Trail Challenge is a little different from the rest of the challenges on this list. Instead of focusing on individual trails, the challenge highlights 14 parks in Sonoma County. Hikers are given complete hiking guides for each park so they can decide on the length and difficulty of hike they want to explore. The downloadable PDF trail booklet has trail maps, alternate routes, and info on the 14 parks (they even note which trails are dog-friendly!). If you want to make the challenge even easier, you can choose to complete the challenge by following the Trail Themes in the book, and check off all the trails in the categories of Family Friendly Hikes, Mountain Hikes (hikes with elevation), and Habitat Hikes.

Bay Area Ridge Trail Circumnavigation Challenge

If you get a thrill out of checking big goals off of your list, this challenge is for you. While the full loop isn’t yet complete, the Bay Area Ridge Trail has 400 miles of multi-use trails in the North Bay, South Bay, East Bay, San Francisco, and on the Peninsula. The Bay Area Ridge Trail goes through many popular parks like Purisima Creek Redwoods, Mission Peak, Mt. Tam, and San Francisco’s Presidio National Park.You can plan your own route to complete the entire trail or you can use the free downloadable trail maps on the website and check off the trail section by section. If hiking the entire trail sounds like too much to tackle, each summer the Bay Area Ridge Trail has a formal challenge too. The formal 2023 challenge hasn’t been announced yet, but you can start by working on the 2022 challenge now.

Six-Pack of Peaks Challenge

The Six-Pack of Peaks challenge is for experienced hikers who want to tackle the most challenging peaks in the Bay Area. There are 7 peaks in this year’s challenge: Mount Umunhum, Mount Saint Helena, Mount Tamalpais, Mount Diablo, Mount Sizer, Berryessa Peak, and Rose Peak. While you can do the hikes on your own, the official challenge costs $50. You can register for the challenge on the Six Pack of Peaks website. If you want to mix it up and add a bit of travel to the hiking challenge, check out the Central Coast or the NorCal Six Pack of Peaks challenges.

A dirt stairway in San Francisco leading to Tank Hill.

San Francisco Stairway Walks

While not an official challenge, this is the perfect goal for San Francisco residents who find it difficult to leave the city. The hills and stairways make San Francisco the perfect city for urban hiking and these hills and stairways will definitely get your heart pumping. Amy and James of the Doing Miles blog have mapped 12 stairway walks that range from 8-13 miles in distance. The routes cover all of San Francisco and a bit of Marin. To make navigating the routes easy you can download the gpx files for each route and load it into Gaia GPS. You can check out all of the routes on the Doing Miles website.


Nationwide Hiking Challenges

Hiking challenges aren’t limited to the Bay Area. Many regional parks and trails throughout the U.S. organize their own challenges. The North County Trail has a Hike 100 challenge, the Appalachian Mountain Club has a Four Thousand Footer Club challenge, and the Carolina Mountain Club has a Waterfall Challenge. Check out the local parks in your area to see if they host a challenge. Who knows, you might inspire them to create a challenge if they don’t already have one!

Below are three popular hiking challenges that you can participate in, no matter where you live.

52 Hike Challenge

One of the most well-known hiking challenges, the 52 Hike Challenge has many challenges to choose from. Most people participate in the original challenge to hike one trail each week. It’s free to sign up, but if you want some motivational challenge swag you’ll need to pay. If you want to take your challenge to the next level check out some of their other challenges like the National Parks Series, Pet Series, Explorer Series, or Adventure Series.

The 365-mile challenge is a hiking challenge where you walk one mile each day.

365 Mile Challenge

Want to hike one-mile each day? Then, the 365-mile challenge is for you! While other challenges often have a free component, this challenge requires participants to register and pay at least $25 before accessing the challenge materials. While I haven’t registered for the challenge myself, the progress tracking sheet shown on their website appears to be designed to track your progress each day. This is a great challenge if you are trying to make hiking a daily habit.

My Adventure Challenge

The My Adventure Challenge website has several hiking challenges to choose from including a Winter 100 Challenge, Waterfall Chaser Challenge, and the Hiker’s 365 Challenge. The paid challenges cost $20 (and up) to register and come with swag like t-shirts, patches, and stickers. What I love about this challenge is that the group partners with One Tree Planted to plant a tree for every challenge that’s completed.

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Don't forget your hiking essentials

If you’re new to hiking check out my post on the 10 inexpensive and essential items I always carry with me on day hikes.

Like all outdoor pursuits, hiking can be dangerous. It is up to you to assess your fitness level and education yourself about any potential dangers. While I try to regularly update these hiking guides, you should always research trail conditions before heading out.

Being prepared means arriving at the trailhead with water and some basic provisions. Each and every time I hit the trail I bring a backpack with more water than I think I need, a small first aid kit, and a snack. I also share my itinerary and plans with friends or family and I carry an InReach so I can summon help if needed. If you want to know what I carry in my pack during day hikes check out my blog post about essential gear for day hikers.

Stay safe, enjoy the trail, and soak up the magic of nature! What challenges will you do this year?

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