Stunning San Francisco Bay Area Hikes to Add To Your Northern California Hiking Bucket List

Bay Area Hikes

Hiking in the Bay Area is an absolute dream. From hikes within San Francisco city limits, to places a short drive away with towering redwoods, waterfalls and coastal views, you can truly have it all with these Bay Area hikes. I collaborated with some awesome fellow travel bloggers to bring to you this list of hikes in the Bay Area. Because while I am trying to hike them all, my two little legs can only walk so fast!

Some of these hikes are more challenging than others, but I can pretty much guarantee they’ll all be worth it.

The real hard part is trying to figure out what the best hiking trail in the Bay Area is!

Let’s start these hikes in San Francisco, a city that I consider the center of the Bay Area and expand to east bay hikes, hikes near the Peninsula, south down to hikes near San Jose and beyond.

Hikes in San Francisco

There are a number of hikes, walking paths, and staircase climbs within San Francisco city limits that can make you feel like you’re a world away.

Lands End Trail

Overview of the Lands End Trail

  • Length: 3.5 miles
  • Time to complete: 2 hours
  • Terrain: Dirt trails, some incline and stairs
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Shoes to wear: Sturdy sneakers
Lands End Trail in San Francisco, CA

This hike makes you feel like you’re away from the city, while still being within the city limits. This cliff side walk takes you through Cypress forests, over rocky bluffs, and ultimately to amazing views of the Golden Gate.

I suggest parking near the Cliff House and using the restroom before venturing off (no bathrooms on the hike). The path starts off paved near Sutro Baths, but eventually becomes dirt with a few staircases to climb.

Lands End is a fairly crowded trail, especially on weekends and extra especially during COVID.

But the dramatic views of the coast, the Cyprus trees, and the Golden Gate are legit, so be sure to bring your camera.

There is also alabyrinth – see if you can find it!

It will take approximately two hours out and back. Definitely worth the trip if you’re visiting the city!

Hikes Near San Francisco

Muir Woods

Take a roughly 45 minute drive across the Golden Gate Bridge (bucket list item ✅)to the Muir Woods National Monument for some of the best hikes near San Francisco. Walk amongst giant redwoods that tower 250+ feet in the air and are over 800 years old!

Muir Woods recently re-opened after being closed due to the COVID pandemic. As many other places, it is operating under a few restrictions such as one way trails and discontinuing ranger talks.

Planning Tips for Muir Woods

Muir Woods Address: 1 Muir Woods Rd, Mill Valley, CA

For more information or help planning your visit to Muir Woods, click here.

Panoramic Trail – Muir Woods

Contributed by Rob Best of Roam Yonder

Overview the Panoramic Trail

  • Length: 4.5 miles
  • Time to complete: 1.25 hours
  • Terrain: 287 meter elevation gain, wide & flat trails
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Shoes to wear: Walking shoes
Redwood trees on the Panoramic Trail in Muir Woods, CA
Redwoods of the Panoramic Trail, Muir Woods c/o Rob Best

There are lots of hiking trails to choose from at Muir Woods but the Panoramic Trail is a great hike to enjoy the beauty of the area and is accessible for all types of hikers. Muir Woods is only 40 minutes away from San Francisco, making it a great day trip from the city.

At 4.5 miles the Panoramic Trail is not a highly taxing route but it’s one of the prettiest in Muir Woods. The trail shows off the environment of Muir Woods and Mount Tamalpais State Park. The route starts off by following the Redwood Creek Trail, giving you a great chance to take in the stunning sight of the giant Redwoods.  

In total the climbs on the route total 287 metres and the paths are wide and mostly flat so the walk should take you around 1 hour and 15 minutes to complete. The scenery is so nice on the route that you will often stop and take in the sights. 

As you take on the climb in the middle part of the route the Redwoods will start to disappear and be replaced with meadows and then the nearby mountain tops. Although the climb can be steep in places a good pair of walking shoes will be fine to get around the Panoramic Trail.

Muir Woods National Monument is the only old-growth redwood forest located close to a major city. Because the area is so accessible it really is worth taking a few hours to visit and that is why the Panoramic Trail is such a popular route. It lets you enjoy the different sceneries of this picturesque area without being a taxing and lengthy route.

Point Reyes National Seashore

Point Reyes National Seashore is a popular day trip or weekend getaway from San Francisco and for good reason! In only an hour drive from the city, just north of Muir Woods, you’ll be greeted by the gorgeous, rocky California coastline.

There are so many things to do in Point Reyes. You can watch the gray whale migration in winter and early spring, you can see elephant seal pups, kayak in Tomales Bay, and of course take stunning hikes along the coast.

Point Reyes National Seashore
Point Reyes National Seashore

Planning Tips for Point Reyes National Seashore

  • There is no entrance fee!
  • Due to COVID many places in the park are closed. Please check their website for the most updated information.
  • Cell service comes and goes depending on your location in the park

Address: 1 Bear Valley Rd, Point Reyes Station, CA

  • (although I suggest putting in your trailhead destination on Google Maps or checking the maps page of the Point Reyes Website.

Alamere Falls

Contributed by Kristel and Gabriel Glasier from Chef Travel Guide

Overview of Alamere Falls

  • Length: 8.4 miles
  • Time to complete: 4 hours
  • Terrain: 1083 ft total elevation gain, moderately exposed on loose dirt with some steep scrambling to get to the beach
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Shoes to wear: Trail running shoes
Alamere Falls in Point Reyes National Seashore
Alamere Falls, Point Reyes c/o Kristel & Gabriel Glasier

Considered as a rare tide fall, Alamere Falls is a 40-foot cascade that plummets over shale cliffs to a stunning sandy beach and on to the Pacific Ocean.

Located in Point Reyes National Seashore, this out and back 8.4-mile hike attracts a lot of visitors so it is best enjoyed on a weekday. There are several ways to get there but the most scenic one is from Palomarin Trailhead via the Coast Trail.

Once you start this dramatic hike you will be walking through towering eucalyptus trees while enjoying the sound of the waves crashing on to the rocks. The first couple miles of this moderate hike is pretty exposed so it can get warm during the summer, but you will be rewarded with expansive views of the California coastline.

You will encounter varying terrain through forested valleys, algae-covered ponds, lush coastal heather, and wildflowers as well as a series of lakes.

You will be winding through lush coastal pines that create a dark tunnel over the trail, carpets of fern, and open meadows as well as crossing through wooden bridges over trickling creeks.

Alamere Falls in Point Reyes National Seashore
Alamere Falls, Point Reyes c/o Kristel & Gabriel Glasier

About 4 miles into the trail is an unofficial “shortcut” to the falls that is sometimes marked with a left arrow made up of small rocks. This 0.5-mile trail is not maintained and not recommended by the National Park Service as it is lined with poison oak and involves a steep climb down to the beach.

If you are feeling adventurous, make sure to wear long pants as well as shoes with a good grip as you will be scrambling down some loose rocks.

For a safer route, you can take the Coast Trail to Wildcat campground and head south for a mile along the beach to reach the falls for a total of 13.8 miles roundtrip.

Bear Valley Trail: Point Reyes National Seashore

Contributed by Noel Morata of This Hawaii Life

Overview of Bear Valley Trail

  • Length: 10.5 in miles round trip
  • Time to complete: half day to full day
  • Terrain: gravel and dirt paths through open sunny to forested areas
  • Difficulty: Easy with slight grade in elevation
  • Shoes to wear: comfortable tennis or hiking boots
Bear Valley Trail in Point Reyes National Seashore
Bear Valley Trail, Point Reyes Seashore c/o Noel Morata

One of the best and most iconic trails to explore in the Point Reyes National Seashore is the Bear Valley trail just next to the main visitor center close to the entrance of the park. This trail really gives you a flavor of what old California is like from the ocean, inland to the coastal mountain ranges of the park.

The majority of the trail is flat with some slight incline in certain areas and then a nice slow decline once you get closer to the ocean. Covering open meadows, forested areas with babbling streams to the dramatic ocean views at the end, the Bear Valley Trail has it all and is a wonderful and easy hiking experience for beginners.

Half Moon Bay Hikes

From San Francisco start driving south on Highway 1, through Pacifica, where there are some great hikes as well, to Half Moon Bay. Half Moon Bay is a great place to learn how to surf, eat deliciously fresh seafood, and of course, explore some great coastal hikes in the Bay Area.

There are a number of hikes in Half Moon Bay for all fitness levels, but here I just want to highlight two.

Gray Whale Cove Trail

Overview of the Gray Whale Cove Trail

  • Length: 2 miles out & back
  • Time to complete: 30-45 mins
  • Terrain: Narrow dirt path
  • Difficulty: Easy with slight incline at the beginning
  • Shoes to wear: Sturdy sneakers/trail runners
Gray whale cove trail at sunset
Gray Whale Cove Trail at Sunset in Half Moon Bay

Located on Montara Mountain just south of Pacifica, the Gray Whale Cove Trail is quickly becoming one of my favorite post-work hikes because it’s easy and beautiful!

To access this hike there are two parking lots, I suggest parking at the lot across the street from Gray Whale Cove State Beach as it’s much bigger. And the trailhead begins right at the parking lot.

You’ll climb up a steep, but short incline, but after that it’s a mostly flat narrow path that hugs the mountain side while offering dramatic views of the Pacific Ocean below.

There is a lookout point with two benches that would be a great sunset spot if you happen to get a clear evening.

Gray whale cove trail at sunset
Gray Whale Cove Trail at Sunset in Half Moon Bay

Once you reach the trail marker for Old Pedro Mountain Road, simply turn back for your car.

This mountain is incredibly popular among mountain bikers, so you may see a few, so just be ready to step out of the way. However, they’re pretty good at making themselves known.

Purisma Creek Redwoods Open Space Preserve

Purisma Creek Redwoods Preserve is a great place to go hiking near San Francisco. There are a number of interconnected trails in this preserve and hikes that are suitable for all fitness levels.

You can access Purisma Creek from three locations: Highway 35, Higgins Canyon Rd or Purisma Creek Road. However, due to COVID-19, parking is limited so if you’re planning to go on the weekend, go early as this is a popular hiking trail in Half Moon Bay.

Overview of the North Ridge Trail – Whittemore Gulch – Harkins Ridge 

  • Length: 8 miles
  • Time: 3-4 hours
  • Terrain: Narrow dirt paths
  • Difficulty: Hard
  • Shoes: Hiking boots or shoes
Hiking amongst the redwoods in Purisma Creek Open Space
Hiking Trail in Purisma Creek Redwoods Open Space Preserve

This is a tough, but beautiful hike that starts with views of the Pacific Ocean, climbs down along the floor of the Redwood forest, ambles along a creek, and then climbs back up again for a few more views.

To start this hike, park at the lot off of Highway 35. Start with the North Ridge Trail head, but follow the sign for the switch backs which will say hiking only. This is a bit easier on your knees on the way down and offers plenty of shade.

After about 1 mile, you’ll join the Whittemore Gulch trail and follow that through the Redwood forest to Purisma Creek. Here is a great place to rest. Find a stump and have a snack. There are also bathrooms you can use here.

Purisma Creek Trail
Purisma Creek Trail in Purisma Creek Open Space Reserve

But don’t rest too long, because you will now climb about 3 miles back up along the Harkins Ridge Trail, catching views across the tops of the trees to the Pacific as you go.You’ll rejoin North Ridge Trail and return to your car.

Sweaty, but totally worth it!

Hikes Near San Jose

Hop in your car and head South on Highway 101 or 280 to experience some awesome South Bay hikes! In about an hour (give or take depending on traffic) you’ll be in for a treat with these awesome hikes near San Jose California.

Castle Rock State Park

Contributed by Monique Boatner of Flourish with Mo

Overview of Castle Rock Hikes

  • Length: 4.5 miles
  • Time to complete: Half day
  • Terrain: Some boulders on trails
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Shoes to wear: Hiking boots
View from Castle Rock hike

Castle Rock State Park is an amazingly beautiful park located in Los Gatos, California off of Highway 35. With views of the Santa Cruz mountains, this park is perfect for hiking, backpacking, rock climbing, camping, and horseback riding! There are 34 miles of trails that connect to the Santa Clara and San Lorenzo valleys. 

The park is open from 8 am to sunset. There is no entry fee but to park in the parking lot is $10 per car.

There is a huge emphasis on there being no water available once you’re inside the park so be sure to pack appropriately. Also, there is no cell phone service but they have free wi-fi that works at the entrance of the park. 

This park has campsites available for $15 per night. Dogs are not allowed in the park. Bikes and horses are only permitted on certain trails, check here for more information.  

Saratoga Gap – Ridge – Castle Rock Trails – Castle Rock State Park

After arriving at 7:30 am and parking on the side of Highway 35 I entered the main entrance from the main parking lot. I decided to take the Saratoga Gap Trail to the Patrick Charles Allen Memorial. This was about 1 mile.

I continued on the Saratoga Gap Trail until I reached the Interconnector Trail. I took this trail to the Ridge Trail and went right towards Dan Seldow’s Fraggle Rock Grove, this was almost 2 miles from the entrance. 

I continued along the Ridge trail, passing Goat Rock. I used the Ridge trail to take me back to the Saratoga Gap Trail. I wanted to hike some more so instead of returning to the entrance, I went right towards the Castle Rock Trail, at this point I had hiked about 2.8 miles. After finishing Castle Rock Trail, I hiked about 4.5 miles. 

Final Thoughts On Castle Rock State Park

Overall I really enjoyed my hike at this park. Here are some tips I’ve gathered after my experience. Needless to say, I will definitely be back! 

  • If hiking in the Summer, go early. It gets hot in those mountains!
  • If you’re a new hiker or with children, stick to the Castle Rock Trail, it’s the shortest loop and the trail is the widest and smoothest.
  • Take a picture of the map before you hike so you know where you’re at! 
  • If you are coming from the Bay Area, the road can get windy and there are points when there is only one lane. Drive slower and be aware of your surroundings. 
  • When I went in July 2020, the waterfalls and creek were dry. 

Monterey Bay Hikes

If driving the famous PCH is on your California bucket list, but you don’t have the time to do the entire drive, consider driving a portion of it to Monterey for these awesome hikes!

In just 2.5 hours you’ll be in for a treat for these hikes in Carmel and Monterey.

Bird Island Trail – Point Lobos State Natural Reserve

Contributed by Dhara from Roadtripping California

Overview of Bird Island Trail

  • Length: 0.8 mile
  • Time to complete: About 45 minutes
  • Terrain: Mostly flat
  • Difficulty: Easy, accessible
  • Shoes to wear: Sturdy walking shoes or sneakers
Bird Island Trail in Point Lobos Carmel California
Bird Island Trail, Carmel c/o Dhara

Bird Island Trail is likely the most popular trail in Point Lobos State Natural Reserve in Carmel, California. An easy and very scenic walk, this trail takes you past some of the most photogenic spots in the park to a viewing point for Bird Island, a rocky outcrop in the water.

The oceanfront trail offers beautiful views of the ocean as you walk. You have the option to go down to a beach a little ways into the trail. If not you can view the beach from the trail above. Along the way, you will also see lots of wildflowers in season, and you might be able to spot squirrels or rabbits.

Bird Island is a nesting ground for many seabirds, including cormorants and gulls, and if you visit in the spring or early summer, you may be able to see the nests via scopes that docents sometimes set up in the viewing area. You may also see otters or seals in the ocean below.

The trail is very easy for most people. There is a flight of stairs at the start, but otherwise the trail is flat. There is also a ramp if you are visiting in a wheelchair or with a stroller or walker. There are benches along the way if you want to sit and admire the views.

You can combine the Bird Island Trail with other trails in the park if you want to add more length or difficulty to your walk. Parking inside the park can be an issue, because the park is very popular. Either arrive early, or be prepared to park on the shoulder of the road outside and walk into the park. There is a fee to park inside.

Monterey Bay Coastal Recreational Trail

Contributed by Constance of The Adventures of Panda Bear

Overview of the Monterey Bay Coastal Recreational Trail

  • Length: 4.4 miles round trip
  • Time to complete: Depending upon the stops it can easily take a day, but at least 4 to 5 hours
  • Terrain: paved, mostly flat trail
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Shoes to wear: any comfortable shoes
Cannery Row, Monterey c/o Constance
Cannery Row, Monterey c/o Constance

Located less than 2 hours away from San Francisco, Monterey is a quick day or weekend trip away for amazing hikes. One of the best hikes in Monterey is the Monterey Bay Coastal Recreational Trail. 

While the entire hike is quite long, an 18-mile path, stretching from Watsonville down to Pacific Grove, we typically only take it for a much shorter route from Old Fisherman’s Wharf in Monterey to Lovers Point Park in Pacific Grove and back. This makes the hike 2.2 miles one way and 4.4 miles round trip. 

Along the way, you’ll pass by some of the best and most famous sights to see in Monterey, including Old Fisherman’s Wharf, Cannery Row, and Pacific Grove. 

At Old Fisherman’s Wharf, walk along the pier and take in the view of the Monterey Bay. Here, you’ll see various shops selling Monterey’s best tchotchkes, delicious restaurants with local seafood, and at the end of the pier, you’ll find whale watching excursions.

Across the street from Old Fisherman’s Wharf is also the Old Custom House. The Custom House was once used by the Mexican government to collect tax and duties when ships entered Monterey Bay when California was a Mexican territory. 

Afterwards, stop by Cannery Row. This street was named after John Steinbeck’s book Cannery Row and told the stories of the residents living on the street in the heyday of Monterey’s cannery industry.

Located at the end of Cannery Row, you’ll find the Monterey Bay Aquarium, one of the most renowned aquariums in the nation with its very own kelp forest. 

As you continue along the trail, you’ll also find the harbor seals of Pacific Grove. The seals hang out behind the aquarium year round and you’ll know you’re nearby when you hear all of the barking.

End the hike at Lovers Point Park, a lush green park located beside Lovers Point Beach and the Monterey Bay. 

More Northern California Hikes

The beauty of the Bay Area is its proximity to the beautiful outdoors for which Northern California is famous. If you have extra time during your visit to the Bay Area and want to check off a few more bucket list hikes, these should definitely be on that list!

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park – you’ve heard of it I’m sure. It’s nuts to me that I’ve lived in the Bay Area my entire life and I have never been to Yosemite. It was on my list for 2020, but COVID changed all of that. Thankfully, another blogger has been to Yosemite and is willing to lend her expertise!

Yosemite National Park is currently open, with restrictions. Be sure to visit the Yosemite National Park website for the most current information.

Planning Tips for Yosemite National Park

  • Reservations are required to enter the park, including for day use. To book your reservation visit this website
  • Get there early to avoid peak hour congestion
  • Plan to have no cell service
  • As always, leave no trace

Half Dome

Contributed by Jenny Kotlyar of Campsite Vibes

Overview of the Half Dome Hike

  • Length: 16.4 miles
  • Time to complete: 8-16 hours
  • Terrain: Stairs, Cables, Heights…
  • Difficulty: Hard
  • Shoes to wear: Hiking Boots or Trail Runners – well broken in
Half Dome in Yosemite National Park c/o Jenny

Half Dome in Yosemite National Park is one of the most iconic hikes in California. Half Dome was carved by glaciers receding down Yosemite Valley. From the top, you have beautiful 360 degree views of the valley below and the higher peaks of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

Half Dome can be done as a weekend trip, or you can extend your adventure and explore more of Yosemite National Park and the Eastern Sierra.

The hike to the top of Half Dome is 16.4 miles round trip with 5,457 feet of elevation gain. It’s not an easy hike, rightfully labeled as nature’s stairmaster, but with planning and training ahead, it’s completely doable as a long day hike or as a backpacking trip.

The trail starts from Happy Isles in Yosemite Valley and takes you up the Mist Trail or the John Muir Trail to where the cables start that then take you to the top of the dome. You can do the entire hike up to the cables without a permit, but if you’d like to hike to the top of Half Dome, permits are required. If you choose to backpack, you will also need to get a backpacking permit. There are several ways to get a permit, this blog post covers those details.

When hiking Half Dome, make sure to wear good hiking boots or trail runners that you’ve broken in before, bring a backpack with the 10 essentials required for a safe and enjoyable hike, and bring enough food and water for the entire hike. You can also filter water along the way if you run out, so bring a water filter that’s designed for the wilderness.

If you’re doing it as a day hike, get an early start! Depending on your hiking speed, it could take anywhere from 8 to 16 hours or more to finish. If you decide to backpack the trail, it makes it easier and gives you more time to enjoy the entire area. Most day hikers start anywhere from 1am to 5am depending on their speed. If you get an early start, you can watch sunrise from the top!

Lake Tahoe

Lake Tahoe is another natural beauty located about a 3.5 hour drive from San Francisco. While in theory you could visit Lake Tahoe as a day trip from San Francisco, a visit to Lake Tahoe requires at least an overnight stay so you can enjoy the beauty of this area without feeling rushed.

Eagle Lake Trail

Contributed by By Meg Atteberry of Fox in the Forest

Overview of Eagle Lake Trail

  • Length: 1.8 miles
  • Time to complete: 1 hour
  • Terrain: Steep stairs
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Shoes to wear: Trail Runners
Eagle Lake Trail, Lake Tahoe, California
Eagle Lake, Lake Tahoe California c/o Meg

Home to jewel toned waters and towering mountains, Lake Tahoe is a must-see day trip from San Francisco. One of the best ways to experience the magic of the area is to go on a hike. The Eagle Lake Trail in California’s Desolation Wilderness is one of the best hikes in Lake Tahoe. This 1.8-mile out-and-back trail offers easy hiking with amazing views.

Work your way up the hill from the parking lot until you reach a ride line. From here, you’ll have incredible views of Lake Tahoe’s famous Emerald Bay. Continue onwards just a few more minutes to the stunning Eagle Lake. With mountains cascading into the lake, there’s plenty of amazing scenery to see. You can still continue further frome here as the trail climbs out of the lake basin into the mountains. However, if you’re tired, simply relax at the lake with a drink and a snack (don’t forget to pick up all of your trash, and don’t feed wildlife).

If you choose to park in the parking lot, you’ll need to pay a $5 use fee, but there are a couple of spots along the road if you arrive early. Keep in mind, this amazing beautiful area sees quite a bit of people, so arrive early in order to have some solitude. You can hike this trail year-round, but the best times are certainly during the warmer summer months. After your hike, be sure to check out the viewpoints of Emerald Bay and Eagle Falls nearby. These short (10-minute) walks give you even more views to go ga-ga for.

These are some of the best San Francisco Bay Area hikes that should be on your Northern California hiking bucket list. I’m grateful to the fellow bloggers who helped with their contributions to this post as I can only hike so fast with my two little legs!

I’ll be adding to this post as I hike new trails or as other bloggers want to add their favorite Bay Area hiking trails. So be sure to check back often and save the post so you remember!

You will no doubt have a great time enjoying these hiking trails in the Bay Area and beyond

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