The following is a reference I use when selecting the next hiking or backpacking destination with a bias toward Northern California. I make it in 2002 and just now am updating in because many of the links were out of date. Each year I say “This year I will do trip reports with the pictures I took.” At the end of the year I look back an realized I didn’t write up even one trip. Maybe after I retired.
There are a number of websites which document hikes in the SF/bay area. The best online journals I have found are Bay Area Hiker and Kevin’s Hiking Page. Bay Area Backcountry, Ridgetrail, and Midpeninsula Open Space provide valuable references to a number of destinations in the area. The book One Night in the Wilderness: SF Bay Area by Matt Heid provides good coverage of destinations within 2 hours. Views from various peaks at heywhatsthat.
I will never tire of going to the Sierras. This is my favorite destination and the place I will most likely take my next hike
- NWS Forecast: Tuolumne
- Weather Data: CDEC Stations: Tum, YV, GM
- Other Conditions: CA snow report, fed snow report, Yosemite webcams
- Useful info: Inyo National Forest, sierrahiker.com, John Muir Trail (JMT), High Sierra Trail, Steve Roper’s High Route, Tahoe Rim Trail, highsierratopix.com, backpackthesierra.com
- Emigrant Wilderness just off rt 108, one of the closest destinations from bay area with on-demand wilderness permits / no quotas. Often use Crabbtree trailhead. Heavy traffic first few miles but drops off significantly after Gem lake.
- National Scenic Trails, especially the CDT
- Wonderland Trail
- California Coastal Trail / History & Resources
- Haute Randonèe Pyrènèene
- Jug Handle SRN to see the pygmy forest
- Bruce Trail
- HikingProject, Peak to Peak, sierraclub outings
- Walkopedia 100 Best Hikes
Good Destinations for Kid’s First Trip
- Coastal Camp, Pt Reyes… not to far a drive, less than 3 miles each way, beach, rope swing, horses. If you want a longer hike going to Wildcat is also very nice which just a bit of elevation change. You are much less likely to see horses and no rope swing, but there is still a beach which has some whale bones and a waterfall pretty close by.
- Twenty Lakes Basin via Saddlebag Lake, Just East of Yosemite… further drive but worth it. Loop is 11 miles, thou you can shorten that by 2 miles if you take the water taxi. Modest elevation changes. Lakes, fishing, rocks to climb, good place to learn about going cross country because the basin constrains how far you can go wrong.
- Lake Margaret, Near Tahoe… 3 miles each way, modest elevation changes, nice lake with fishing, common day hiking, but evenings can feel like you have the place to yourself. Rocks to climb on
- Rancheria Falls in Hetch Hetchy, Yosemite… 6.5 miles each way, modest elevation changes, nice campsite, pretty falls. Good for early spring when snow isn’t cleared at higher elevations
Recommended Trips (Close-ish to Bay Area)
Most of the trip descriptions below were written up for group trips I was leading.
John Muir Trail. 222 miles of the prettiest country known to man which also happens to be graced by some of the mildest weather of any mountain range. If you can only do a section, doing South Lake to North Lake can be a really nice loop. Used to be easy to do, now it’s become so popular that wilderness passes are issued by lottery.
Yosemite National Park: The valley is over-crowded with people and traffic, but you can hardly blame people. The valley is one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited. If you want to get away from people I would recommend backpacking from any of the trailheads which are not connected to the valley floor, or Tuolumne Meadows to a lesser extent. Jeffrey Schaffer’s 100 Yosemite Hikes is the best guide I have found. There is a Yosemite NPS web site. Hikes out of Tuolumne Meadows can be very peaceful after Memorial Day because the crowds are gone. Nice images at extreme resolution: yosemite.
Redwood National Park & Associated State Parks. Simply beautiful. The ocean side of the hills are cool, windy, and mostly fogged in during the summer. Inland just a bit over the hills and you can actually see the sun.
Lillian Lake Loop, Sierra National Forest. 13 mile loop through pretty country. A great way to introduce people to the Sierras. Not nearly as crowded as Yosemite. Good fishing. In the summer some of the lakes are quite warm because they are pretty shallow, perfect for swimming.
Lost Coast, King’s Range. One way it’s 23 miles, or you can make it in a loose loop by taking the crest trail. Known for rain, wind, and fog, this area can also have wonderful weather. Very pretty with nice views. When it’s not cloudily, great night time sky.
Sykes Camp, Ventana Wilderness. A nice walk (10 miles, 3000 ft climb along with a 2000 ft descent), beautiful and rugged country, mild weather, and a hot springs at the end. What more could you ask for? How’s about a stream filled with young trout? Downside? Too many people during summer weekends, poison oak, and recently closed due to fire damage.
Pt. Reyes: Close in to the bay area. Great place to introduce people to backpacking, with it’s short to moderate length hikes. This place is especially great for introductory trips for kids because there are good beaches to play on, tide-pools to explore, and sea mammals to see. Booked during the summer: make reservations three months in advance.
Skyline to the Sea: Maybe the best known trail in the bay area. If you are looking for solitude, this isn’t the trail to take. The top section is close to roads and you go right through Big Basin, one of the most used state parks in the area. On the other hand there are some good views and it can be a fun trail to hike. After the fire of 2020 likely closed.
Henry Coe State Park: Just 1 hour from the mid peninsula… a surprising large park. The 2.4 mile “forest trail” has 28 markers highlighting interesting features of the trail which is perfect for small children. For more serious backpacker there are a number of trails with a lot of elevation change which will give you a good work out. Great in early to mid – spring. Very hot and dusty during the summer which so/so water supplies.
Samuel P. Taylor SP. Nice redwoods reasonably close to the bay area.
Pinnacles National Monument: Very pretty in the early spring. Very hot and dry in mid summer.
Big Basin State Park: Unofficial Big Basin State Park. Seriously damaged in the fire of 2020 🙁
Henry Cowell State Park, Santa Cruz Mountains: A great place for low-key car camping trip with friends and family. You can walk down to the San Lorenzo River via the pretty Eagle Creek Trail and wading in the water.
Black Mountain, in Santa Cruz Mountains: 4.5 miles up with approx 2500ft gain. The first mile is somewhat steep. A good place to train for climbing hills in the sun. If you continue on just a bit you come to the backpacker camp which is a nice little space. I saw a pair of foxes playing in the grass. I have only once seen the campsites in use.
Other Recommended Destinations (mostly from my distant past)
I did a lot of climbing and backpacking in the 70’s through the mid 80’s. My favorite destinations were the Bighorn National Forest, Glacier National Park, Grand Teton National Park (especially Teton Crest Trail) , Rocky Mountain National Park, Pacific Crest Trail (especially from Kennedy north), Red River Gorge in Kentucky, Bartram Trail in North Carolina, and sections of the Appalachian trail (though I would have liked less rain in the Blue Ridge Mountains).