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Bay Area Hiking by Season

Seasons signal ideal times to hike Bay Area trails; best hikes for each season of the year

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Length: 38 miles / 61 km
Overview: The San Francisco Bay Area enjoys excellent hiking weather year-round -- ample sunshine, rare storms, scant snow -- but savvy local hikers still match their destinations to prime weather conditions.

Spring, for instance, brings an explosion to wildflowers. Summertime gets warmer the farther you get from the coast, so most hikers look for deep shade (plentiful in the redwoods) and cool breezes (perpetual along the coastlines).

Autumn brings welcome cooling for inland hikers, but the best reason to hit the trails is to catch wildlife in action, from tule elk to tarantulas.

Winter rains bring water gushing down the canyons between the Bay Area hills, creating wonderful waterfalls that typically run dry in the summer.

Tips: Attractions change with the seasons:

Spring: Wildflowers
Summer: Coast, redwoods
Fall: Wildlife
Winter: Waterfalls

Points of Interest


Spring - Sunol Regional Wilderness

Bay Area hikers prize this park in the East Bay hills northeast of San Jose. Just about any trail will be lined with seasonal wildflowers. Check out: Indian Joe Creek Trail, Canyon View Trail, Flag Hill Trail. EveryTrail Guide

Spring: Matt Davis Trail, Mount Tamalpais State Park.

This trail across a hillside overlooking the Pacific Ocean north of San Francisco is a Bay Area favorite. Best with a loop that takes in the luscious Steep Ravine Trail. EveryTrail Trip

Spring: Coyote Creek Trailhead, Henry Coe State Park

This little-used trailhead at the park east of Gilroy promises pleasing hiking and abundant spring color. EveryTrail Guide

Summer: Berry Creek Falls, Big Basin Redwoods State Park

No matter how hot it gets in the rest of the South Bay, this park in the Santa Cruz Mountains is always cooler. The 12-mile loop to Berry Creek Falls is arduous, but the experience of walking among ancient redwoods is priceless.

EveryTrail Guide

Summer: Año Nuevo State Reserve

Elephant seal migrations draw huge crowds here in the winter, but summer can be a great time to experience the cooling Pacific breezes, enjoy gorgeous coastal scenery and escape the nature gapers. A few of the aquatic behemoths will be on the beaches for their annual molt.

EveryTrail Guide

Summer: McNee Ranch State Park

The hike up from Highway 1 just south of Pacifica can get steep, but there's nothing to block strong winds from the Pacific Ocean, so you''ll stay relatively cool even if you try to hike all the way to the top of Montara Mountain (elevation 1,898 feet). The view is awesome, though the coast can be foggy. EveryTrail Trip

Fall: Tomales Point Trail, Point Reyes National Seashore

Herds of tule elk attract hikers all year to Tomales Point Trail north of San Francisco, but autumn is the best time to go because of the gap between summer fog and winter rains. EveryTrail Guide

Fall: Mount Diablo State Park

Tarantula mating season offers an excellent reason to see this state park east of Walnut Creek. The great big hairy arachnids haunt many East Bay hills during their autumn hunt for mates; as the biggest East Bay hill, Mount Diablo is bound to have a few of them wandering about. Just look for groups of hikers in a circle staring at the ground. EveryTrail Guide

Fall: Don Edwards S.F. Bay National Wildlife Refuge

Autumn migrations bring birds by the hundreds of thousands to these shallow waters of the San Francisco Bay. Visitor centers in Hayward and Alviso tell the avians' stories, and earthen levees throughout the bay wetlands offer flat hikes and abundant bird-watching opportunities. Web site | Driving directions

Winter: Cataract Creek Trail, Marin Municipal Water District

The Bay Area's best waterfall hike, in the Mount Tamalpais Watershed north of San Francisco, requires a steep one-mile climb (one way) that is worth every step. Go on a weekday if possible, as parking is limited. EveryTrail Guide

Winter: Uvas Canyon County Park

This little-known park tucked into the hills south of San Jose comes alive every winter with the sound of rushing water, particularly after the heavy rains of January and February. The one-mile Waterfall Loop is a must. EveryTrail Guide

Winter: Murietta Falls

This is one bear of a hike -- 14 miles with 4,000 feet of elevation gain -- and there's no water in the falls most of the year. It's best to go after several days of strong rains; give the trails a couple days to dry out or the mud will make your hike hellish. The waterfall itself is unimpressive, but the East Bay backcountry is not to be missed at this time of year. You'll come back exhausted but proud you finished one of the Bay Area's best strenuous hikes. EveryTrail Guide
Pictures in this guide taken by: tommangan, Yiping, wooac, stevelabo, EwaSkB, gkoffler, edgarstiles

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