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Walnut Creek Magazine

Five of the Best Bay Area Hikes

Sep 27, 2017 03:13PM ● By Deborah Burstyn


By Deborah Burstyn

You’re ready, right?  Crazy summer heat has subsided; air is cooler but comfortably warm.  Holiday season madness is a couple months away. Time to get outside and take in some breath-taking beauty.

As our famed John Muir said, “Keep close to nature's heart...and break clear away once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.” You can get a rejuvenating boost from a one to three-hour hike. No need to climb a mountain or spend a week trying to do it; plenty of Bay Area trails offer easy to moderate elevation and spectacular views. Here are five of our favorites in and around Walnut Creek. Make sure to hydrate.

WALNUT CREEKModerate. Shell Ridge Loop. About 2 miles.

You’ll forget you’re wedged between Ygnacio Valley Road and downtown Walnut Creek once you’re in the Open Space surrounded by native grasses, valley oaks, and gently sloping Mt. Diablo foothills. Marshall Drive dead ends at the trail head next to Indian Valley Elementary School. (Just don’t attempt to go at school start or dismissal time when the road is bumper to bumper with parents.) Follow the trail straight out as it gently dips and curves. Once you pass a bench on your left, be prepared for a steep ascent as the trail forks to the left.  At the top, you can either turn right and descend on a parallel path, and go back the way you came. If you turn left and follow the trail, it curves around the other side of the hill—with spectacular views of Benicia – ending back at Marshall Drive. If you’ve worked up an appetite, downtown restaurants are minutes away.

ALAMEDA COUNTY—Moderate. Sunol Regional Wilderness Park, Canyon View/Little Yosemite Loop. About 3 miles.

Hidden in the hills between Diablo Valley and Silicon Valley is a wonderful hiking trail that leads to a spectacular waterfall known as Little Yosemite. Although not exactly Yosemite, it’s a scenic gorge full of boulders and falls. To start, look for a wooden footbridge over Alameda Creek in the meadow near the Visitor Center. Cross the bridge, turn right, and follow signs for Indian Joe Nature Trail. It’s all uphill from here; pause to take in the breath-taking canyon views. The trail drops as you near the falls.  From there, it’s an easy downhill stroll on paved Camp Ohlone Road back to the footbridge. To make a day of it, head into historic downtown Niles on your way home for antique shops, cafes, and restaurants.

SAN FRANCISCO — Easy. Kennedy Drive to Ocean Beach, Golden Gate Park. 3 miles one way.

This is a lovely hike the length of Golden Gate Park from the Haight Ashbury to the sea. Try to go on Sunday when Kennedy Drive is closed to vehicles. Park along the Panhandle and cross Stanyan Street on foot to enter Golden Gate Park on Kennedy Drive. As you walk along the paved walkway, many of the Park’s Victorian splendors—the dazzling white Conservatory of Flowers and the Grecian columns adorning Spreckels Lake—come into view. There’s the De Young Museum’s modern metallic Hamon Observation Tower, the Rose Garden, the Bison Paddock complete with a herd of grazing bison, and two full-size Dutch windmills. Then you hit the beach. To your left is the historic Beach Chalet Restaurant and Brewery. To your right is a Safeway and the 5 Fulton bus which will take you back to Stanyan, if three miles is all you’ve got.

MARIN— Easy. Tennessee Valley Road Trail. 3.4 miles out and back.

This trail is a small slice of Marin Headlands tucked into Mill Valley and is part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. It’s easily reached from the Mill Valley/Stinson Beach/Highway 1 exit off 101. Tennessee Valley Road turnoff is on the left. The trailhead begins at the parking lot and meanders along a stream through a valley that opens onto Tennessee Cove, a pocket beach surrounded by dramatic rocky outcroppings. For a unique dining experience after your hike, head to the nearby Pelican Inn. You’ll think you’ve wandered into a Thomas Kinkade painting.

PENINSULA – Moderate. Mill Ox/Jackson Flats Trail. 5 mile loop.

Sometimes you just want redwoods and ferns—an immersion into mystical primordial green. This hike delivers. Be warned, the first 30 minutes of the trail are nonstop elevation through scrub forest. Not for the faint of heart. Then turn right onto the flat and placid Old Butano Fire Road with sweeping views. Follow the Jackson Flats Trail back down through the redwoods. You’ll come out at the Visitor Center. Turn left and walk a short way back to your car. When you exit the park, you can drive straight into the parking area for Pescadero State Beach. About 20 miles north on Highway 1 are the popular Half Moon Bay seaside eateries Sam’s Chowder House and the Miramar Beach Restaurant. 


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