Whether you’ve been stuck behind a desk the entire winter or you just want to go out and refresh your body and soul, San Francisco is ready for you. Renowned as one of the most popular hiking destinations in the U.S, trails in this region offer stunning views of the ocean, cascading waterfalls, eucalyptus-scented air, redwood forests as well as hanging cliffs. You will catch some beautiful sunsets, watch crashing waves on rocky shores and stand on top of some of the highest mountains in the Bay Area. And at the end of each hike, you will still be within the vicinity of the city, where you can enjoy some clam chowder or grab some cioppino. Without further ado, let’s take you through some of the best hiking trails that San Francisco has to offer.

Cataract Falls

Lush trees, beautiful waterfalls, and a steep climb are among the things that you will experience along this trail. Featuring an ascent of more than 700 feet, the Cataract Falls is one of the best places to hike in San Francisco. Its climb is quite steep, which means that it’s well suited to intermediate and experienced hikers. If you are a beginner, then this trail might be too difficult to tackle. Also, you should note that almost the entire trail runs under the tree canopy. Therefore, make sure you layer up, especially if you will be hiking during winter. Also, the trail is quite muddy and slippery. Therefore, ensure your boots have adequate traction. The hike starts immediately you enter into the forest. The trail is clearly marked, which means you should not have any problems finding your way around it. The initial climb should not give you any problems. After an hour or so, you will come across a wooden bridge and then its steepness will increase significantly. Most sections of this trail run along the Cataract Creek, which means there will never be a dull moment during your trek. Also, it presents numerous photo opportunities. Therefore, make sure to have your phone or camera nearby.

Tomales Bay

If you are looking for a great outdoor place to spend your friends and family, then you should check out Point Reyes National Seashore. With plenty of wildlife, rich history, and beautiful scenery, this park has something for everyone. It also features several hikes and trail, education programs as well as various ranger-led activities, which will keep everyone entertained. The Tomales Bay hike is one of the most popular hiking trails in this place. Starting at the visitor center, you should head north using the Pierce Point Road, and then park your vehicle at the Pierce Pint Ranch. From there, you should follow this trail all the way to the Lower Pierce Pont Ranch. Along the trail, you will enjoy gorgeous views and impressive scenery. And if you are lucky, you might even come across the Tule elk, which roams this area frequently. From this point, the trail will take you all the way to the bluffs. Once you hit the bluffs, you will enjoy some great ocean views. However, the bluffs can be unstable especially during the wet weather. Therefore, don’t walk along the edges. If you will be hiking during the summer, make sure you carry a hiking hat, enough water, and some sunscreen, since there is little shade on this trail.

Lands End Trail

Just like its name implies, the Lands End trail is located towards the outer parts of the city. Start your trip at the visitors center, where you will have an opportunity to learn more about this historic trail. There is also a gift shop at the visitor’s center, where you can purchase some unique art pieces. From the visitor’s center, you should follow the well-maintained, gorgeous, out-and-back trail, which runs for approximately 3.5 miles. Once you reach the end of the trail, you can then opt to finish your journey or proceed past the Sea Cliff neighborhood, and then detour to Baker Beach. This trail is perfect both for beginners and experienced hikers, as well as anyone else who is looking for a short day hike.

Ocean View Trail

Named after John Muir, the Muir Woods National Monument is among the last surviving natural redwood forests on earth. It’s also one of the oldest. Most coastal redwoods in this forest have an average age of 600 to 800 years. The oldest coastal redwood in the forest is at least 1,200 years. If you are a tree lover, then this is the best place for you, then you should definitely create some time and visit this national park. Due to its uniqueness and beauty, this trail is always full of crowds over the weekend, especially during summer. The good news is that you can escape these crowds by starting your hike along the Ocean View Trail. From the valley floor to the top, you will have numerous opportunities to capture some great photos, which you can later share with your friends at home. And if you are more into wildlife, then you should head to Marin Headlands north, where you can catch some bobcats, California poppies and some lupines. The Marin Headlands north section of this national park offers a wide range of hiking trails, making it a great picnic spot for families.

Devil’s Side Trail

If you are looking for a laid-back trail where you can take a casual stroll with your family and friends, then you should check out the Devil’s Side Trail. This multipurpose trail offers remarkable views of the ocean, making a great place for a family picnic. Free parking is available at both ends of the trail, which means you can hike from any direction that you would like. As much as it’s mapped as an out-and-back, 2.5-mile hike, you don’t have to complete it. You can go as far as you want. If you start from the north, the trail will take you through coastal hills, leading you to the Pacific Ocean. Once you reach the area around the Pacific Ocean, you will have amazing views of the sea. And if the weather is fine, you will also catch a glimpse of Point Reyes and the Farallon Islands. With different types of wildlife like seals, whales, and seals, naturalists and kids alike will relish this trail. This path also features several benches, where you can take a break from your hike and just soak in the surroundings. Overall, the Devil’s Side Trail is a great trip to enjoy the great outdoors and stretch your legs.

Panoramic Loop

Located in Tamalpais Valley northwest of San Francisco, the Panoramic Loop is ideal for hikers who are looking for a longer hike. It cuts through both the Mount Tamalpais State Park and the Muir Woods National Monument, which means you are assured of scenic views along the entire route. The park service offers tree talks and interpretive programs, designed to help the hikers learn more about the area. On the other hand, the Muir Woods Discovery Quest and the Junior Ranger Program will keep your young ones entertained. It’s important to note that shuttle and parking reservations are a must if you intend to visit these parks. Therefore, make sure you’ve made the necessary arrangements in advance. Also, this trail is quite busy, especially during the summer. However, you just follow any of the side trails or even rest on one of the benches to enjoy the beautiful surroundings.

Mount Tamalpais

If you are into beautiful sunsets, then the east peak of Mt. Tam in Marin County is where you should be on a clear summer evening. Perched at 2,750 feet, this is the highest point of this mountain, which gives you unobstructed views of everything around this place. And the good news is that accessing this place is quite easy. As you hike along this trail, it will give you views of Northern Marin, some sections of San Francisco as well as the East Bay. And besides being a full loop, this trail is approximately half a mile or so. It offers you a chance to relax, unwind and catch some gorgeous sunsets, away from the chaotic city.

Dipsea Trail

Running from Mill Valley to Stinson Beach, Dipsea Trail is a 9.5-mile-long hike, which offers almost everything that you would want in a hike. As much as it might be quite a challenging hike for beginners, those who manage to complete this hike will enjoy majestic views every mile of the way. You will see the Pacific Ocean, the Golden Gate Bridge, plenty of redwood trees, Mt. Tam, and Stinson Beach. You might also spot some different types of wildlife along the way. Also, you will get a chance to cross various creeks and walk the Dipsea Stairs. This hike is quite long. Therefore, make sure that you bring plenty of water and food. And if you don’t want to traverse the entire route, then you can opt for the shorter 7.5-mile route. The shorter route begins at Stinson, and it will provide you with almost the same experience as the longer one.

Alamere Falls

Located in Point Reyes National Seashore, this is a 14-mile hike, filled with breathtaking views throughout. Key highlights include lakeside views, pine forests, rushing creeks, sweeping coastal panoramas and ultimately the Alamere Falls. While the unofficial trail might appear shorter, don’t be tempted to use it. People get injured almost every week, trying to scramble down from the top of the falls. Instead, you should follow the Coast Trail leading to the Wildcat Camp, all the way to the beach. While it’s longer, it’s also safer. Furthermore, you will seem much more of the park, the lakes, and the coast.

Closing Remarks

With thousands of hiking trails within striking distance of the city, San Francisco is a hiker’s dream, whether you are a local or a visitor. The area offers unique terrains, remarkable ocean views, hiking through lush redwood forests as well as great views of the surrounding areas. Whether you are a professional hiker looking for an extended excursion or you are just planning to go on a short hike with your friends, San Francisco should be the only hiking destination on your mind. Don’t forget to carry your camera.

About the Author Cindy

Hello, I'm Cindy. I’m a super duper mega hiking enthusiast, with a love for everything that has to do with outdoors, hiking, gear, footwear and more.

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