Alamere Falls via the Coastal Trail

On Saturday we unknowingly ventured along a northern portion of the same Coastal Trail that you can follow along Muir Beach to Rodeo Beach, this time starting 10 miles north of Stinson Beach. Alamere Falls has made a name for itself as a beautiful and popular Bay Area getaway spot. From San Francisco, it takes about 1.5 hours, mostly due to the scenic winding of Highway 1.

This hike was similar to other seaside trails around The Bay; soft ground, exposed with little shade, and extremely populated by the early afternoon. As we’d been warned, we had to park out car about a quarter mile down the road from the trailhead since the parking lot was full by noon. I didn’t include a time estimation below, because we were with a group of 7 and took our time making our way through the trail, stopping to picnic at Bass Lake and spending a while at the turnaround spot: Alamere Falls.

Bass Lake

Bass Lake

The last few miles to the falls open up on another ocean view, and that’s when you’ll want to look out for an old trail sign on your left covered in graffiti that serves as the cutoff to Alamere Falls. At this point, you will have gone about 3.75 miles and only have .4 left on a narrow trail that takes you straight to the oceanside.

The falls drops a couple hundred feet down to the beach, which will be even more crowded than the upper areas of the trail. And even though California is full-force in its drought, the falls were still running with plenty of water. Speaking of water, our group grossly misestimated the heat of the day and we were without water the last couple miles of our trek – which should serve as an easy reminder for next time. I noticed that most hikers brought swimsuits and towels to take full advantage of their beach destination.

The long, dusty walk back to the car was eased with more views of the ocean. I’ll be returning here soon to try a trail run, a little earlier in the day, and with more water.

QUICK STATS

  • Length: 8.3 miles
  • Elevation gain: < 1000k ft.

Montara Mountain from Graywhale Cove State Beach

This weekend I ventured to a popular seaside trail that’s just 20 minutes south of San Francisco. Leaving the city using I-280, I took the Highway 1 exit for just about 10 miles to one of the northern-most trail entrances. There are actually four different routes you can take up to the peak of Montara Mountain, depending on which trailhead you choose to park at:

  • 3.5 miles from San Pedro Valley County Park trailhead.
  • 3.9 miles from Mc Nee Ranch trailhead.
  • 4.1 miles from Farralone Cutoff, Montara.
  • 4.8 miles from Graywhale Cove SB.

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This parking lot will get full as the day goes on – this is what it looked like at 10:30 am. The first quarter-mile of the hike climbs upwards and then slopes out into a flat trail that continues around the hills. This trail makes for a very popular and crowded place for day hikers, trail runners, and cyclists.

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Follow the path south, until it turns inward. Within a half mile the trail will fork into two directions: A steep upward slope to your left (an unofficial “shortcut” that will take 1.5 miles off), or continuing to the right, where the trail makes a slow, windy ascent through some shade on a fire road.

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On the fire road, looking up a few miles and about 2,000 vertical feet to the top of Montara Mountain.

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At the top of this forested section, the fire road runs into the end of the shortcut before continuing up incredibly steep, exposed, dusty slopes. There’s no shade for the last few miles here, so you’ll want to bring some kind of sun protection.

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This dusty, rocky trail continues up a few more miles to the summit. Along the way are cutoffs to other trails, and I ran into a lot of other hikers and runners who had joined up near the top from different directions around the mountain.

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At the top, you’ll enjoy valley views as well as a stretched-out look at Pacifica and its popular beaches. Since this was a pretty grueling incline without any place to hide from the sun, I promise you’ll enjoy the way down much more than the ascent!

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QUICK STATS

  • Length: 9.6 miles
  • Elevation gain: ~2,000 ft.
  • Time: 2 hours

Mt. Diablo Base to Summit

As isolated as it is impressive, Mt. Diablo has the second largest visual prominence in the world, behind Mt. Kilimanjaro. That means from its summit you can see the Sierra Nevadas to the east and even Mt. Lassen, 181 miles north. It’s truly one of the most demanding peaks in the Bay Area, and makes for a hell of a day hike.

Starting up Eagle Creek Trail with the summit in clear view ahead of us.

Starting up Eagle Creek Trail with the summit in clear view ahead of us

I’d been up Diablo three years ago and decided to do the opposite loop from that time. This way was much more scenic, forested, and less crowded than taking the fire road up, albeit much more challenging. Here’s the distance breakdown:

  • Oak Road (fire road): 0.3 miles
  • Eagle Peak Trail: 3.1 miles
  • Bald Ridge Trail: 1.5 miles
  • North Peak Trail: 0.9 miles
  • Summit Trail: 0.7 miles (up to Visitor Center & Lookout)
  • Juniper Trail: 1.4 miles
  • Deer Flat Roadd (fire road): 1.6 miles
  • Mitchell Canyon Road (fire road): 3.7 miles
  • Total: 13.2 miles

    Taking a break before heading up Bald Ridge Trail.

    Taking a break before heading up Bald Ridge Trail.

    The steep ascent up Eagle Peak Trail was without a doubt, the most challenging of the day. Still, we made incredible time. We’d been warned – and expected – to have a 6 to 8 hour day ahead of us, but we reached the summit after only 2.5 hours of hiking. Descending took almost as long, probably because by the end of the day we were all exhausted and dragging our feet down the hills. Still, we were all in all very happy with our route choice and end time.

    Partway up Bald Ridge Trail… yet the summit still seems so far away.

    Clear views of the valley on the final ascent up the Summit Trail.

    Clear views of the valley on the final ascent up the Summit Trail.

    Corner of the lookout from the Mt. Diablo Visitor Center.

    Corner of the lookout from the Mt. Diablo Visitor Center.

    The one thing I remembered most about this hike from completing it years before was the anticlimactic feeling of arriving at the summit surrounded by people who had driven up. Still, there was a number of hikers who looked as rugged and worn out as we’d felt, lined up at the summit water spigot. Both the Visitor Center and lookout platform offer great 360 degree views and is lined with binoculars for far-off views on clear days.

Like I’d mentioned before, our route down was much less scenic, following a wide fire road for the entire journey. We saw larger groups of people ascending this direction, or stopping partway at scattered picnic tables. This road really drags on, and since it’s a couple miles longer (but less steep), than the way up – we were more than ready to throw down our packs and call it a day once we’d reached the car.

Beginning of a long, windy descent down the Deer Flat fire road to the Mitchell Canyon fire road.

Beginning of a long, windy descent down the Deer Flat fire road to the Mitchell Canyon fire road.

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    QUICK STATS

  • Length: 13.2 miles
  • Elevation gain: 3.2k ft.
  • Time: 5 hours

Redwood Regional Park: West Ridge Trail to East Ridge Trail

It’s difficult to have a car in San Francisco. But it’s oh-so worth it when it comes to weekend getaways, especially with all the Bay Area has to offer. I’ve been to Muir Woods, Mt. Tamalpais, and Stinson Beach more times than I can count, so a few weeks ago I decided to check out what’s hiding in the East Bay, and found the perfect day trip less than 30 minutes outside of the city.

Redwood Regional Park, part of the East Bay Regional Park District, is a huge open space that’s super accessible, tucked away in the East Bay hills just a short drive from Oakland. From San Francisco, take 580 East off of the Bay Bridge and turn left off of the 35th Ave exit. This road turns into Redwood Road, which will take you to the main entrance of the park. There’s plenty of parking for a $5 fee, or you can squeeze in between other cars on the side of the main road just outside the entrance, which is how I entered the park today.

I created my own loop based on recommendations I’d read and convenience to my car location, but you can view each trail and loop more closely on Mappery.

When I first entered the park on foot, I found a couple of ways to jump up on a trail to my left that ran along a creek bed. This area of the park is lush with green plants and glows under a canopy of trees, with a very small one-track trail lined with rocks and roots. I managed to fall flat on my face within the first five minutes of my day.

 

Winding up towards the West Ridge Trail

Winding up towards the West Ridge Trail

I followed this trail up the left-side ridge and hit my destination, the West Ridge Trail, and continued on higher up. The path widens here to accommodate equestrians, bikers, and more hikers, and goes for miles and miles – and steeper and steeper. The West Ridge Trail narrows and widens again, snaking through thick forests and leveling out at look points with stunning views. I passed through so many ecosystems, from the thick green forest you see above through tall redwoods and up above dusty pastures covered in wildflowers.

More uphill on the West Ridge Trail

More uphill on the West Ridge Trail

These first few miles were the steepest of the day, and I was regularly alternating between trail running on flat surfaces to cutting my pace in half up hills. The bulk of my elevation gain was condensed into just the first third of this hike, which means ending the day at 1.6k total gain made a strenuous beginning. At the highest point of the West Ridge Trail, the path crosses a road that leads to Chabot Space & Science Center, and from then on, it’s pretty much all downhill.

Looking back up the West Ridge Trail, winding through the redwoods.

Looking back up the West Ridge Trail, winding through the redwoods.

Just about halfway through my hike, the windy trail through the redwoods evened out to a gaping valley on my right, and a parking lot up emerged ahead on the left. This is where the West Ridge Trail becomes the East Ridge Trail, and where I found many more people either starting or ending their day. There are a lot of leisurely trails that fork off of the main one and many people wander down these for shorter hikes or picnic spots. It’s easy to get stuck here, enjoying the views.

View from the East Ridge Trailhead

View from the East Ridge Trailhead. Naturally, the photo does not capture the beauty of this spot.

The last half of the hike was easy, and mostly downhill. The East Ridge is unlike its other half in that it’s largely exposed, dusty, and out of the redwoods. But both of these things also mean that I was able to see farther because of the lower tree line, and I paid more attention to the hills on the horizon since I was looking their direction, heading down. There’s something about a view like this, when I’ve stopped long enough to feel the blood in my limbs slow and my lungs open and I feel like I’m seeing this distance for the first time. It’s like taking that first breath of air when you come up from an ocean dive.

Afternoon rest spot on the East Ridge Trail, Redwood Regional Park.

Afternoon rest spot on the East Ridge Trail, Redwood Regional Park.

It was a beautiful, easy day that wasn’t completely inundated with crowds (unlike other Bay Area hiking options), and it reminded me of how lucky San Franciscans are to have so many options in this area.

QUICK STATS

  • Length: 7.5 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1.6k
  • Time: 2.25 hours