The 5 Best Winter Day Hikes Around the Bay Area
Take full advantage of your three-day weekend by getting your feet on a trail
If you’re looking to get some peace and quiet over this upcoming three-day weekend, we’d like to suggest a winter hike. The ideal situation: crystal-clear skies, bone-dry trails, views of snowy, faraway peaks — and a full day away from your laptop.
For the moment, forecasts look good for outdoor activities in and around S.F. on Saturday and Sunday. (Monday’s slightly iffy.) Bonus: None of these hikes require much travel time — and one, you can (just about) reach by BART.
In brief: There’s no better time to set off on this fairly ambitious hike than on a cold, sunny morning in January, when views are at their best. Yeah, you’re giving up your chance for wildflowers (those’ll be here in a month or so), but Mount Diablo’s all about the view from the top — and in good conditions, they can range from the Farallon Islands in the west to a snow-covered Mount Lassen 200+ miles to the northeast.
Distance: 6.7-mile loop
In brief: Looking for a solid hike that doesn’t require a car? Mission Peak is quasi-accessible from the Warm Spring BART, if you’re willing to tack on an Uber to reach the Stanford Avenue staging area. The killer views at the top — of the Santa Cruz Mountains, Mount Diablo, and the Sierra Nevada to the northeast — make up for the crowds and the lack of shade, which is, happily, less of an issue in the winter.
Distance: 5.8-mile loop
In brief: Definitely unique to winter, the Elephant Seal guided walk is only available from mid-December through March 31 — when the seals are in residence at this state park. You’ll need to register in advance and prepare for a walk along varied terrain. The payoff: a glimpse of these creatures in the midst of their annual mating rituals. (Basically, Tinder for elephant seals, with more fisticuffs between the males.)
Distance: 3-4 miles, depending on guide/conditions
In brief: Winter rains can make our trails slippery and unpleasant — but they can also fill our waterfalls. Time your hike to Cataract Falls after some substantial rainfall, and you’ll have a solid uphill climb (followed by a sometimes slip-slippy descent), offering pictures of the cascades and pretty Cataract Creek along the way.
Distance: 3.3-mile out-and-back
In brief: Cool weather (and green hills!) make the climb to Rocky Ridge (and the ubiquitous cow refuse along the trail) bearable, with views of Mount Diablo from the top. If you think you’ll have energy left over after the hike, consider making an appointment to visit the adjacent Eugene O’Neill National Historic Site, which offers a moving look into the playwright’s life, and is also where he wrote The Iceman Cometh and Long Day’s Journey Into Night, among others.
Distance: 6-mile loop
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