We all know that summer in the Bay Area starts in September when we finally kiss the fog and cold goodbye and bust out our tank tops and shorts, at least for a few weeks. Since hiking is the perfect way to enjoy our Indian Summer, you’ll want to grab your little hikers, get that sunscreen on and remember your water bottle for some sweet outdoor adventures. Here are 12 of the coolest hiking destinations in the Bay Area that you’ll want to explore before Karl the fog rolls in once again.
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Take the kids out to see the big spiders. In the fall, Mount Diablo is one of the top places to catch the tarantulas out and about during their mating season. Mitchell Canyon in Mount Diablo offers an easy hike from the staging area to Deer Flat and back. In the spring, this hike is popular for the wildflowers, and the autumn season is a great time to appreciate the oak savanna woodland and pine groves.
NOTE: Due to the Morgan Fire that is currently burning in this area, Mount Diablo State Park is closed until further notice. To keep up to date on the park and when it will reopen, visit www.parks.ca.gov
Livermore’s Sycamore Grove is home to one of the largest sycamore groves in the state. The park makes for a leisurely autumn walk on flat terrain. Walk 2.5 miles from the main entrance to Veteran’s Park, an open space park on the other end where the little ones can run loose. And keep your little hikers on the lookout for some of the critters that call Sycamore Grove their home. From frogs and dragonflies to ducks and muskrats. Check out their hiking and biking trails here.
Tilden Regional Park
Hiking is only part of what this awesome park has to offer. It also boasts pony rides, steam trains, a farm and a swimming area at Lake Anza. And did we mention this park also has a merry-go-round? Tilden Park has it all and will surely be a hit with your little ones. Plus, most of the hiking trails near the park are short and flat, perfect for little legs and feet.
The grazing tule elk and refreshing sea breeze give autumn a new meaning at this Point Reyes destination. Quiet most of the year, Tomales Point is popular with hikers in the fall, when the weather is mild and the elk are out in droves amid clusters of cypress trees. Those giant antlers alone will fascinate the kiddos. One of the coolest parts to Tomales Point, all the hiking trails are perfect for our mini backpackers. Trails range anywhere from half a mile to 2 miles long. Find additional information about the trails at Tomales Point here.
King Mountain Loop Trail
Loop nearly two miles around the crown of King Mountain at this easy-as-pie excursion. Native plants and quiet oak-bay forests make this trail an autumn gem. This hiking trail will have you and the little ones in awe with the views and quiet sounds of nature. It’s the perfect hiking destination to disconnect and explore the great outdoors.
Castle Rock State Park
Majestic coast redwoods, lush Douglas-firs, and wild forests of madrone make the trails at this South Bay park come alive with beautiful nooks and crannies, including those filled with the intricate sandstone rock formations that inspired the park’s name. Holes in the rocks are big enough for the kids to climb through. This awe-inspiring destination will keep you and your little hikers entertained with over 32 miles of hiking and bicycle trails.
Rancho San Antonio Open Space Preserve
This preserve is often crowded on the weekends, busy with runners along the paved paths and hikers traversing along the trails. Deer Hollow Farm is a mile from the parking lot and is a great spot to stop and explore. Check out the animals, vegetable garden, and the big red barn. When you get to the farm, have a snack and peek around. Most of the lower trails in the park all lead to central locations, so little hikers and their parents are free to explore without getting lost or tired.
Henry W. Coe State Park
Mild weather and thin crowds attract autumn hikers to the deep canyons and tall ridges of Henry Coe State Park. While the trails here are known for being steep, there are some easy walks as well including the one-mile Ponderosa Trail by the Coe Monument.
Lobos Creek Trail
Who says you can’t go hiking in an urban jungle like San Francisco? Take your little ones out to the Lobos Creek Trail and you’ll be surprised. This half-mile boardwalk is a great mini-hike with the half pints. Monterey pines, monkeyflowers, scattered dunes and a forest of cypress trees make this restored Presidio trail enjoyable during all seasons.
Seven miles of trails, including short, easy loops and hilly landscaped paths leading to a reservoir make for some of the best urban walks. Find autumn shade among the eucalyptus, pine, and cypress trees or stroll leisurely by the grassy slopes flanked by coyote brush, fennel, and shrubs. And while you’re there, don’t forget to check out the park’s reservoir in the northwest section and McNab Lake near the Sutter Playground. McLaren Park offers an exciting alternative to its busy counterpart, Golden Gate Park.
San Mateo’s Sugarloaf Mountain offers you and your little ones a chance to hike a bunch of different trails in one area without having to worry about choosing trails based on length. Each trail averages between a mile to three miles and are marked for your hiking convenience. This beautiful open-space connects San Mateo and Belmont with lush green trees, biking trails and wildlife. Note: Laurelwood Park connects to Sugarloaf Mountain so you can treat your little ones to slides and swings before or after exploring Sugarloaf Mountain.
Waterdog Lake Park
This hidden gem is nestled between homes and condos in the hills of Belmont. Waterdog Lake Park provides easy terrain for your little hiking aficionados. One of the many perks of hiking Waterdog Lake Park are the views from the top of the canyon. On a clear autumn day you can take in an amazing view of the bay, see the San Mateo Bridge and see the rising hilltops that run through Hayward. The trails at Waterdog Lake reach a maximum of 2 miles.
Note: Be on the lookout for poison oak, so keep the little ones from running into the trails before you get a chance to make a clean sweep of the area.
Where do you take the kids hiking in the Bay Area?
— Renee Macalino Rutledge