San Francisco

The East Bay’s Most Incredible Hikes

Take a break from your apartment.

There are lots of good reasons to both live in and visit the East Bay, like warmer weather than San Francisco, art collectives and galleries, and great restaurants, to name a few. Unfortunately, you can’t fully take advantage of those last two right now, but there’s another reason that's especially awesome right now: proximity to these incredible hikes. They lead to insane views, ancient seabeds, secret labyrinths, volcanoes (?!), and probably a desire to relocate if you haven’t made that move already. Unfortunately, what they don’t lead to right now are open visitors centers, picnic areas, or really any attractions. We double-checked to make sure all of the parking lots are open, but since everything can change in minutes these days, you should probably also look it up just to be sure.

All of the distances below are calculated round-trip. Make sure to bring lots of water (some parks don’t have any right now), sunscreen, and your trusty mask. Oh, and snacks. Always bring snacks.

Nimitz Way to Rotary Peace Grove

Distance: Four miles
Trailhead: Inspiration Point in Tilden Regional Park off Wildcat Canyon Rd

If you’re new to the majesty of the East Bay Regional Park District, consider this your gateway drug. Paved, well-marked, and with immediate vista payoffs around every turn (starting with the parking lot), Nimitz Wayis a multi-generational crowd pleaser.

On weekends, the trail can be jammed with joggers, strollers, dogs, and families, so if you’re seeking peace and the ability to stay six feet apart from everyone, go mid-week. Nearing the two mile mark, take Wildcat Peak trail to reach the Rotary Peace Grove, a grove of giant sequoias planted to honor people and organizations that cultivate world peace. (There are plaques under the trees that name Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela, and Martin Luther King, Jr., as well as others.) After you’ve wandered through the grove, keep going up the trail about another quarter of a mile where you’ll find a huge circular stone bench and some of the most stunning 360 degree views of the Bay Area you’ll ever come across. If you’re bringing a picnic, this is the spot to enjoy it.

Lake Chabot Loop

Castro Valley
Distance: 3.64 miles or nine miles
Trailhead: Lake Chabot Marina, Lake Chabot Regional Park
Take the paved West Shore trail (3.64 miles roundtrip) from the Marina to the dam for views of the lake and the (to be fair: very slim) chance of seeing a bald eagle soaring above the water searching for trout. This part of the hike is extremely easy and can also be done on a bike. If you’re looking for something a little more strenuous, continue on from the dam to circle the lake via the West Shore Trail, to Bass Cove Trail, to Columbine Trail, to Honker Bay Trail, to Cameron Loop Trail, to East Shore Trail back to the Marina (9.5 miles roundtrip). Just keep your eyes open for trail markers because they aren’t always obvious. If your dog is up for it, he can come along, but just be absolutely sure to keep him out of the water, which is full of toxic blue-green algae.

East Ridge to West Ridge Loop

Distance: 10 miles (word on the pedometer is that the map isn’t right when it says 8.2 miles)
Trailhead: Canyon Meadow Staging Area, Redwood Regional Park
Redwood Regional Park is home to most of the East Bay’s redwoods (all second-growth since the original ones were logged). This is a sweet loop circling the prize jewel that is the Redwood Regional Park. Usually you’d start at the Canyon Meadow Staging area, but that parking lot is currently closed, so you’re going to add a little bit onto your hike (just .06 miles roundtrip) and start at the Wayside lot instead. Once you get to Canyon Trail, it’s a short hop up to the East Ridge Trail. Cruise the east side where the unsheltered ridge provides sweeping views. Keep an eye out for fast-moving mountain bikers. Breezing through the Skyline Gate Staging Area is your approximate halfway marker, where you’ll link on to the West Ridge Trail (where you have wide-open views towards Contra Costa) to complete the circuit.

Flag Hill Trail

Distance: 2.5 miles
Trailhead: Visitor center, Sunol Regional Wilderness
Take Shady Glen Trail out of the visitor center lot, cross the small bridge over Alameda Creek (Alameda County’s largest stream), and link up to Flag Hill Trail. You’ll quickly climb out of the woods as you gain elevation. It’s a steep slope with a lot of switchbacks, but at the top, you’ll get fantastic views across the valley, reservoir, and watershed, as well as sandstone formations with fossils of life from ancient seabeds and maybe even spot a bobcat or two.

Skyline Gate Loop

Distance: Five miles
Trailhead: Skyline Gate Staging Area, Redwood Regional Park
Reason No. 5,487 we love Northern California: 150-foot coastal redwood trees in our backyard. And unlike Muir Woods, these redwoods don’t require a reservation in advance (although unlike Muir Woods’ old growth redwoods, these are second-growth since the original ones were logged). From Skyline Gate, walk the exposed East Ridge Trail until you hook right down into the park’s valley on Prince Trail. The temperatures dip coming off the ridge, and you’ll notice the immediate change in vegetation. Descending Prince Trail, hook left on Stream Trail. (From November to February, be on the lookout for wintering ladybugs who take up camp in clusters by the millions right near this trail intersection.) Take a minute to appreciate the calm and quiet among the massive redwoods. Follow Stream Trail until taking a right on Fern Trail. Get your heart rate up as you climb out of the valley on Fern Trail. When you hit West Ridge, take a right, and follow it all the way back to Skyline Gate, enjoying/Insta-ing the gorgeous views along the way.

Falls Trail Loop

Distance: 7.9 miles
Trailhead: Mitchell Canyon Visitor Center, Mount Diablo State Park
Waterfalls in the East Bay? Maybe not in the summer and fall when it is hot and dry, but almost definitely in the winter and spring when they’ve been activated by Mother Nature. Head to Mt. Diablo State Park to see for yourself. The hike is pretty hard, and the going can be slippery if it rained recently, but there’s a series of lovely waterfalls throughout all the hard work (especially if you’re there during the springtime; you may be out of luck during high-drought season). The trail loop isn’t terribly complicated, but the trail names switch up a bit, so stay alert. If beautiful, flowing water isn’t your thing, skip the falls and take in the Mount Diablo Summit. Usually there are two ways to do this: 1) hike the North Peak like a badass and enjoy your hard-earned views or 2) drive up to the summit, but that second one’s not an option right now because the Summit Parking Area is closed. But the reward is always better when you really earn it, right? Go on a clear day for visibility over 40,000 square miles that includes segments of 35 of California’s 58 counties.

Round Top Volcanoes

Distance: Three miles
Trailhead: Sibley Staging Area, Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve
Labyrinths, volcanoes, and vistas, oh my! Not only is Sibley fun for bird-watching, it’s of keen interest to geologists and science stars. Round Top peak (elevation 1,763 feet) is made up of 10-million-year-old volcanic stuff and is the result of tectonic action between the Hayward and Moraga faults. Print this self-guided volcanoes tour before you go (or hope that you have cell service the entire time) to get all of the real geological dirt. At stop No. 5, you’ll see a labyrinth at the base of the quarry that adds a mystical touch. Get a dose of ancient history, and enjoy a beautiful hike with views of the rolling hills that surround you.

Upper Seafoam Loop

El Sobrante
Distance: Two miles
Trailhead: Behind the park office, Kennedy Grove Regional Recreation Area
Start out in the tranquil lawn area in the park’s only entrance off San Pablo Dam Road. Hop onto the Laurel Loop Trail behind the park office. Follow Laurel Loop -- leaving behind the massive eucalyptus trees in the picnic area -- until you reach Lower Seafoam Trail. Curve right on the path and enjoy the beautiful views of the San Pablo Reservoir as the trail opens. Continue on and merge onto Upper Seafoam Trail where the elevation picks up -- as will your heart rate. Keep truckin’ on up to the twisted and beautiful trees in the oak grove at the peak of the trail, a lovely spot to enjoy a picnic (and catch your breath). When Upper Seafoam hits Kennedy Creek Trail, hook left and bring it on home.

Wildcat Creek Trail - San Pablo Ridge Trail Loop

Distance: Six miles
Trailhead: Alvarado Area, Wildcat Canyon Regional Park
Besides having arguably the coolest name of the parks, Wildcat Canyon is the perfect place for hikers who live in El Sobrante and El Cerrito. Abutting Tilden’s northern-ish edge, Nimitz Way continues into this park. To take the featured loop, enter at Alvarado Staging Area and head out on (the also paved) Wildcat Creek Trail. Hopefully the creek will be full of water as you parallel it until reaching Mezue Trail where you turn left to begin your ascent. This portion is steep at times, but your hard work is rewarded as views of Mount Tam, San Francisco, and the entire East Bay open up. Turn left when you reach San Pablo Ridge Trail, appreciating the views of Mt. Diablo and San Pablo Reservoir. The descent can be steep, but the views sure are purdy. Merge left onto Belgum Trail, which will bring you back to Wildcat Creek Trail to complete the loop.

Briones Crest Trail Loop

Distance: Eight miles
Trailhead: Bear Creek Staging Area, Briones Regional Park
Briones is the right-in-your-backyard spot you’ve been missing out on. For spectacular views and a solid workout, take the eight-mile Briones Crest Trail. Head out of Bear Creek Staging Area, up and around the park on Briones Crest Trail (all the while enjoying breathtaking vistas), then back down until reaching Seaborg Trail just past mile six. Seaborg Trail will bring you back from whence you came. Briones is full of accessible hiking trails with a variety of options for shorter loops, so choose your own adventure if you’re just after a quickie. And be sure to make another visit in spring, when all the wildflowers are popping.

Mission Peak

Distance: Seven miles
Trailhead: Ohlone College, 43600 Mission Boulevard, Fremont, CA
Due to the popularity of this hike, Mission Peak Regional Preserve requests hikers park at Ohlone to relieve overburdened staging areas in residential neighborhoods, and you'll understand why there's such popularity for it when you get there -- if feeling like you’re on top of the world is a thing you’re into. View the Santa Cruz Mountains to the west, Mt. Tam to the north, and the Sierra Nevadas and Mt. Diablo to the northeast. Winter is a great time to go for glimpses of snow-capped mountains. Spring also yields tons of wildflowers. You’ll gain about 2,000ft in elevation, so you’ll definitely want to bring water and probably also snacks.

Las Trampas Loop

San Ramon
Distance: 6.2 miles
Trailhead: Staging area, Las Trampas Regional Wilderness
If you’re looking for super steep hikes, you’ve come to the right place. Head out on Chamise Trail, then merge left onto Las Trampas Ridge Trail, hook right on Corduroy Hills Trail, right on Madrone Trail, to Sulphur Springs Trail, to Trapline Trail. Winter and spring are perfect seasons to hike here. Be sure to bring your own water because right now there isn’t any available inside of the park.

Huckleberry Path

Distance: Two miles
Trailhead: Main parking area off Skyline Boulevard, Huckleberry Botanic Regional Preserve
If your huckleberry is an ecological wonderland in your backyard, then you’ll find your huckleberry at this park. Due to unique soil and climatic conditions, the native plants here can’t be found anywhere else in the East Bay. Even better? Huckleberry has blossoming plants year-round (many of which are labeled with names and facts), so you don’t have to wait until spring to cash in on the goods. This trail is short and sweet, but it’s also very narrow, so you’re probably going to keep your mask on at all times, as there’s often no way to pass without coming within six feet of each other. You’re also going to want to go to town with the bug spray before you set out. 

Big C Hike

Distance: 1.25 miles
Trailhead: It's poorly marked, but find the parking lot behind Foothill (off of Cyclotron Road) and go to the very end of the lot and make a U-turn at the only uphill path (near the southeast corner). 
This is actually a mildly strenuous hike since you gain about 1,000 feet of elevation, but the payoff is 1) you get to see THE ENTIRE BAY AREA, literally, North Bay, SF, all of the East Bay, and 2) you'll get to see UC Berkeley's Big C up close and personal, which the charter for the school is buried underneath. Also a cool side stop on the way: There's a trail split mid-way up and if you go right it'll take you out to Tightwad Hill where students/alums without game tickets get a not-bad view of Cal football in action right next to the victory cannon. Oh, and there's a swing!

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Annie Crawford is a freelance writer living in Oakland, CA. Follow her @ReinaAnnie.

Daisy Barringer is a SF-based writer who has never appreciated all of the Bay Area’s hikes as much as she does right now. Follow her on Instagram @daisysf to see where she goes next.
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