San Francisco is a bustling city with a lot of interesting things to do and even though most people visit to see the legendary Golden Gate Bridge, the iconic Pier 39, and the notorious Alcatraz Island, San Francisco hides a lot of exciting gems beyond the main tourist attractions. Many people don’t know this but San Francisco is actually a metropolis zig-zagged by hiking trails. There are a lot of exciting hiking trails in San Francisco dotted with pristine natural landscapes minutes away from the city. Whether you are highly-experienced or a beginner backpacker, there are trails suitable for every adventure lover. We divided them into three categories (easy, moderate, and challenging) and decided to dedicate this article to the best San Francisco hiking trails.
Easy Hiking Trails
15. Presidio Trails
Covering an area of 1,500 acres at the northern tip of the city famous for the breath-taking views of Golden Gate Bridge, Presidio Park is one of the most beautiful parts of San Francisco. The park covers six easy hiking trails, including the California Coastal Trail, the Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail, the Presidio Promenade, the Bay Trail, the Bay Area Ridge Trail, Batteries to Bluff Trail, and the Park Trail. All of these trails feature gentle slopes, green forests, and mesmerizing views of the bay and the Pacific Ocean. So, whichever you choose, you probably won’t regret it.
14. Twin Peaks & Mount Sutro
Twin Peaks is undoubtedly one of the most famous trails in San Francisco and one that has been featured in a lot of Hollywood movies. It’s also the second tallest point within the city limits. The trail is 0.7 miles long (around 1 km), it’s near downtown and offers some beautiful 360 views of Downtown, Alcatraz, and Golden Gate Bridge.
And if you’re looking for something more challenging, Twin Peaks also happens to be a starting point for getting to the forested slopes of Mount Sutro. The trail leading to the mountain (277 meters height) is 4 miles long, it’s relatively easy, and overlooks the Bay Area.
13. Lands End Trail
Located southwest of Presidio Park, the Lands End Coastal Trail finishes with one of the most dramatic sights of the Bay. Hanging at the edge of the continent, Lands End culminates with the Labyrinth; a creation of a stone outline that follows the classic seven-circuit Chartres labyrinth. Combine this with the dramatic ocean views and you get one of San Francisco’s best-kept secrets. If you intend to visit, try to go on a weekday; this place is one of the favorite weekend getaway places for locals.
12. Mount Davidson
Sitting at 927 feet (282 meters), Mount Davidson is the tallest point within the city’s limits. An impressive feat for a city with close to 50 hills. The trail is 1.5 miles long and features grassy expanses and panoramic views of nearby San Bruno Mountain, Twin Peaks, and Downtown. At the top, you’ll also see Mt. Davidson’s signature 103-foot-tall cross that commemorates the Armenian Genocide by the Ottoman Empire.
11. Marin Headlands
The Marin Headlands is one of the best easy hiking trails in San Francisco. There are several trails that lead to the Headlands with Rodeo Lagoon Trail and Point Bonita Trail being the most popular ones. The former one starts at the headlands and is a picturesque loop around the lagoon while the latter one starts at Battery Mendel and has beautiful views of Golden Gate, Mount Sutro, and the ocean.
Moderate Hiking Trails
10. Tomales Point Trail, Point Reyes
Tomales Point is 10 miles-long (15 kilometers) heavily-trafficked trail that stretches through the greenest and most beautiful parts of Port Reyes, around 40 miles away from San Francisco. The trail is rated as moderate and offers rare opportunities for wildlife encounters, including elks, coyotes, foxes, pumas, and of course, the northern elephant seals.
9. Angel Island State Park
A lot of visitors surprisingly don’t know about Angel Island but this is the largest natural island in the Bay. It’s also home to one of the most pristine hiking trails in San Francisco. A large part of the island is covered by the Angel State Park, only accessible by public ferries or private boats. The park has several trekking paths that lead to the 788-foot-tall summit of Mount Livermore, which also happens to be the tallest natural point of Angel Island.
8. Redwood Creek Trail
North of the above-mentioned Marin Headlands, Muir Woods National Monument is one of North America’s most stunning examples of old-growth coastal redwoods with trees over 200 feet tall. The woods are also home to one of the most beautiful hiking trails near San Francisco. The Redwood Creek Trail is a dirt trail that traverses both sides of the creek and leads up the canyon walls with plenty of vantage points of the spectacular, giant forest. If you plan to take this trail and drive to the monument with your own car, keep in mind that you have to book your parking spot ahead of time because the monument has limited parking spots.
7. Summit Loop, San Bruno Mountain State and County Park
Lying close to the southern limits of San Francisco, San Bruno Mountain is a peaceful getaway surrounded by close to 3,000 acres of green parkland. This makes San Bruno one of the best picnic spots in San Francisco’s surrounding but that’s not all this park is famous for. San Bruno is also home to numerous trails with the Summit Loop being the most popular one. The trail is only 2.5 miles (4km) long but it’s quite steep and leads to the top of the mountain (1,314 feet above sea level). The top offers arguably the most complete view of the entire San Francisco Bay.
6. Cataract Falls Trail
Nicknamed “one of the best-kept secrets of the Smoky Mountains”, the Cataract Falls Trail is another route that passes through the redwoods of Muir Woods. The trek stretches across 4 miles and features seven beautiful waterfalls ranging in height from 30 to 60 feet. The trek isn’t very long and is easy enough to take your kids but also hard enough to give you a nice workout. It starts at the visitors’ center, leads through a paved path that gradually turns to gravel, as it passes through dense vegetation and the pristine Fighting Creek.
The best part about the Cataract Falls trail is that it’s only 20 miles away from San Francisco and two miles away from downtown Gatlinburg but it feels like it’s miles away from civilization.
5. Alamere Falls (Coast Trail)
If you like treks that lead towards waterfalls, you’ll surely love the Alamere Falls trail. This trail is located around 30 miles away from San Francisco and it’s 13 miles long (round-trip). The elevation gain is not very high (only 367 meters) but the mere length of the trail is enough to exhaust even the fittest people. To get to Alamere Falls, the final point of the trek, you’d have to follow the Coast Trail starting at the Palomarin Trailhead.
Challenging Hiking Trails
4. Montara Mountain
Located next to the San Pedro County Park, the Montara Mountain trail is a 7-miles long trail that leads to Montara Mountain. The top is 1898-feet-tall and it’s also one of the Bay’s most spectacular natural viewpoints. The trail passes across Pacifica and leads up the coast towards Marin. At the summit, visitors are welcomed by the 23,000-acre Crystal Springs Watershed and scenic views of Mount Diablo.
And speaking of Mount Diablo…
3. Diablo Summit
When speaking of challenging hiking trails near San Francisco, we just have to mention the Diablo Summit. Located in Mount Diablo State Park, this is one of the most scenic trekking routes in the Bay Area. The trail leads through the East Bay and Michell Canyon towards the summit from where you can enjoy some of the most dynamic landscapes in the region. With a length of only 8 miles but 3,500 feet of elevation gain, the Diablo Summit trail is one of the most challenging treks in this part of California.
2. Dipsea Trail
Starting at Old Mill Park, the 10-miles-long Dipsea Trail is the perfect place for hiking enthusiasts looking for a challenging trail. The trail is famous for the beautiful stretches of wildflowers people encounter while climbing up, for the beautiful nature, and the countless bird-watching opportunities the region offers.
1. Berry Creek Falls Trail
Berry Creek Falls is another challenging trail that crosses through the ancient redwoods of Silicon Valley. This trail starts at the concurrency with Skyline To The Sea Trail near the park headquarters and stretches across 13 miles, covering bubbling creeks for a large portion of the route. The highlight of the trail is Berry Creek Falls; a beautiful 65-foot-tall waterfall that appears like a mirage among the giant trees and a perfect place for a picnic.
If you plan to walk the Berry Creek Falls Trail, don’t forget to bring some snacks as this is one of the longest routes in the area.
(Bonus) Black Mountain
Not to be confused with Black Mountain in Arizona, the Black Mountain Trail (Palo Alto) is one of the most challenging hiking trails near San Francisco. It’s 10 miles long, has an elevation gain of 2,290 feet, and an average grade of climb of 467 feet per mile. The trail is located only 30 miles away from South San Francisco and is most commonly done as an out-and-back trek due to its strenuousness. The first mile of the trek that follows the Rhus Ridge Trail is one of the steepest sections in this part of California but don’t worry; the rest of the trek is a lot easier. After reaching the ridge, the trail transforms in pristine, shaded singletrack that culminates with some excellent views of the South Bay and the Santa Cruz Mountains.
Helpful Resources For Visiting San Francisco
For the cheapest flights to SF, check out Air France’s Discover the World at a low price program. You can save as much as 25% on your flight.
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Finally, it’s your turn- did you like this list of the best hiking trails near San Francisco? Did you visit any of them and if no, which one would you visit first? Let us know in the comments!
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