Skyline Wilderness Park

Napa to Suscol Ridge via Skyline Wilderness on the Ridge Trail

The Bay Area Ridge Trail at Skyline Wilderness Park begins with a difficult one-mile climb through an oak-studded hillside with views of the city of Napa and neighboring vineyards. The trail continues along canyon highlands and above Lake Marie to Suscol Ridge. The view from the ridge includes vineyards, Suisin and San Pablo bays, the Carquinez Strait, and mountain peaks in all directions. On a clear day, we were told, you can see the Golden Gate Bridge.

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Vallejo-Benicia Buffer

A Tromp across the Vallejo Highlands on the Ridge Trail

This suburban segment of the Bay Area Ridge Trail extends south from Blue Rock Springs Park to the Benicia State Recreation Area. After tracking two miles of Vallejo boulevards, the trail climbs into the undeveloped highlands along the border with Benicia. The dusty, shadeless highlands include extensive views of Vallejo and San Pablo Bay to the west, and the Carquinez Strait to the south. The trail begins with a short hike up the desolate hill above Blue Rock Springs Park to a dead end at a gap in the Ridge Trail.

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Vallejo-Benicia Waterfront

Mimosas on the Ridge Trail at Benicia

The Bay Area Ridge Trail doesn’t offer many opportunities for a mid-hike mimosa. We found one at mile eight of the Vallejo-Benicia Waterfront hike along the Carquinez Strait. If we’d hiked in the opposite direction, we might not have finished. We found no mimosas when we returned six weeks later to cross the strait on the Benicia-Martinez Bridge.

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Jack London State Historic Park

A Ridge Trail Floral Spectacle at Jack London State Historic Park

The Bay Area Ridge Trail at Jack London State Historic Park begins with a two-mile hike up a connector trail. The connector traverses a wide service road that passes historic vineyards and buildings on parkland once owned by the early 20th century adventure author before climbing through a shady redwood forest. The actual Ridge Trail segment veers left up a forested single-track trail before breaking into open meadows with views of the mountains to the east.

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Hiking the Burn Scar at Bothe-Napa Valley State Park

The Bay Area Ridge Trail at Bothe-Napa Valley State Park parallels Ritchey Creek as it ascends steadily through the shade of mixed woodlands and redwood groves. The park’s redwoods – an unusual feature this far inland – and much of the forest in the upper elevations of the park was heavily damaged by the Glass Fire in October 2020. Watch out for poison oak.

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Moore Creek Park

A Wine Country Canyon at Moore Creek on the Ridge Trail

The Bay Area Ridge Trail at Moore Creek Park in Napa County ascends steadily up to a ridgeline through a rich mixed woodland and onto a grassy hillside with views of the multi-hued canyon canopy below and mountains to the west. At roughly the half way point, the trail drops steeply to the creek, where the footpath makes five water crossings as it rises and falls through the woods. The Ridge Trail segment ends at a rocky wide spot in the creek that’s perfect for a Wine Country picnic.

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Vista Angst at Pacific Union College on the Ridge Trail

The Bay Area Ridge Trail passes through the Pacific Union College Demonstration Forest at Angwin. The trail drops gently along an unpaved service road through a heavily thinned woodland for 1.5 miles before dipping sharply down a footpath that winds along a hillside. The trail offers tantalizing glimpses of an unrealized view.

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Lynch Canyon Open Space

Cranky Cattle in the Mist above Lynch Canyon on the Ridge Trail

The Bay Area Ridge Trail at Lynch Canyon Open Space Park begins on a farm road along Lynch Creek before climbing through oak-studded pastures to rocky hilltops with views of the Napa Sonoma Marsh, San Pablo Bay, Mount Tamalpais and Mount Diablo. Benches and picnic tables are placed at regular intervals along the trail. Morning fog obscured the views on the day we hiked.

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Ridge Trail by Reservation at San Francisco Peninsula Watershed

The Bay Area Ridge Trail crosses the San Francisco Peninsula Watershed on the Fifield-Cahill Trail between locked gates at Sweeney Ridge and Skylawn Memorial Park. A short section also passes through the cemetery itself. Entering from Sweeny Ridge, the watershed trail undulates past coastal chaparral with views of The Peninsula, San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean before reaching a forest of Douglas fir. The watershed includes three reservoirs: San Andreas Lake, Crystal Springs and Pilarcitos.

Watershed hikes and bicycle rides require reservations with the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission and are led by volunteer trail leaders. Book a reservation here.

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Mount Burdell Open Space Preserve

A Cobblestone Legacy at Mount Burdell on the Ridge Trail

The Bay Area Ridge Trail at Mount Burdell Open Space Preserve rises steadily from San Marin High School in Novato through bucolic cow pastures and past giant oak trees. About a mile from the peak, the trail levels off with a sweeping view of the preserve and surrounding mountains before rising steeply on the aptly named Cobblestone Trail to the summit. Stone walls at the apex were built by Chinese immigrants who quarried cobblestones used to pave the streets of San Francisco in the late 19th century.

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Madrone and Manzanita at Indian Tree Preserve on the Ridge Trail

The Bay Area Ridge Trail at Novato climbs south from the Vineyard Road trailhead through Indian Tree Preserve until it ends abruptly at a hillside trail junction. The forested segment is most notable for its many stands of madrone trees and manzanita bushes. Traveling north from Vineyard Road, the Ridge Trail passes through the Verissimo Hills and Little Mountain preserves to Novato’s O’Hair Park, with views of Stafford Lake, the Indian Valley Golf Club and the back yards of homes adjacent to the trail.

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A Toe-Stubber at San Geronimo Ridge on the Ridge Trail

The Bay Area Ridge Trail from White Hill Preserve to Samuel P. Taylor State Park travels southwest from Castro Valley up a moderate grade through grassy meadows and groves of mixed trees. The trail flattens out at the Gary Giacomini Preserve and becomes incredibly rocky as it reaches stands of pygmy cypress that grow in the thin serpentine soil along San Geronimo Ridge. The rocky surface finally yields as the trail drops steeply into a canyon filled with ferns and redwoods before leveling off at the state park, paralleling San Geronimo Creek for the final two miles.

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View of San Francisco, Loma Alta Open Space Preserve

Paying it Forward at Loma Alta on the Ridge Trail

The Bay Area Ridge Trail through Loma Alta Open Space Preserve climbs two miles and 1,000 feet up to a grassy hilltop before descending a similar number of miles and feet to the opposite trail head. On a clear day, the view from the peak includes San Pablo Bay, Mount Diablo and the San Francisco skyline.

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Bolinas Ridge

Atop Bolinas Ridge on the Bay Area Ridge Trail

The Bay Area Ridge Trail at Bolinas Ridge begins in a shady hilltop forest and ends in a canyon filled with redwoods at Samuel P. Taylor State Park. A plateau of grassy pastureland with views of the Point Reyes Peninsula and Tomales Bay lies in between. The trail undulates gently for the first five miles before gradually descending into the state park.

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Mount Madonna

Southbound to Mount Madonna on the Ridge Trail

Mount Madonna County Park currently is home to the southern-most section of the Bay Area Ridge Trail. The 3.4-mile segment begins at Blackhawk Creek with a gentle climb through a mixed woodland before soaring more than 1,000 feet in just two miles. The trail then levels off for a winding final mile through a shady redwood forest.

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A Hillside Ridge Trail Hike above Saratoga

The Bay Area Ridge Trail follows the path of the John Nicholas Trail at Sanborn County Park. The wooded trail on a hillside above Saratoga drops 1,200 feet from Skyline Drive to Lake Ranch Reservoir. The Ridge Trail portion of the route ends at the reservoir. The nicely crafted footpath opened in 2014. It still holds a hint of new trail smell.

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Trouble in Napa’s Palisades on the Ridge Trail

The Bay Area Ridge Trail at Robert Louis Stevenson State Park traverses rugged volcanic terrain as it travels southeast from the Mount St. Helena Trailhead across the Table Rock, Palisades and Lower Oat Mine trails. Table Rock includes a pair of natural amphitheaters and a manmade labyrinth. The Palisades Trail runs along the edge of a ridgeline with an often steep slope to one side. From there, the rocky Lower Oat Mine Trail plunges downhill to the edge of Calistoga. This is a difficult trail. Only one of us completed it.

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San Jose to Morgan Hill via Coyote Creek on the Ridge Trail

The Bay Area Ridge Trail parallels more than 20 miles of riverbed on the Coyote Creek Parkway. The northern half of the flat, paved trail is a shady stretch of green that meanders through San Jose neighborhoods and local parks. The southern half begins at the wetlands adjacent to Metcalf Park before transforming into a more open and rural hike through riparian habitat between San Jose and Morgan Hill.

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Rain Greens Up the Ridge Trail at Garin Regional Park

The Bay Area Ridge Trail bobs and weaves through neighborhoods, past schools and beneath freeways on its 2.6-mile journey south from Cull Canyon Regional Recreation Area through Don Castro Regional Recreation Area to Five Canyons Parkway. The trail subsequently rises into the rolling hills above Hayward at Five Canyons Open Space and Garin Regional Park, crossing a golf course before ending abruptly seven miles later high on a ridge. The ensuing three-mile downhill serpentine on unaffiliated trails to the park entrance in Hayward includes nice views of San Francisco Bay and an optional scary steep final descent.

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