9 Best Hiking Trails in the San Francisco Bay Area

In a region as lush as the Bay Area, you don’t have to venture far to find parks and hiking trails. A quick drive in any direction from San Francisco will land you at any one of the many national and state parks scattered across California.

With an abundance of coastal trails, wooded hikes, and mountainous ascents, there is no shortage of Sunday Funday activities outside of the City. To help fuel your thirst for wanderlust and Instagram-worthy pictures, here are 9 of our favorite hikes around the Bay Area.

From short meandering coastal hikes to daunting mountain climbs, trail blaze your way through some of the most spectacular trails nature has to offer.

San Francisco Hiking Trails

Lands End Hiking Trail. Photo: Nathania Johnson, Flickr, Creative Commons.
Lands End Hiking Trail. Photo: Nathania Johnson, Flickr. Creative Commons.

Lands End
A meandering scenic coastal trail boasting panoramic views of the Golden Gate and Marin Headlands. This primarily dirt trail, with segments involving stairs, spans from the Lands End Lookout to El Camino Del Mar in the affluent Sea Cliff Neighborhood. Also be sure to check out the Sutro Bath Ruins at the Lands End Lookout Trailhead.    
Difficulty: Easy
Distance: 1.5 Miles One Way
Hiking Time: .5 – 1 Hour
Attractions: Shipwrecks, Eagle’s Point Labyrinth, Sutro Bath Ruins 

Peninsula Hiking Trails

View from Sweeney Ridge. Photo: Miguel Vieira, Flickr, Creative Commons.
View from Sweeney Ridge. Photo: Miguel Vieira, Flickr. Creative Commons.

Sweeney Ridge
A steady 600 foot hill climb with one short steep section leading to the Ridgeline atop the mountain. The view from the Ridgeline includes panoramic views of San Francisco, Pacifica, and Peninsula. A great hike all year round, though a common fog presence may obstruct views.  
Difficulty: Easy
Distance: 3 Miles One Way
Hiking Time: 1.25 Hours   
Attractions: Nike Missile Site, Portola Discovery Site, Wild Flowers      

South City Sign Hill. Photo: Taro the Shiba Inu, Wikimedia, Creative Commons.
South City Sign Hill. Photo: Taro the Shiba Inu, Wikimedia, Creative Commons.

South City Sign Hill Park
If you’ve ever driven along Interstate 280 or US Highway 101, chances are you’ve seen the “South San Francisco The Industrial City” letters spread out on the face of a mountain. Hikers are able to take a short out-and-back stroll or looped hike to the letters to take in views of South City.
Difficulty: Easy
Distance: 1.5 Miles One Way
Hiking Time: .5 – 1 Hour
Attractions: South San Francisco Letters

North Bay / Marin County Hiking Trails

Morning hikers in Muir Woods. Photo: Jason Toff, Flickr, Creative Commons.
Morning hikers in Muir Woods. Photo: Jason Toff, Flickr. Creative Commons.

Mountain Home Trailhead to Muir Woods
Take a hike along this serene trail shaded by redwoods and catch a glimpse of all the residences of the park. With a seemingly endless barrage of stairs, this trail is sure to be a great work out. Pets are not allowed in Muir Woods, and there is little to no cell phone reception in the park. Parking is extremely limited, so arrive early and try to carpool if you’re visiting with a large group.       
Difficulty: Easy
Distance: 4.7 Mile Loop
Hiking Time: 3 Hours
Attractions: Redwoods, Wildlife

Cataract Falls. Photo: Miguel Vieira, Flickr, Creative Commons.
Cataract Falls. Photo: Miguel Vieira, Flickr. Creative Commons.

Cataract Falls Trail Loop
One of the most popular waterfalls in Marin County, Cataract Falls is embedded within a woodsy canyon. This trail has an array of obstacles from various elevation changes to steep, slippery steps. This hike tends to be harsh when wet, so proceed with extreme caution. Though the creek along the trail may be tempting to jump into, it does feed into domestic water supply, so please be considerate and keep yourselves and your pets out of the water.     
Difficulty: Moderate
Distance: 7.7 Mile Loop
Hiking Time: 4 – 5 Hours
Attractions: Waterfalls  

Alamere Falls. Photo: Marc Tarlock, Flickr, Creative Commons.
Alamere Falls. Photo: Marc Tarlock, Flickr. Creative Commons.

Palomarin Trailhead to Alamere Falls
An endurance test in its own right, the trail to Alamere Fall immerses hikers in nature with an array of wildlife from flowers to aviary residents like Red-tailed hawks. Bring plenty of water, snacks, and a pair of binoculars. There’s a strong presence of poison oak along the trail, so long pants are strongly recommended. Dogs are not allowed on the trail.   
Difficulty: Moderate – Hard  
Distance: 3.75 Miles One Way
Hiking Time: 2 – 2.5 Hours
Attractions: Alamere Falls, Views of the Farallones

Picture taken last June of the Famous Ladder next to the dried up stream along Steep Ravine Trail. Photo: ih, Flickr, Creative Commons.
Picture taken last June of the Famous Ladder next to the dried up stream along Steep Ravine Trail. Photo: ih, Flickr. Creative Commons.

Matt Davis Trailhead to Steep Ravine
Embark on a journey atop the Mount Tamalpais Summit from Stinson Beach, trek past waterfalls, cross wooden bridges, and climb ladders through an enchanted forest of towering redwoods, Douglas Firs and Oaks. The rigor of this trail will vary depending on your physical abilities. 
Difficulty: Moderate – Hard
Distance: 7.3 Mile Loop
Hiking Time: 4 Hours
Attractions: Waterfalls, Wooden Bridges, Famous Ladder

East Bay Hiking Trails

View from atop Strawberry Canyon. Photo: Wassim Khemici, 49miles.com.
View from atop Strawberry Canyon. Photo: Wassim Khemici, 49Miles.com.

Strawberry Canyon Fire Trail
A great place to catch sunsets over the Bay Area all year round, this pet friendly trail in Berkeley offers hikers panoramic views, shade from trees along the trail, and challenging steep grade segments.
Difficulty: Moderate – Hard 
Distance: 3.2 Miles One Way
Hiking Time: 1.5 – 2 Hours
Attractions: Views of the Bay Area

"Mission Peaker" pole atop Mission Peaks. Photo: Justin Wong, 49miles.com.
“Mission Peaker” pole atop Mission Peak Regional Park. Photo: Justin Wong, 49Miles.com.

Mission Peak Regional Park
Boasting views of the greater Bay Area, hundreds of enthusiastic hikers make the daunting 2000 foot ascent everyday to snap an Instagram worthy shot with the “Mission Peeker” Summit Pole. With steep grade segments, dirt trails, and minimal shelter from nature’s elements, be sure to dress in layers, wear comfortable shoes, bring snacks, sunscreen, and plenty of water. The hike is best done during the Spring when it’s neither too hot nor too cold.    
Difficulty: Moderate – Hard
Distance: 3 Miles One Way
Hiking Time: 1.5 – 2 Hours
Attractions: Cows, “Mission Peeker” Summit Pole