Hiking in Bay Area, California

Region in California, United States

The region north of San Francisco offers some of California’s best hiking and nature areas, with plenty of trails for a perfect escape from the city. From the wild and windy cliffs of Point Reyes, to peaceful redwood forests and tranquil lagoons, North Bay offers wonderful variety. With rugged coastline, tall peaks and lush valleys, there are trails here to suit everyone. Come and discover the beauty of the Bay Area!

The rugged wilds of North Bay are the ideal place for thrilling day hikes just a stone’s throw from the major cities of San Francisco, Berkeley and Oakland. Head north on Highway 101 and you’ll find plenty of places to explore in Marin and Sonoma counties. The coastline here is the star attraction – endless miles of stunning cliffs and dramatic coastal trails packed with wonderful wildlife.

Further inland, the scenery changes once again, with towering redwood forests, national reserves packed with flowering rhododendrons, and wetlands teeming with incredible bird life. Many of the hiking trails here are easy to follow and suitable for kids, with little elevation gain. If, however, you’re looking for more of a challenge, the iconic Mount Tamalpais will give your legs a good workout! Wherever you choose, you can be sure of one thing – you’ll never be far from a great restaurant where you can kick back with a glass of California’s excellent local wine.

If you’re heading for the Golden State, don’t miss the opportunity to do a little hiking in North Bay. To give you some ideas for your next adventure, we’ve put together a list of our favorite hikes in North Bay. The only problem you’ll have is choosing where to go!

Top 10 Hikes In North Bay

The North Bay area is packed full of fun hiking trails in some of California’s prettiest coastal scenery. This is the place to come for long coastal walks, heading down to rocky beaches where seals play in the waters of the Pacific, or for pleasant wetland strolls with a tremendous variety of birdlife. Many of these hikes are perfect for families or those looking for easy, low-key trails. However, North Bay is also a great place for those looking for something a little more strenuous, with plenty of long hikes that offer spectacular views over the coast and hillsides. This is San Francisco’s outdoor playground, and it offers a little something for everyone.

  • Hill 88 Loop Hike: The Hill 88 Loop Hike is a wonderful moderate hike in the North Bay area, perfect for dog lovers! The route passes along sections of the Miwok Trail, the Wolf Ridge Trail and the Coastal Trail, before climbing to the top of Hill 88 for a magnificent vista. Expect wonderful views, plenty of variety and lots of fun on this classic North Bay hike.
  • Abbott’s Lagoon Trail Hike: This easy, flat hike is perfect for beach lovers and bird enthusiasts alike! The trail passes through a beautiful lagoon area that is simply teeming with wildlife, with many different bird species. Bring your binoculars and look out for otters, which often use the lagoon to raise their newborn pups. At the end of the trail you’ll arrive at a peaceful beach with some lovely views – the perfect easy hike in North Bay.
  • Mount Tamalpais Pantoll Loop Hike: This hike is simply gorgeous, passing through old-growth redwood forests, and past some pretty mini waterfalls. The trail winds along a creek lined with ferns, offering fabulous views, especially over the expansive meadows. There are plenty of stairs and steep sections on this hike, but the diversity of the scenery will quickly help you forget your tired legs!
  • Kruse Rhododendron State Natural Reserve Hike: Aim to complete this hike between April and early June, when you’ll have the best chance of seeing the eponymous rhododendrons in bloom. The trail passes through the park where you’ll find a lush forest clothed in fragrant lichen and mosses. This beautiful spot showcases California’s fantastic biodiversity at its very best.
  • Salt Point Trail Hike: Looking for a route that will allow you to experience the beauty of the North Bay coastline? The Salt Point Trail shows off the California littoral at its best, winding along a narrow coastal path all the way to Stump Beach Cove, where you may catch a glimpse of seals playing in the water. This untouched coastline is extremely pretty, and this easy hike is an excellent way to explore the small coves and cliffs that line the Pacific.
  • China Camp Loop Hike: If you’re looking for a slightly more challenging hike in North Bay, this lovely and varied trail has plenty to offer. The route gains elevation gradually along the way before dropping steeply at the end, and you’ll enjoy magnificent views throughout the day. It’s a fairly long hike, so be sure to bring plenty of water, and keep an eye out for deer grazing in the ravines and on the hills.
  • Kirby Cove Hike: The hike to Kirby Cove offers some of the best scenery in the North Bay area, including a wonderful view of the San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge! The route passes by plenty of sites of historical interest, including a historic battery that was constructed to defend San Francisco in the early 20th century. The views along the way are exceptional, and the beach at Kirby Cove is an excellent place for a picnic.
  • Olompali State Historical Park Loop Hike: Olompali State Park is home to the oldest surviving house north of San Francisco Bay, built in 1776 by the chief of the Olompoli band of the Coast Miwok Tribe. This region has been a settlement of the Olompoli since around 500 CE, and is rich in Native American history. This hike is a wonderful way to learn a little more about this important settlement and the rich heritage of the local area, passing along the Miwok Trail, which offers plenty of opportunities for wildlife spotting.
  • Tomales Point Trail Hike: The Tomales Point hike in Marin County is an incredible option for wildlife lovers, as it passes through a Tule Elk Preserve. The trail skirts the coastline all the way to Tomales Point, offering wonderful ocean views (provided the weather isn’t too foggy!). It’s definitely worth making the 400 m-detour to McClure’s beach from Pierce Point Range, which is an excellent picnic spot.
  • Shollenberger Park Hike: Shollenberger Park is perfect for those in search of a little nature, but who don’t have time to travel all the way out to the coast. The park has 165 acres of wetland, rich in many different bird species and other animals. This 3.2 km-loop hike is ideal if you’re short on time, and will make you feel as though you are worlds away from the city. Avoid lunchtime, as it can get very busy.

When Is The Best Time To Hike In North Bay?

The Bay Area is a year-round hiking destination, and you’ll find accessible trails in all seasons. However, North Bay is notorious for its varied and unpredictable weather, meaning that whatever time of year you visit, you should be prepared for a variety of weather conditions! The region boasts many different microclimates, meaning that you may not experience the same conditions at the trailhead as you find later on in your hike.

That said, we love hiking in North Bay in the autumn, when the beautiful forests are at their finest, seeing out the summer in a final blaze of color. Spring can be a wonderful time for hiking in many areas, although you should expect plenty of fog around San Francisco and Marin County. Summer is typically dry, although there’s always a chance of fog and rain in some areas, and the coastal breeze ensures that things don’t get uncomfortably hot for hiking.

Other Outdoor Activities In North Bay

North Bay is San Francisco’s outdoor playground, and in addition to hiking, you’ll find plenty of other fun outdoor activities in North Bay. If you’re a cycling aficionado, this area is perfect, with miles of mountain biking and road biking trails to suit all fitness and ability levels. It’s also a wonderful place for horse riding, sea kayaking, sailing, wild swimming, canoeing, wildlife watching, and camping out under the stars. This beautiful, diverse region has a remarkable range of places to explore, meaning that you’re sure to find something that will suit your interests.

How To Plan A Trip To North Bay

If you’ve set your sights on the Bay Area for your next outdoor adventure, make sure you check out our guide to planning a trip to North Bay. We’ve gathered together insider tips on everything from where to stay, when to visit, and lots of fun activities that you shouldn’t miss while you’re in the area. You’ll also find lists of our favorite hikes, with something to suit all ages and abilities. Escape the city and enjoy one of California’s loveliest regions!

Frequently-Asked-Questions About North Bay

Can you see whales in the North Bay?

Yes. The best time for whale watching on the coast of North Bay is during April and early May. The Sonoma Coast and Point Reyes is the best place to spot whales with young calves at this time of the year.

Do you need to book in advance for Muir Woods?

Muir Woods is a protected area, and you need to book in advance to visit. Visitors can take the shuttle bus from the highway to avoid congestion on the road to the woods.

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Best Hikes in North Bay

Open details for Hill 88 Loop

Hill 88 Loop

Moderate
8.6 km
404 m
2.5-3.5h

Hill 88 Loop, located in the Golden Gate Recreation Area in Marin County, is an excellent choice for dog lovers who wish to take their four-legged friends on hiking adventures near the beach. This is a great trail with amazing views, but if you do not like dogs be sure to avoid the busy times of day!

User Ratings
Overall Rating
9.8
Technical Difficulty
Easy (Circle)
Suitable for beginners, families, young children, and those looking for a casual adventure.
Physical Difficulty
Easy (Circle)
Suitable for beginners, families, young children, and those looking for a casual adventure.
Open details for Salt Point Trail

Salt Point Trail

Easy
4.9 km
21 m
1-1.5h

The Salt Point Trail a great way to experience the serenity of the untouched coastline with very little elevation change. This hike is narrow at times but reveals great views throughout.

User Ratings
Overall Rating
9.7
Technical Difficulty
Easy (Circle)
Suitable for beginners, families, young children, and those looking for a casual adventure.
Physical Difficulty
Easy (Circle)
Suitable for beginners, families, young children, and those looking for a casual adventure.
Open details for Kirby Cove

Kirby Cove

Easy
4.4 km
142 m
1-1.5h

The Kirby Cove trail is highly traveled by tourists and for good reason. This hike has some of the best views in the Bay Area, with outstanding views of the Golden Gate Bridge. The Kirby Cove Trail also has a rocky shore beach at the halfway point that is excellent for picnics.

User Ratings
Overall Rating
9.7
Technical Difficulty
Easy (Circle)
Suitable for beginners, families, young children, and those looking for a casual adventure.
Physical Difficulty
Easy (Circle)
Suitable for beginners, families, young children, and those looking for a casual adventure.
Open details for Tomales Point Trail, Marin County

Tomales Point Trail, Marin County

Hard
15.4 km
309 m
3.5-5h

The Tomales Point hike is located in the Point Reyes National Seashore, sandwiched between Tomales Bay and the Pacific Ocean. This hike is a unique experience with it being a Tule Elk Preserve and often quite foggy. When not foggy, the views are great, with the views from Tomales Point itself spectacular!

User Ratings
Overall Rating
9.9
Technical Difficulty
Easy (Circle)
Suitable for beginners, families, young children, and those looking for a casual adventure.
Physical Difficulty
Intermediate (Square)
Suitable for intermediates who are ready for a little bit more adventure.
Open details for Abbotts Lagoon Trail

Abbotts Lagoon Trail

Very Easy
5.1 km
17 m
1-1.5h

Abbotts Lagoon Trail is a fantastic nature walk for bird lovers and beach enthusiasts! After walking a flat trail, you can continue to walk along the pristine beach for as far as you’d like.

User Ratings
Overall Rating
9.9
Technical Difficulty
Easy (Circle)
Suitable for beginners, families, young children, and those looking for a casual adventure.
Physical Difficulty
Easy (Circle)
Suitable for beginners, families, young children, and those looking for a casual adventure.
Open details for Mt. Tamalpais Pantoll Loop

Mt. Tamalpais Pantoll Loop

Moderate
9.2 km
441 m
3-4h

The Mt Tamalpais Pantoll Loop hike takes you through old growth redwood groves, windy trails following the creek, a few mini waterfalls, many species of ferns and lots of gorgeous views. This trail often has lots of banana slugs hiding in the shade along the trail.

User Ratings
Overall Rating
9.8
Technical Difficulty
Easy (Circle)
Suitable for beginners, families, young children, and those looking for a casual adventure.
Physical Difficulty
Easy (Circle)
Suitable for beginners, families, young children, and those looking for a casual adventure.
Open details for China Camp Loop

China Camp Loop

Hard
16.8 km
410 m
4-6h

The China Camp Loop hike offers many great views of all of the surrounding areas including the San Rafael/Richmond Bridge. This hike has gradual elevation gain and then steep loss at the end.

User Ratings
Overall Rating
9.8
Technical Difficulty
Easy (Circle)
Suitable for beginners, families, young children, and those looking for a casual adventure.
Physical Difficulty
Intermediate (Square)
Suitable for intermediates who are ready for a little bit more adventure.
Open details for Shollenberger Park

Shollenberger Park

Very Easy
6.9 km
13 m
1.5-2h

A walk in Shollenberger Park is great for people who want to get out in nature but don’t have the time to venture out to a coastal hike. This hike is abundant in bird species and natural waterways which all lead to the peaceful ambiance of the park.

User Ratings
Overall Rating
10.0
Technical Difficulty
Easy (Circle)
Suitable for beginners, families, young children, and those looking for a casual adventure.
Physical Difficulty
Easy (Circle)
Suitable for beginners, families, young children, and those looking for a casual adventure.
Open details for Olompali State Historical Park Loop

Olompali State Historical Park Loop

Easy
5.3 km
165 m
1.5-2h

The Olompali State Park Loop is a short and sweet way to get a taste of the plants and animals that are in the area. Many facts can be learned by exploring all areas of the Olompali Park, including the self-guided interpretive signs which tell stories of the indigenous people who used to live in the area.

User Ratings
Overall Rating
9.9
Technical Difficulty
Easy (Circle)
Suitable for beginners, families, young children, and those looking for a casual adventure.
Physical Difficulty
Easy (Circle)
Suitable for beginners, families, young children, and those looking for a casual adventure.
Open details for Kruse Rhododendron State Natural Reserve

Kruse Rhododendron State Natural Reserve

Very Easy
3.4 km
67 m
1h

A hike at Kruse Rhododendron State National Reserve is full of rhododendrons in bloom if you go between April and early-June. There are typically lots of mushrooms and fungus growing on the downed trees in the preserve. If you are someone who is excited about botanical diversity this hike is amazing!

User Ratings
Overall Rating
9.7
Technical Difficulty
Easy (Circle)
Suitable for beginners, families, young children, and those looking for a casual adventure.
Physical Difficulty
Easy (Circle)
Suitable for beginners, families, young children, and those looking for a casual adventure.

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Open details for Planning A Trip to San Francisco’s North Bay

Planning A Trip to San Francisco’s North Bay

By Richard Campbell
January 6th, 2019
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