San Francisco is a lucky city; it has it all. World-renowned beauty, a bustling waterfront, some delightful bridges, a magnificent bay, historic architecture, dynamic art, vanguard music, and neighborhoods alive with global cultures. Did I mention the seafood?
One of the great treasures San Francisco can claim is the green space inside and outside the city. In San Francisco, you are never more than 15 minutes from a park. Outside the city, parks and public lands are less than an hour away. Take a look at a map; you’ll see San Francisco is hugged by green. Those are national, state, county, and city parks. San Francisco loves its green space.
I’ve selected three trails in three of my favorite parks.
The first park is the most significant green space in the City by the Bay. At San Francisco’s head, the Presidio of San Francisco greets everyone entering or leaving the city via the Golden Gate Bridge.
Park two is only 30 minutes past the Golden Gate. With a vista that can show the Farallons on a clear day, there are trails for all abilities at Mount Tamalpais State Park.
Park three is perhaps the best known of these beauties. Twenty minutes from the Golden Gate, over 550 acres protect, study, and maintain California’s grandest inhabitant: coastal redwoods. Meet some of the oldest locals at Muir Woods National Monument.
Pro Tip: Mid-week or just after holidays are good times to visit any of these locations.
Presidio Of San Francisco
The Presidio of San Francisco is located in the heart of the city. The former military post is now a 1,491-acre national park and a part of the Golden Gate National Recreational Area. The Presidio is home to more than 24 miles of trails exploring forests, sand dunes, cliffs, beaches, and the San Francisco Bay. Trails cover diverse landscapes and are rated easy to moderate with little or no elevation gain. Many trails are accessible to feet and wheels of all types.
1. Bay Area Ridge Trail
Length: 2.5 miles
The trail starts at Arguello Gate and ends at Golden Gate Bridge. The path hugs the north side of the golf course, meanders through the forest, includes three scenic overlooks, Spire (a 100-foot sculpture), and passes over the park’s highest point.
The 2.5-mile, 50-minute walk is rated easy to moderate. The asphalt and compacted dirt trail are used by feet and wheels of all types.
2. Goldsworthy In The Presidio — An Art Hike
Length: 3 miles
Andy Goldsworthy uses nature as his canvas and creates sculptural pieces that “fit” into the landscape. A celebrated Bay Area artist, Goldsworthy’s work in the Presidio may be seen while hiking through the forest, woodlands, and a stunning scenic overlook.
This 90-minute walk is along easy to moderate paved and forest pathways. I suggest you begin at Earth Wall. Then, follow the map‘s trail east and south to see Goldsworthy’s Presidio work.
3. Golden Gate Promenade Trail
Length: 4.3-mile loop
Whether your first trip to San Francisco or your 101st, The Promenade trail is not to be missed. Begin at Fort Point and stroll this outstanding trek along the San Francisco Bay Shoreline.
The loop hike is rated moderate. It takes about 90 minutes on foot and has an elevation gain of 423 feet. All of this trail is wheelchair, cycle, stroller, and kid-friendly.
More Presidio trails can be found on the Presidio Hiking and Biking page. Use the excellent map to plan your trip. It includes public transit information for getting to the Presidio and your chosen trail.
Mount Tamalpais State Park
Thirty minutes north of the Golden Gate Bridge, you’ll find Mount Tamalpais State Park. In the park, 60 miles of trails cover diverse terrains, flora, and fauna. Some of the area is wild and rugged. Don’t expect cell phone service here. If it exists at all, it will be sketchy. But unplugging is the best way to immerse in the natural world.
4. Verna Dunshee Trail And Plank Trail At Mount Tam East Peak
Length: 1.2-mile loop
The Verna Dunshee Trail loop trail is paved and leads to a viewing platform. Feet and wheels can maneuver this section of the path.
The Plank Trail is rocky dirt that ends at a closed fire outlook. Sturdy hiking shoes are best if you go to the fire outlook. Walking sticks are helpful when gaining or losing elevation.
The vistas are remarkable. Bring the binoculars and camera. The combined loop has an elevation gain of 285 feet. This easy/moderate-rated trail will take about 40 minutes on foot.
5. Dipsea Trail To Steep Ravine Trail Loop From Pantoll
Length: 4.5-mile loop
A fabulous Redwood Canyon is the reward for hiking this spectacular path. With an elevation gain of 1,000 feet, it meanders along and crosses creeks, climbs stairs, passes through the forest, and exposes magnificent ocean views.
The loop will take about 2.5-hours on foot. Unfortunately, it isn’t suitable for wheelchairs, strollers, or cycles.
6. Mount Tamalpais East Peak
Length: 0.6 miles
This short, rocky trail leads to Mount Tam East Peak Fire Lookout Station. The bay views are among the most spectacular in the state. Unfortunately, access to the old station is not allowed. Still, you can enjoy the scenery from below the old lookout base.
The fire lookout is 0.6 miles from the East Peak Parking Lot. There is an elevation gain of about 200 feet.
Here are a few more Mount Tam trails you will enjoy.
Muir Woods National Monument
Muir Woods National Monument has been federally protected since 1908. The 554-acre primeval forest is populated by some of the oldest living things on earth — old-growth coastal redwoods. The tallest of these ancient ones is 258 feet, and the oldest is at least 1,200 years old.
Your trip to San Francisco should include a day in Muir Woods. It’s a magnificent place to escape the buzz of the city and forest bathe among the redwoods.
7. Muir Main Trail
Length: 1.5 miles
This trail begins at the visitor center. Stop there first for info and a map. Then, you’ll follow Redwood Creek through the redwood forest along a stroller and wheelchair-accessible boardwalk. On foot, it will take about 30 minutes. The elevation gain is 45 feet but is gradual and easy to accomplish.
8. Fern Creek Loop
Length: 1.3 miles
Walk along Fern Creek through a fern canyon. The trail crosses the creek via a wooden bridge and loops back to the trailhead. This 1.3-mile trail is rated easy, with an elevation gain of 42 feet. This trail may be challenging to wheels in places
9. Fern Creek, Lost, And Canopy Trail Loop
Length: 3.1 miles
This trail is moderately challenging at 3.1 miles and an elevation gain of 616 feet. A collection of three trails, it is the perfect Muir Woods habitat sampler, taking you through a fern forest, redwood forest, and, best of all, above the canopy of the redwoods. This hike will take 1.5–2 hours. It is unsuitable for wheels and may not have cell phone coverage.
Muir Woods Trails range from short and easy to long and challenging. During rainy seasons, trails may be very wet. In the lower canyons, tracks may be flooded. Redwood forests make their own climate, with fog, mist, or rain being frequent events. Bring rain gear, and dress in layers.
What’s In Your Day Pack?
The hikes mentioned above are a mixture of environments. Urban trails will be occupied, and phone service will be available. Help is close at hand. Outside the city and in a forest, planning for minor injuries and the failure of modern communication devices will save loads of anxiety.
- Water: Extra points for a reusable bottle filled from a San Francisco tap. SF has excellent water.
- Snack: Anything from an energy bar to a full-blown picnic. Sit on a bench in the forest for an al fresco meal. You’ll have the forest birds as your background music.
- Hat: And a water-repellant hat is better.
- Bandana: One of the handiest pieces of fabric on earth. It will be used in hundreds of ways over time.
- “Stay dry” gear: A water-repellant jacket will be very handy.
- First aid kit: Even a few bandaids and alcohol wipes thrown into a baggie can be helpful. Take along any medications you need and a spare pair of glasses.
- Cell phone/camera: Make space for lots of new photos. Load your phone with a compass and a map app. Make sure GPS tracking is turned on.
- Map: In addition to your phone, have an old-school paper map, because your phone may not work
- Old school compass: Bring the kind you hold in your hand, because your phone may not work.
- A small trash bag: Pack it in, pack it out. Many California parks have removed trash containers to save the cost of removal and wildlife damage and mess.
Leave nothing but footprints, take nothing but photos and enduring memories when tracking these stunning hikes near San Francisco.