Living in Oakland, the different parks and wilderness areas around the Bay Area are my backyard. From California Oak ranchland to coastal redwood groves to the bluffs of Marin Country, there’s an incredible amount of variety within about 90 minutes of downtown Oakland, making for a wide variety of fun, daylong outings with ample time to get back home before it gets too dark. That said, the Bay Area isn’t home to the most exceptional scenery in the state, in my opinion, so visitors might consider other areas first.

Ohlone Wilderness Trail (Point-to-point, 26 miles, +7,200’)

Ohlone Regional Wilderness

  • Trailheads: Del Valle and Mission Peak

  • Driving time: 1 hour (Del Valle) / 40 minutes (Mission Peak)

  • Car shuttle time: 45 minutes

  • Permits: required for day or overnight use. Available online, in-person at any of the park visitor centers, or by phone or mail.

This is the classic East Bay 50k route (Caltopo claims slightly shorter, but I’ve heard it’s closer to 30 miles), it’s also among the most difficult in the Bay Area. Starting at Del Valle Trailhead, it crosses the California Oak woodlands of Sunol Regional Wilderness, summiting Alameda County’s highest publicly accessible peak, Rose Peak, then drops to the Sunol Visitor Center before climbing and descending Mission Peak to end in the outskirts of Fremont.

The Mission Peak trailhead is accessible from Warm Springs / South Fremont BART with a 2.3 mile hike. It’s a bit more difficult to get to Del Valle using public transportation, but I’ve read about people Ubering from Dublin Pleasanton BART.

More information: EBRPD, AllTrails

Briones Diablo Trail (Point-to-point, 30 miles, +6,000’)

Mount Diablo State Park

  • Trailheads: Round Valley and Howe Homestead Park

  • Driving time: 50 minutes (Round Valley) / 20 minutes (Howe Homestead Park)

  • Car shuttle time: 40 minutes

  • Extensions / modifications: The trail network at Mount Diablo is fairly extensive, so there are a number of ways to do a route like this. The variant I’ve posted is from Gurmeet Manku’s website.

This route traverses the ridges and valleys south of Mount Diablo. It connects a series of parks and preserves through California Oak country in the Diablo Foothills. The route starts just outside of Walnut Creek (although the start point can be changed) and ends at Round Valley. This is probably one of the less inspiring routes on this list.

More information: gurmeet.net

Bear Mountain (Loop, 30 miles, +7,000’)

Henry Coe State Park

  • Trailhead: Henry Coe Park Headquarters

  • Driving time: 1 hour 30 minutes

  • Permits: registration required for overnight use at park headquarters. Self registration is available if the visitor center is closed.

  • Extensions / modifications: The vast trail network in Henry Coe means there are endless possibilities for extending or modifying this route. Feel free to explore!

This is a classic west Henry Coe route connecting steep ridges with creek-bottomed valleys through Chaparral country. While you may see a few groups on this route, they’re likely to stay congregate around the visitor center, China Hole, and Mississippi Lake. This route includes a few really nice sections, specifically: the East Fork of Coyote Creek, Mississippi Lake, the impressive roller-coaster Willow Ridge, Pacheco Camp / the Coyote Creek Narrows, and finally China Hole.

The “trail” descending Rock House Ridge is basically nonexistent, so don’t be surprised when you lose it. Fortunately, the brush is thin and the cross country travel is easy. There are a number of possible modifications to this route, so feel free to explore!

More information: my Strava activities for a similar hike, day one and day two

Skyline-to-the-Sea (Point-to-point, 31 miles, +3,500’)

Big Basin State Park

  • Trailheads: Castle Rock State Park and Waddell Beach

  • Driving time: 1 hour 10 minutes (Castle Rock) / 1 hour 20 minutes (Waddell Beach)

  • Car shuttle time: 1 hour 5 minutes

  • Permits: reservations required for camping at any of the trail camps along the trail.

This is THE classic peninsula 50k route. Starting at the crest of the Santa Cruz Mountains in Castle Rock State Park, this route descends through miles and miles of increasingly lush coastal redwood forest, eventually entering the Waddell Creek drainage and following it to the ocean. The elevation profile is fairly forgiving if you start at Skyline, making this one of the more reasonable routes to attempt in a day. There are also good starting points at Saratoga Gap or Waterman Gap if the full 50k is a bit too much. The trails in the heart of Big Basin are fairly confusing so it’s easy to get turned around, pay attention to those trail junction signs.

More information: AllTrails, redwoodhikes.com, my Strava activity

East Bay Skyline National Recreation Trail (Point-to-point, 31 miles, +5,100’)

East Bay Regional Parks District

Thirty one miles through five parks along the crest of the East Bay hills, all right in the bay area’s backyard. The East Bay Skyline National Recreation Trail will take you from the vast open ranchlands of Tilden to the lush forests of Huckleberry and groves of coastal redwoods in Redwood Regional. This route never strays too far from the road, so expect a lot of company, but that also means there are plenty of opportunities to get water or exit early if you need to.

By adding on 5.2 miles, you can make this a BART-to-BART via Richmond or El Cerrito Del Norte at the north and Castro Valley at the south.

More information: EBRPD, AllTrails, gurmeet.net

Big Burton Loop (Loop, 33 miles, +5,400)

Point Reyes National Seashore

This is a fairly inspiring loop through circling the wilderness portion of Point Reyes, the Phillip Burton Wilderness area. The west half traverses coastline bluffs along the seashore, before climbing inland to return via the heavily forested ridges and valleys characteristic of this area.

More information: AllTrails

Bolinas Ridge to Coastal Trail (Point-to-point, 33 miles, +5,500’)

Golden Gate National Recreation Area

  • Trailheads: Bolinas Ridge and North Tower Parking Lot

  • Driving time: 1 hour (Bolinas Ridge) / 40 minutes (North Tower Parking Lot)

  • Car shuttle time: 50 minutes

  • Extensions / modifications: This variation tries to follow the Coastal Trail as closely as possible, but there are other ways to complete this route as well.

This massive point-to-point follows the Bolinas Ridge and Coastal Trail for 33 miles from the quiet town of Point Reyes back to the Bay Area, ending at the north end of the Golden Gate Bridge (or farther, if you want). This is beautiful terrain and a big point-to-point route. Variations include starting at Tomales Bay for a bay-to-bay adventure (+6 miles) or connecting the Coast Trail in Point Reyes with the Coastal Trail in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (+10 miles?).

Point Reyes Traverse (Point-to-point, 41 miles, +5,500’)

Point Reyes National Seashore

  • Trailheads: Palomarin Trailhead and Tomales Point

  • Driving time: 1 hour 30 minutes (Palomarin) / 1 hour 30 minutes (Tomales Point)

  • Car shuttle time: 1 hour

  • Permits: required for overnight use at designated campgrounds (Wildcat and Coastal are along this route). No overnight use permitted elsewhere.

  • Extensions / modifications: This variation tries to follow the Coastal Trail as closely as possible, but there are other ways to complete this route as well.

Traverse Point Reyes from south to north along this route. You’ll start following the coastal beaches of southern Point Reyes before heading inland, climbing Mt Vision and then dropping towards Tomales Point. At the end, you’ll have to double back 5 miles to return to the Tomales Point Parking lot.