The colder temperatures and wetter conditions that winter brings to the Bay Area also present some of the best hiking opportunities of the year. Winter weather means less fog and more comfortable temperatures for a vigorous hike. Winter is also an excellent time to see migrating animals.
Best Hikes for Clear Vistas
Winter is the best time to head to the Coastal Trail at Lands End. From this three-mile round-trip journey you can get a beautiful fog-free view of the Marin Headlands and the Golden Gate Bridge. While on this hike you will also see the ruins of Sutro Baths, and even some shipwrecks.
Further south Fremont’s Mission Peak is also an excellent winter hike. This six-mile exposed hike can be quite grueling in the heat of the summer. But, during the winter, the vigorous climb is much more pleasant. Hikers who make it up to the top are rewarded with a stunning vista of the valley. The view is especially stunning after a rainstorm.
Where to Enjoy the Quiet
One of the best parts of hiking in the winter is you get to avoid the crowds. Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park is an especially quiet and peaceful place in the winter. As you hike under lush redwoods up to the park’s observation deck, you will likely not see anyone else. Once at the observation deck you will be rewarded with a clear view of the Santa Cruz Mountains and Monterey Bay.
Another great place to get away from it all in the winter is Henry Coe State Park. This huge park always has room for a few more visitors, but in the winter it is easy to feel like you have the entire wilderness to yourself. The steep rolling hills are especially green and vibrant in the winter.
Everyone loves a hike to a majestic waterfall. Winter waterfalls are much more interesting and exciting than summer waterfalls because the cascades are bigger. One particularly pleasant hike with a great payoff is the three-mile roundtrip hike on the Cataract Trail in the Mount Tamalpais Watershed. You walk along a windy, gently flowing creek as you hike up a steep hill. Once at the top you will enjoy Cataract Falls in all its winter glory.
If you want a shorter waterfall climb you can try the one-mile Waterfall Loop at Uvas Canyon County Park. It is located near Morgan Hill. On this trail you not only cross Swanson Creek, but you are also treated to four different waterfalls.
For many people, the true allure of a hike is the chance to see some wildlife. December and January are the best months for hiking around the Ano Nuevo Natural Preserve. During this time you can see the mighty elephant seals participate in annual mating rituals. The guided three-mile tours can be loud, and are always unforgettable.
If you are more interested in migrating birds, you should visit the Hayward Regional Shoreline near Cogswell Marsh. A three-mile loop will lead you on a pleasant hike teaming with a variety of different birds heading south for the winter.
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