Bay Area residents are fortunate that despite continued growth and development throughout the region, there are still many protected areas which offer outstanding backpacking opportunities during the summer. Depending on the location, backpackers could encounter fog, heat, cool breezes or tree-shaded glens, sometimes all in the course of a one-day trip. Many locations around the Bay Area also provide breathtaking views and vistas that make this area one of the most popular in the country for outdoor recreation. Waterfalls, wildflowers and the occasional animal are all part of the mix for these nearby backpacking adventures.
This has been called a “backpacker’s dream” for good reason. The largest state park in Northern California, Henry Coe offers a wide range of rigorous backpacking options in its designated wilderness area with 250 miles of multi-functional trails across 87,000 acres in the Diablo Range, east of Morgan Hill and below San Jose. This is a rugged part of the Bay Area that features tracts of grasslands, conifer forests and oak woodlands. Mountain lions, badgers and wild pigs roam in this part of the state and it is one of the few places where backpackers can choose their own campsite without reservation.
Tomales Bay forms the eastern boundary of the beautiful Point Reyes National Seashore in Marin County and its gentle hills and easily accessible backcountry campsites make this a good option for novice backpackers. Summer usually means fog along this part of the rugged California coastline, with possible clearing in the afternoons. The Tomales Point trail is an especially excellent journey, taking backpackers through the Tule Elk Reserve and providing outstanding vistas of Tomales Bay, Bodega Bay and the Pacific Ocean along the way. In addition to elk, don’t be surprised to see elephant seals lounging on sandy beaches as peregrine falcons, golden eagles, and blue herons soar overhead.
3801 Panoramic Highway
Mill Valley, CA 94941
You can pay millions for a top floor penthouse in San Francisco and still not find a view equal to the top of “Mt. Tam” on a clear summer day, with the Pacific Ocean, San Francisco Bay and the Sierra Nevada mountains all neatly gift-wrapped in a 360-degree view. This 6,300-acre site in Mill Valley features 50 miles of trails that offer redwood trees, grasslands and the rugged coast. One of the best summer trips takes you under the protective shade of coast redwoods and then gradually down to the cooling breezes of Stinson Beach. And the best part is a small side hike near the trailhead to the Nature Friends Tourist Club who opens their beer garden to the public on special guest weekends during the year.
9000 Portola State Park Road
La Honda, CA 94020
You will find fewer crowds and greater likelihood of a campground in the summer at this 2,800-acre site situated in the Santa Cruz Mountains. There is a large grove of old-growth redwoods and the backpacking trails meander in and out of cool ravines. There’s also tiny Tiptoe Falls and a pyramid marking the park’s history as a retreat for Shriners during the 1900s. A key feature of Portola is that it is linked to a chain of parks along the coastal side of the mid-Peninsula that can allow an ambitious backpacker to journey from San Mateo County to the Pacific Coast in a few leisurely days.
The largest island in the Bay provides backpackers with spectacular views of San Francisco, Oakland and two famous bridges. The view from campgrounds at night makes this a particularly popular reservation choice, so reserve early. Only 300 feet of elevation gain from the campgrounds makes this one of the easier backpacking experiences around for this historic spot, which was once home to a Spanish explorer, a cattle ranch, a U.S, Army post and the first experience in America for numerous immigrants. The view of the sun setting beneath the Golden Gate Bridge makes a trip to this Bay Area jewel well worth the journey.