Hiking on a hot day might not sound all that appealing. But it can be a great way to escape the heat — as long as you pick the right trail.
Here are five possibilities that offer up great views, varied experiences and enough overhead foliage to help protect you from the rays. (But remember to bring a hat and pack sunscreen and water if you want further protection.) [SKIP TO THE END FOR MOUNT TAM TRAILS IN MARIN.]
Castle Rock, Walnut Creek
Every winter and spring, peregrine falcons come to nest at this stunning collection of sandstone pinnacles that loom over a pleasant canyon filled with oak forest, meadows and meandering Pine Creek.
From February to early August, humans are asked to refrain from clambering over the craggy cliffs to give the falcons some space. But you can still get a great view of the formations via a 1.5-mile walk into Pine Creek canyon along the Stage Road trail. The route starts at a parking lot that serves both Diablo Foothills Regional Park and the Castle Rock Regional Area.
The oak forest provides shade, and hikers may have no choice but to get wet in Pine Creek. The trail crosses the creek several times, and there are no bridges. With the creek so healthy this year from winter rains, that means careful balancing across stones and logs. Wear shoes you don’t mind getting wet and bring hiking poles, if you need help with balance.
Just past the turnoff to the Buckeye Ravine trail, Stage Road opens up to a grassy slope that was covered in mustard flowers earlier in the spring. A bench at the top offers a great perch for gazing upon towering Castle Rock and flying raptors. The hike through the canyon ends at a small pond.
Details: Park for free at the Trail Staging Area at the end of Castle Rock Road in Walnut Creek. You’ll pass through Castle Rock Regional Recreation Area, which has restrooms, picnic areas and a public swimming pool ($2-$4) — another place to cool off on a hot day — which operates Thursday-Sunday. Find more details at www.mdia.org and www.ebparks.org..
And afterward: The Calicraft Taproom and Beer Garden is open daily at 2700 Mitchell Drive in Walnut Creek, offering an ideal, family-friendly place for dusty hikers to hang out after an adventure. A daily rotation of food trucks offers bites to go with that IPA or Kolsch as you socialize outdoors; www.calicraft.com.
Picchetti Ranch, Cupertino
It’s hard to believe you’re only a few miles from the world’s biggest tech company — Apple – as you stroll the shaded paths of this gorgeous 308-acre preserve.
Park in the lot near the historic Picchetti Winery — more on that in a bit — and head for the appropriately named Zinfandel Trail (1.9 miles) with its views of the tranquil Picchetti Ranch Pond and seasonal waterfalls and streams. The trails winds up and down, so expect a bit of a cardio workout as you pass by canyons populated with madrone and coast live oak.
Keep your eyes open for wild turkeys and other creatures. (Note: Mountain lions have been spotted here, but those big cats are usually most active at dawn and dusk.)
Details: Open from dawn to dusk at 13100 Montebello Road in Cupertino, with restrooms and free parking available; www.openspace.org/preserves/picchetti-ranch.
And afterward… Go wine tasting ($20) or picnicking at the Picchetti Winery complex, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The winery is open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily; picchetti.com.
The Forest of Nisene Marks State Park, Aptos
There are gorgeous trails to be found in this dense second- and-third-growth redwood forest, which begins near sea level and rises dramatically up into the mountains. Folks from all over come to stroll, hike, run and mountain bike some 30 miles of trails, exploring an area that was once nearly swept clean of trees. Loggers clear-cut their way through these forests from the1880s into the 1920s, but the forest once again stands triumphant with mighty redwoods.
There are a lot of different options in terms of trails, ranging from the relatively easy, two-mile Short Historic Loop that is perfect for walkers to the six-mile West Ridge Trail that provides views of the Monterey Bay.
Note that major winter storm damage closed the park to all vehicle use this spring. Check the park website before you go.
Details: Open from dawn to dusk on Aptos Creek Road, with restrooms and parking ($8) available; www.parks.ca.gov/.
And before or after… Find some yummy acai offerings, such as the Don’t Worry Bowl with bananas, cherries, maple syrup and granola, as well as smoothies, sandwiches and more at the nearby Clean Juice, 100 Rancho del Mar, Aptos; cleanjuice.com.
Dr. Aurelia Reinhardt Redwood Regional Park, Oakland Hills
Tucked into the Oakland hills along the Alameda-Contra Costa County border lies a lush strip of redwood forest that will make visitors think they’ve been transported to the Santa Cruz mountains. This 1,833 acre-park is home to a network of well-marked trails that wind through a majestic redwood forest, accented by ferns, grasses and flowering plants that come in infinite shades of green.
A popular route through the forest is the French Trail Loop. Starting at the Canyon Meadow Staging Area, you can do a four-mile hike or one that extends to six miles, depending on the connector paths you choose. Any version, though, begins with a pleasant, mostly level stroll along the Stream Trail, which follows the course of Redwood Creek.
Early on, you’ll encounter interpretive signs about the park’s history, including one describing the forest’s destruction and rebirth. The need for timber to support a Bay Area housing boom in the mid-1880s led to clear-cutting of the ancient forest that once stretched across the Oakland Hills to Moraga. The trees in the park today are the second- and third-generation clones of the giants that once grew here.
For a longer hike, stay on the Stream Trail for a little over 2½ miles until you reach the scenic intersection with Tres Sendas, where a bench offers a breather before the big climb into the park’s uplands. Even at this higher elevation, you’ll mostly stay in the forest shade as you wind up from the Tres Sendas Trail to the Starflower Trail to the French Trail. You have the option of following the French Trail for about a half mile before descending to the Stream Trail, via the Mill Trail. To extend the hike, continue on the French Trail, then descend on the Chown or Orchard trails.
Details: Open from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily at 7867 Redwood Road in Oakland. The parking lot ($5 on weekends, holidays) at the Canyon Meadow Staging Area has restrooms and picnic areas. Cell signal is spotty here, so download any maps or pick up a free paper map before hitting the trail; www.ebparks.org
And afterward… Head for the Fourth Bore Tap Room in Orinda’s Theatre Square for craft beer and hearty pub fare, including burgers, a Philly Cheese Steak-style sandwich and pulled pork nachos. Time it right and you might get some live music, too. https://thefourthbore.com.
Troop 80 Trail, Mount Tamalpais, Mill Valley
This hiker’s paradise offers every kind of experience imaginable. Mount Tamalpais State Park has 60 miles of trails on its own, while the adjacent Marin County Water District and Golden Gate National Recreation Area offer another 200 miles of public trails. So you’ll find everything from long and challenging hikes to easy-peasy, kid friendly amid a vast array of settings: redwoods, jaw-dropping ocean views, waterfalls, wildflowers, placid meadows, you name it.
If you’re looking for a not-too-exhausting, shade-shrouded hike on a hot day, the Troop 80 Trail is a nice bet. Starting at the park’s Bootjack Day Use parking lot, follow signs for Troop 80. There is a quick short descent via steps and a 675-foot elevation change over 3½ miles, but the trail overall is described as moderately strenuous and kid-friendly. You’ll find all manner of trees and vegetation, including redwoods, a small stream and moss-covered logs. The in-and-back hike is shady throughout, though there are spots when the covering opens just enough to afford some nice views of the ocean and surrounding hills. You should be able to complete the route in 2 hours, and you’ll likely feel refreshed and relaxed, rather than exhausted and sweaty.
Details: Open from 7 a.m. to sunset daily. It’s $5 to park at Bootjack. Find trail maps at www.parks.ca.gov and at the park’s Pantoll service area and Mount Tam Visitors’ Center on East Ridgecrest Boulevard, which is staffed on weekends. Pantoll, Bootjack and East Peak areas all have restrooms, but they are not fancy.
And afterward… The nearby Mountain Home Inn (www.mtnhomeinn.com) on Panoramic Highway offers high-end salads, snacks, sandwiches and drinks and a patio with stunning views if you can get a table there. The popular Pelican Inn (www.pelicaninn.com) near Muir Woods, about 10 miles away, serves up hearty English country fare with a full bar in a rustic setting.