The Bay Area Ridge Trail: Bays, Bridges, and Some Really Big Trees

Despite the San Francisco Bay Area being highly occupied, a lot of land within it is protected and set aside for recreational use.

Like any loop trail, starting and ending points can be wherever a thru-hiker wants. The Bay Area Ridge Trail’s southern tip sits below farmland in Gilroy, known for its pervasive (and delicious) garlic aroma. Going clockwise, it travels north along the Santa Cruz mountains and up the peninsula, cutting next to the coast before taking a sharp right upon reaching San Francisco so you can go over Twin Peaks.

It crosses the Golden Gate Bridge and continues north in Marin, sidestepping Mount Tam and circling around Napa. It then turns south back toward the Bay, crossing the Carquinez Strait and through the mountains that overlook Richmond and Oakland before continuing down the East Bay, over Mission Peak and past San Jose to the farmland it began in.

It passes through a number of Bay Area landmarks, including the old Army base in the Presidio, Jack London’s grave, and some of the area’s most iconic redwood forests.

Perhaps the trail’s biggest downside is its severely limited camping options. Dispersed camping is rarely allowed in county and state parks in the Bay Area, with all backpackers staying in designated backpacking camps when out in the backcountry. There are campgrounds, but more in some areas than others and not conveniently placed a day’s hike along the route.

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