Hiking the Bay Area’s epic Skyline Trail

Thru-hiking a National Recreation Trail isn’t easy. Preparing for it is even harder. Backpackers need the right combination of fitness, finances, luck and time. A Pacific Crest thru-hike will set you back about $6,000. Considering the John Muir Trail? Permits are assigned by lottery exactly 168 days in advance. Not to mention the Sierra Nevada snowpack is at roughly 160 percent this year — which is just fantastic after five years of drought, unless your plan was to hike there.

But there is good news for those looking to enjoy the peace of a long hike without the stress of having to negotiate the time, the travel, the gear and bureaucracy. There are more than a thousand other National Recreation Trails in the country — and one of them runs for 32 miles through the San Francisco Bay Area.

The East Bay Skyline National Recreation Trail connects Proctor Staging Area in Castro Valley to Alvarado Park in Richmond, taking hikers through oak savanna, redwood forests and over impressive peaks for sweeping bay views. By joining a series of regional parks and preserves — Anthony Chabot, Redwood Regional, Huckleberry, Sibley Volcanic, Tilden and Wildcat Canyon — the trail offers many of the same features adventurous hikers crave in more remote footpaths, with the bonus of easy parking.

No permits required. No foregoing of personal hygiene necessary. No need to carry 20 kilos of gear, cache supplies, locate safe drinking water or dodge bears. The Skyline is every bit the physical challenge of a longer and more distant trail, but without any of the mental or financial stress. And isn’t that what a walk in nature is supposed to be?

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