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Introducing the Scenic Long-Distance Trail You've Probably Never Heard Of

As a pretty active and well-read hiker, I am quite familiar with hiking’s classic long-haul routes: the Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail and the Continental Divide Trail. I’ve traveled parts of, or at least dreamed about, some well-known regional trails, too, including the John Muir Trail (California), the Wonderland Trail (Washington) and The Long Trail (Vermont).

Yet, somehow, only recently did I learn of a 340-mile trail (building to an eventual length of 550+ miles) in my own state.


Coastal fog lingers below the Skyline Ridge section of the trail. Photo courtesy of the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District.

It is California’s Bay Area Ridge Trail. If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area (I’m based in Southern California), you’re more likely to be familiar with it.

This regional loop (click here to see an excellent trail map) ranges from front- to back-country, remote singletrack to urban bike path and it boasts expansive views of San Francisco Bay, the Pacific Ocean, iconic peaks (and bridges), the Sierra, cityscapes, rolling grasslands, majestic redwoods and oak forests.

Open to hikers, equestrians and cyclists, the Bay Area Ridge Trail will eventually circumnavigate the 11th largest metropolitan area in the U.S.—what an ambitious goal! It runs right through San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge, travels through the Marin Headlands, cuts across the Sonoma and Napa wine-growing regions, and makes its way along the spine of the East Bay before circling back northwest through the Santa Cruz Mountains.


San Francisco Bay and the city as seen from the Marin Gate section of the trail. Photo by Pat Koren.

The first leg of the Bay Area Ridge Trail was dedicated back in 1989; completion is likely years away. The miles added up quickly in the beginning, with many of the Bay Area's best trails becoming part of the burgeoning trail system. Progress is slower now; as you might imagine, purchasing properties and gaining rights-of-way through a populated region is no small task. But with perseverance, new trails and parks are opened, and the Ridge Trail keeps growing.


A glimpse of the Golden Gate Bridge from the SCA Trail. Photo by Marin Ridge Trail Archives.

Fortunately, the trail-building effort has been greatly aided by many volunteers. Recently, the Bay Area Ridge Trail Council, REI and Chipotle Mexican Grill were honored with the 2013 Partnership Award from the American Trails Symposium to recognize the achievements of the annual REI - Ridge Trail Service Day. During the past 5 years, this event has seen some 2,200 volunteers donate more than 10,000 hours of trail work at various sections of the trail.


Clouds above Mount Umunhum in the Almaden Quicksilver County Park near San Jose. Photo by Don Debold.

Quotes from the Bay Area Ridge Trail Council’s volunteers are revealing:

"I learned about the Bay Area Ridge Trail when I asked a park ranger in my neighborhood about getting to the nearest open space,” says Bill from Marin County. “He said I should get in touch with the Ridge Trail. That was 20 years ago and I’m still at it."

Jan from San Francisco notes, “The East Bay Hills Thu-Hike [was a] great way to discover East Bay hiking possibilities with a great group of people. “

“I have been an outdoor enthusiast most of my life,” says Arti from Hayward, Calif., “but it wasn’t till my first Trail Service Day that I realized how much work went into building and maintaining the trails I love so much.”

What’s your favorite trail? Why is it special to you?


Trail volunteers take a break at an REI - Ridge Trail Service Day. These events are organized by The Bay Area Ridge Trail Council, REI and Chipotle Mexican Grill.

Where exactly does the trail go? Click to see a full-size Bay Area Ridge Trail map.


Posted on at 9:45 AM

Tagged: Bay Area Ridge Trail, Cycling, Hiking and Stewardship

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