Praised as an urban center, many visitors don’t even realize that there are tons of hikes near San Francisco. But hitting the San Francisco Forest trails is one of the best ways to clear your mind and escape the smog of the big city.
Hiking around San Francisco is one of my favorite things to do in Northern California. As a California local, I’ve experienced many of the top trails in the state, many of which are in this SF hiking guide. Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty.
Table of Contents
- 25 Best Hikes Near San Francisco
- Lands End Trail
- Twin Peaks
- Redwood Creek Trail
- Diablo Summit
- Mt. Livermore
- Point Bonita Lighthouse Trail
- Tennessee Valley Trail
- Steep Ravine Trail & Dipsea Trail
- California Coastal Trail
- Batteries to Bluffs Trail
- Tomales Point Trail
- Mount Sutro Loop
- Matterhorn Peak
- Summit Loop Trail
- Alamere Falls Trail
- Palos Colorados Trail
- Lake Chabot Loop
- Half Moon Bay Coastside Trail
- Lovers’ Lane at the Presidio
- Philosopher’s Way Trail
- Ecology Trail
- Presidio Promenade Trail
- Mount Davidson
- Bay Area Ridge Trail
- Clouds Rest
- FAQs About Best San Francisco Hikes
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25 Best Hikes Near San Francisco
Lands End Trail
The most popular hike in San Francisco leads hikers to the sandy Golden Gate beach
No trip to San Francisco is complete without hiking the Lands End Trail. Wind your way around rocky cliffs above the ocean and through cypress groves with spectacular views of the Golden Gate bridge.
Begin this hike in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and walk north along the edge of the city until the junction with the Coastal Trail. You will encounter a memorial for the USS San Francisco at the end of this trail, a WW2 battleship.
At least a dozen old shipwrecks can be seen from the Lands End Hike due to the rocky shores and swift tides of the area, so be on the lookout for these historic but unfortunate travesties.
Protruding sibling peaks in the center of town
Hike to this pair of 922-foot tall peaks, a prominent lookout point in the big city. The wind-swept Twin Peaks offer 360-degree views of San Francisco, including cable cars making their way up hilly streets and boats cruising the harbor.
This is the second-highest point in San Francisco and is surprisingly easy to get to. At only 2.1 miles round-trip, the Twin Peaks Trail is suited for visitors of all fitness levels. The 64-acre mountain park also houses native grassland and coastal shrubs and wildlife.
Look for the Mission Blue Butterfly next time you hike Twin Peaks. This is the only place the endangered butterfly species lives in San Francisco and its vibrant, glittering wings reflect perfectly in your camera’s lens.
👉 Pro Tip: Park off Portola Drive to access the park by vehicle. The gate off Burnett Avenue is temporarily closed.
Redwood Creek Trail
Experience Redwood National Forest from a coastal trail through the wooded giants
The Redwood Creek Trail is right off the Pacific Coast Highway, which is arguably one of the most scenic highways in the United States. Weave your way through giant redwood trees while following the coastline and the serene sound of crashing waves on this unforgettable trail.
This trail is a top hike in Redwood National Park, one of the coolest national parks in California. The babbling creek follows the beaten path and you are sure to only encounter a few other hikers on this trail, allowing for a peaceful nature outing.
Redwood Creek is also the only place that allows dispersed camping in Redwood National Park. Backpackers can camp anywhere along the gravel creek bed and must have all their gear, food, and water with them because there are no amenities or no cell service in the park.
👉 My Favorite Gear: The Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite sleeping pad keeps me comfortable all night. The blow-up pad keeps your back separated from cold rocky terrain and guarantees that you will wake up in better shape than the previous night.
Check out the cultural museum at this tall mountain summit in the heart of the big city
Known as one of the ecological treasures of San Francisco Bay, Mount Diablo State Park is rich with both history and incredible views of the bay. Visit the Summit Museum atop the 3,849-foot Diablo Summit, complete with over 90 outdoor cooking hearths and information about the past inhabitants.
From Diablo Summit, views of the Golden Gate Bridge, Farallon Islands, the Santa Cruz Mountains, and Mount Lassen are apparent. Other trails wind throughout the state park but the summit trail offers the best views after the most challenging hike.
The trail gains 2,000 feet in 3.5 miles on the ascent, which is challenging but not impossible. This much elevation loss may be hard on the knees and you may want to consider bringing trekking poles for the descent.
An Angel Island trek away from the crowds but up close and personal with the native flora
Escape the hustle and bustle of the metropolitan city with a short ferry ride to Angel Island. Angel Island is a top attraction in San Francisco and offers visitors a unique perspective of the major city.
The 788-foot Mt. Livermore is the highest point on the island and offers views of hidden beaches, San Francisco Bay, and the Golden Gate Bridge from its peak. The North Ridge Trail to the summit is steeper but shorter and avoids the bulk of the tourist crowds.
Dogs are not allowed on the island, so you will have to leave your pup behind in the hotel room. There are also picnic tables scattered throughout the island, including on Mt. Livermore, so make sure to pack your lunch before you hit the ferry.
👉 Pro Tip: This convenient lunch box takes up almost no space in your hiking backpack.
Point Bonita Lighthouse Trail
Hike to the edge of a cliffside lighthouse just outside of the big city
The Point Bonita Lighthouse Trail is one of my favorites. The cliff-dwelling lighthouse boldly straddles a thin ocean rock and the bridge walk to get to it always keeps you on edge.
Point Bonita Lighthouse was established in 1855 and was the third lighthouse on the west coast. The rich history of this establishment and the beautiful trail attracts hundreds of visitors. At only 1 mile out and back, the Lighthouse Trail in Sausalito appeals to hikers of all ages and fitness levels.
Follow the light signals next time you’re in San Francisco and experience one of the best sights in town. This trail sits at the southwestern tip of the Marin Headlands, another great place to explore while you’re in the area.
Tennessee Valley Trail
Hike through coastal shrubs on the teetering edge of beachfront cliffs just outside of San Francisco
Overgrown coastal shrubs meet dramatic ocean cliffs on the Tennessee Valley Trail. This trail is one of the most coveted in San Francisco and if you’re looking for an escape from sightseeing and stuffing your face with local cuisine, then this is the place to be.
The Tennessee Valley Trail is only 1.7 miles to Tennessee Cove, one of the most beautiful beaches in the area. I recommend hiking Tennessee Valley in the springtime when the hills come alive with splashes of color from lupine, California poppies, blue-eyed grass, and California buttercups.
This pristine stretch of land maintains its beauty with the help of visitors. The park rangers encourage hikers to “take only pictures, and leave only footprints.” Please remember to leave no trace and discard all trash.
Steep Ravine Trail & Dipsea Trail
This scenic loop trail takes hikers through a variety of ecosystems in Mt. Tamalpais State Park
This scenic loop trail is located in Mt. Tamalpais State Park just outside of Muir Woods National Monument. Take in the spectacular ocean views as you follow the loop trail from the coast through lush woodlands and into a narrow redwood forest canyon.
This hiking trail is far less crowded than the hikes in Muir Woods but still receives its fair share of foot traffic on the weekends. The Steep Ravine & Dipsea Loop Trail is especially exceptional after a rainstorm when mini-waterfalls caress the trail.
The Pantoll parking lot can fill up on the weekends but there is an overflow lot available, the Bootjack lot which is a quarter-mile up the road and also $8. If both parking lots are full, you can start your hike from Stinson Beach. This will add 2 ½ miles but gives you a chance to stop for a swim.
California Coastal Trail
Section-hike part of the massive coastal trail that runs from Mexico to Oregon
The California Coastal Trail is an easy hiking trail from the historic San Francisco Presidio. The entire trail is actually 1,200 miles in length and stretches from Mexico to the border of Oregon. The 2.7 miles that run through the Presidio start at the 25th Avenue Gate near Baker Beach.
The trail follows rocky bluffs and eventually ends at the Golden Gate Bridge. This is one of the most scenic trails in San Francisco for getting up close and personal with the iconic SF landmark.
Enjoy the grandeur of the Golden Gate Overlook and the Pacific Overlook along the trail and soak in the views of this coastal California town. I like to take vintage photos on my polaroid camera of views that are as stunning as those along the California Coastal Trail.
Batteries to Bluffs Trail
Trek along the rustic shoreline and above the Pacific Ocean near the SF Presidio
Batteries to Bluffs Trail is in my top 5 San Francisco hiking trails. This is an outdoor excursion you don’t want to miss in the SF Presidio.
At only 2.3 miles round-trip, Batteries to Bluffs won’t exhaust you but it’s no cakewalk either. This rugged route takes hikers through the best of the wild western shoreline right above the Pacific Ocean.
I recommend taking a short side trip to Marshall Beach, an isolated area surrounded by sharp granite cliffs and cresting waves. This is also a great place to catch the sunset over the Golden Gate Bridge. The late evening sun reflects off of an even more vibrant bridge at this time.
Tomales Point Trail
Watch for elk on this elevated cliff coastal trail near Marshall, CA
Easily one of the most beautiful hiking trails in San Francisco, Tomales Point Trail should be high on each visitor’s SF itinerary. Overgrown flower bushes line either side of the singletrack trail high above the Pacific Ocean on this moderate coastal trail.
The bluffs that the Tomales Point Trail follows are similar to the Cliffs of Moher but with a Californian twist. There are also frequent elk sightings on this postcard trail by the sea, so keep an eye out, keep your distance, and keep your wildlife camera nearby and ready!
Tomales Point is just under 10 miles round-trip so it’s not for the faint of heart. Allow at least 4 hours to complete this hike and bring enough food and water to last you at least half a day. The end of this trail can often be overgrown with lupine and sagebrush, so it’s crucial to pay attention to the route or download an offline map ahead of time.
🛎️ Need a Hotel? Nick’s Cove is the best hotel in Marshall California. This cottage accommodation also offers an on-site oyster bar and restaurant.
Mount Sutro Loop
Hike without other tourist distractions in this remote Northern California forest
Mount Sutro is likely the least visited trail in San Francisco. This is the perfect trek for hikers who prefer a more intimate experience with nature as opposed to an overcrowded, noisy one.
Acres of pine, cypress, and eucalyptus transformed a once-grassland environment into a dense urban forest. I recommend hiking Mount Sutro during a foggy, overcast day in San Francisco for an ethereal cloud-forest experience.
Some trails in the area are designated mountain biking areas, so be prepared to share the trail and yield whenever possible. Dogs are also allowed on the trail but must be on a leash at all times.
👉 My Favorite Gear: The trail can be slippery when wet. You will want hiking shoes with substantial traction like my favorites, the Salomon X Ultra 4 Hiking Shoes.
Put your hiking legs to the test with this all-day technical climb in Bridgeport, CA
Matterhorn Peak is an honorable mention for hiking trails in San Francisco. It is the most technical and challenging hike on my SF hiking list and is reserved for the adrenaline seekers visiting Northern California.
Made famous by Jack Kerouac from his bestselling novel, Dharma Bums, the granite crag of Matterhorn Peak is located in a remote forest removed from any resemblance to urban society. With technical rock scrambles, the need to scale thin rock ledges, and high-altitude air as factors, Matterhorn Peak is no easy feat.
I personally tried and failed to summit this mountain in an 8-hour solo endeavor. Starting from the Mono Village Resort, the windy alpine trail takes eager hikers through dense foliage to the foot of the alps-like Sawtooth Mountain Range.
An excursion to Matterhorn Peak will be one to remember. I suggest camping overnight in the Hoover Wilderness in the Toiyabe National Forest for a higher chance of summiting.
Summit Loop Trail
This loop trail hosts the best views of famous San Francisco landmarks from its lookout point
This trail in the hills looms high over the San Francisco city below. Located in San Bruno Mountain State and County Park, the Summit Loop Trail is home to endangered Northern California flora and fauna.
This trail is less crowded than other viewpoint trails in the Bay Area and offers perhaps the most complete 360-degree view of San Francisco from a distance. The trail may be overgrown and rocky, so be sure to wear hiking pants to prevent scrapes and scratches.
Because this trail is so exposed, it’s best to hike the Summit Loop Trail in the late fall, winter, and early spring months to save yourself from heat exhaustion. There is a $6 cash fee to park at the trailhead of this hike, $6.25 if using a card.
Alamere Falls Trail
A jungle-like waterfall crashes onto the sandy beach on this Point Reyes National Seashore adventure trail
Enjoy 13.5 miles of hiking along the dramatic San Francisco coastline with an excursion on the Alamere Falls Trail. This unique site is unlike any other in the Bay Area, with a huge waterfall outpouring onto the sandy beach below.
Journey into the Phillip Burton Wilderness to witness the jaw-dropping 40-foot waterfall on Watercat Beach. The trail follows the edge of coastal cliffs, so be careful of cliff erosion. It is also not a maintained trail and poisonous oak can be found alongside it.
If this hike is too long for you, there are other beautiful cut-off trails along the way in Point Reyes National Seashore. The best time to visit San Francisco for hiking is during the summer when the weather is agreeable and the tides are not too high for hiking on the beach.
Palos Colorados Trail
An easy, shaded trail intended for hikers, mountain bikers, and dog walkers in the Oakland area
Hike along this wooded forest trail and take in the sweet pine scent next time you’re in Northern California. The easy Palos Colorados Trail only takes an hour to complete and is open year-round.
The trail is shaded for the most part and is open to mountain bikers, so you will need to share the road. You can also bring your dogs on the Palos Colorados Trail and they can be either on or off-leash.
Although the hike is relatively short, there are no natural water sources along the way so you will need to bring enough water. I recommend having at least 1-2 liters of water so you don’t have to worry about running out.
👉 My Favorite Gear: I never hike without my 1.5-liter Nalgene water bottle. This is the perfect size to get me through most hikes without having to refill.
Lake Chabot Loop
Go for a moderate stroll around the lake with the whole family on this trail across the SF bridge
This nice lakeside stroll is the perfect San Francisco hike for the whole family. It is also a popular mountain biking trail and is wheelchair accessible.
Bring a lunch or elaborate snack to enjoy on one of the park’s many picnic tables and benches. Most San Francisco visitors walk only sections of this trail but it’s fairly easy to follow the whole 8.7 miles.
Dogs are allowed on the paved trail if they are kept on a leash. This is the perfect activity to do if you have some free time during your trip to San Francisco.
Half Moon Bay Coastside Trail
Pack a lunch before you hit this trail and enjoy a sandwich on one of the 4 San Mateo County beaches the route passes by
This easy coastal trail is one of the most scenic in San Francisco. Half Moon Bay is the oldest town in San Mateo County and encompasses 4 miles of coastal beach line.
Many benches sit on the trail and offer hikers an unobscured view of the calming Pacific Ocean waters. Walkers have access to each of the four beaches along the trail: Venice, Roosevelt, Dunes, and Francis.
I enjoy the bluff-side camping available at Half Moon Bay and bird-watching along the wildflower-abundant trail. The beach trail is open from 8 am until sunset daily and parallels a horseback riding trail.
Lovers’ Lane at the Presidio
Take a stroll down an easy trail in the famous SF Presidio
Enjoy a zig-zaggy trail through the shade and protection of Northern California pines on this short Presidio trail. This easy-access trail has been home to many proposals and professional photo shoots in its operating years.
Lover’s Lane is the oldest footpath at the Presidio and was established in the 18th century as a shortcut for Spanish soldiers and missionaries. Most of the visitors today gather at Lover’s Lane for bird-watching, fitness, and daydreaming.
Along the path, you will pass Wood Line, an art installation made of felled trees in the eucalyptus forest. Historic homes also line the footpath, as well as a charming footbridge in the forest. This easy hike is a relaxing way to clear your mind for an afternoon.
Philosopher’s Way Trail
The perfect trail to hike after a San Francisco workday
Walk the perimeter of John McLaren Park on this easy 2.7-mile hike. Contemplation comes easy on this peaceful trail away from the crowds.
Make sure to bring your coyote whistle on this hiking trail, especially if you are trekking alone, because they frequent the area. This trail is perfect for an after-work hike or as a quick workout before you hit other San Francisco attractions.
The Philosopher’s Way Trail is best hiked during the hot summer months because there is plenty of shade along the trail. If you choose to hike during the rainy months, be sure to bring a rain jacket to avoid being drenched.
Hike among unique habitats and endangered flora and fauna in the heart of the big city
This short trail offers hikers a diverse array of flora and fauna habitats. Nature lovers can be found on this San Francisco trail, immersed among the native redwoods, pines, and eucalyptus of the area.
This is one of the best hikes in San Francisco for a quick but dense experience. Hikers can connect the Ecology Trail with the fertile Tennessee Hollow watershed, a wildlife hotspot, and hummingbird sanctuary.
The Ecology Trail also houses the Inspiration Point Overlook, one of the best aerial views of the Presidio. You will be able to see the East Bay, South Bay, Alcatraz Island, neighboring old-growth redwoods, Mount Diablo State Park, and even Reyes National Seashore from this high viewpoint.
Presidio Promenade Trail
Stop at one of many historic sites along this easy 2-mile Presidio trail
San Francisco’s Presidio is full of great hiking trails. The Presidio Promenade Trail is more of a stroll than a strenuous hike and is the perfect trail for hiking with the family.
Starting from the Lombard Gate in the east, the trail wanders past historic San Francisco establishments like the George Lucas Educational Foundation. Take a photo next to a life-size Yoda statue here, a unique SF forest encounter.
You will also pass the cemetery San Francisco landmark and the calvary stables. The Presidio Promenade Trail is the best trail for history lovers because it passes by so many iconic stops.
Hike to a hillside cross on San Francisco’s highest point
This easy San Francisco tourist trail leads hikers to a quick and easy lookout point. Visit the famous hillside cross by way of carved-out steps.
This short 1-mile trail takes an average of half an hour to finish, giving you plenty of time to explore other budget-friendly activities in San Francisco. This short but steep trail can get pretty muddy after a rainstorm, so hike in close-toe shoes.
At 927 feet, this is the highest point in San Francisco. There are other hiking trails inside the 40-acre mountaintop park but as the highest park in the city, it gets very crowded on the weekend. Get to Mount Davidson as early as possible for the best experience.
Bay Area Ridge Trail
Stop at one of many viewpoints along this coastal SF trail
This continuous trail runs through most of the Bay Area. With over 550 miles of trails, the Bay Area Ridge Trail is one of the longest access trails in Northern California.
2.5 miles of the massive trail pass through the San Francisco Presidio starting at the Arguello Gate. With so many things to see along the way, this is the perfect trail for those who like variety.
There are three different overlooks along the way as well as the Presidio forest and the Spire forest sculpture. This trail takes hikers an average of 1 hour to complete and frees up the rest of the afternoon to explore other top sites at the Presidio.
📚 Related Reading: Check out some of the best places to stay in San Francisco near the Presidio. From luxury 5-star hotels to affordable hostels, you will find the perfect accommodation for you in the big city.
Climb to the top of one of the best Yosemite viewpoints
Clouds Rest is another honorable mention trail. It is a bit outside of the San Francisco boundary but is one of the best hikes in Yosemite National Park. Although it’s a fairly long hike, it is relatively easy and is suited for most fitness levels.
If you have more than one or two days in the Bay Area then I highly suggest making a side trip to Yosemite. This is one of the top national parks in California, if not the entire United States, and its hundreds of acres of protected wilderness area are unlike any other site in the state.
Cloud’s Rest can be overcrowded on the weekends, so I suggest starting the hike early. I started my hike at 4:15 am and didn’t encounter any other hikers until my descent. The vast views from the summit include Yosemite landmarks like El Capitan, Half Dome, and Yosemite Valley.
There are so many other great hikes to choose from if you have more than one day in Yosemite before you must return to San Francisco. Also, try the Falls Trail or North Dome hikes.
FAQs About Best San Francisco Hikes
What is the best hike in San Francisco?
Where can I hike in the San Francisco Bay Area?
What are the closest mountains to San Francisco?
The Santa Cruz Mountains are the closest mountains to San Francisco. There are 45 named mountains in the surrounding San Francisco Bay Area with Mount Davidson as the tallest.
What’s the best hike in Muir Woods?
The Muir Woods bridge loop hikes are popular hikes at the national monument. They trail through towering redwood trees and are moderately rated for individuals of all fitness levels to enjoy.
You can’t go wrong with any of these hikes near San Francisco. Have fun hitting the hiking trails and check out my best hikes in California guide for other fun adventure ideas.
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