From moderate mountain treks to lakeside strolls, here’s what makes these excursions special.

Alpine Pond at Skyline Ridge Open Space Preserve. (Photo by Veronica Weber)

With schools out for summer and the longest day of the year approaching with the official start of summer next week, it’s an ideal time to explore Peninsula parks and open spaces. Searching for new spots to check out? We asked local outdoors and environmental experts to tell us their all-time favorite hikes in the area. Here’s what they shared. 

Visitors can take in views of San Francisco from San Bruno Mountain. (Photo courtesy Michele Beasley)

Brisbane: Summit Loop Trail, San Bruno Mountain

Distance and difficulty: 2.5 miles and moderate.

Why it’s special: I love this hike for the climb and the views! You get 360-degree views of Mount Diablo in the East Bay to downtown San Francisco, the Pacific Ocean to Daly City, Colma, South City and the rest of the Peninsula laid out before you, and then back to the Bay. I can search for urban landmarks while enjoying a hike through a truly diverse landscape with fantastic, springtime, blooming plants.

Know before you go: San Bruno Mountain has its own weather. It can be blazing hot on the Peninsula and foggy and windy on the mountain, so dress in layers. Summit Loop Trail is mostly exposed and includes a steady climb to the summit, so hot days feel really hot. Bring plenty of water, a hat and wear sunblock. There is a $6 parking fee.

– Michele Beasley, San Mateo County Parks Foundation executive director

Amanda Krauss, director of tribute and legacy giving at Sempervirens Fund, on the Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail. (Photo courtesy Amanda Krauss)

Saratoga: Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail, Castle Rock State Park

Distance and difficulty: 30 miles one way or you can plan a day hike on part of the trail.

Why it’s special: The variety of habitats on this trail brings different flora and fauna with every hike. Starting your hike at the top of Castle Rock State Park and going downhill, the trail has vistas over the redwood forest to the sea and displays a variety of native flowering plants. The trail continues downhill under the redwood canopy, where you may discover banana slugs and a variety of fungus, and if you want to expand your hike, hike out the Saratoga Toll Road to overlook the San Lorenzo River. 

Know before you go: The through part of the trail is currently closed in Big Basin Redwoods State Park, where you would have hiked past some waterfalls and maybe see an American dipper. If you do want to experience Big Basin Redwoods State Park from the ocean side, or take an easy hike, you will want to explore Rancho del Oso and the Nature and History Center. With this closure, now is the time to plan out your day hike or overnight backpacking trip at Castle Rock State Park.

– Amanda Krauss, director of tribute & legacy giving at Sempervirens Fund

Pillar Point Bluff’s relatively flat trail system makes it a family-friendly pick. (Photo by Kate Bradshaw)

Moss Beach: Pillar Point Bluff, Fitzgerald Marine Reserve

Distance and difficulty: Depends on the route, however, the trails are relatively flat and easy.

Why it’s special: Overlooking the Pacific Ocean, Fitzgerald Marine Reserve, and, on the right day, Mavericks, Pillar Point Bluff is a family-friendly outdoor experience. It is the go-to for my family when we want to enjoy the California coastline and see the local wildlife. Also, because it has a relatively flat trail system, it can be enjoyed by many. It will forever serve as an example of why we protect land for public enjoyment. 

Know before you go: Pillar Point Bluff borders the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve, which is home to the harbor seal and other marine life. We ask that everyone be respectful of these animals, as they rely on our stewardship to thrive. Part of being able to enjoy these wonderful places is respecting the native flora and fauna. 

– Nicholas J. Calderon, San Mateo County Parks director

Horseshoe Lake at Skyline Ridge Open Space Preserve has plenty of places where you can rest and enjoy the view. (Photo courtesy Brian Malone/Midpen)

Los Gatos: Horseshoe Loop Trail, Skyline Ridge Open Space Preserve

Distance and difficulty: 1.2 miles, easy

Why it’s special: It is a beautiful, mostly shaded trail around Horseshoe Lake with lots of opportunities to explore further. Skyline Ridge Open Space Preserve includes a working Christmas tree farm that continues to operate through an agricultural lease with Midpen. In order to protect nearby water sources from sedimentation and support wildlife, Midpen restored some portions of the tree farm back to natural habitat. I had the opportunity to be involved in the restoration work, and have cut my family’s Christmas tree every year for over 25 years at the tree farm. The Horseshoe Loop has plenty of places to stop during a slow saunter, including a bench in the sun if it’s colder by the bridge, a bench in the shade with a nice water view, and perhaps the best hidden picnic table spot about halfway around the lake.

For a longer hike, take the Ipiwa (rattlesnake in one Native American Ohlone language) Trail over to Alpine Pond and visit Midpen’s Daniels Nature Center, open Saturdays and Sundays noon to 5 p.m. during the spring and summer, and return on the Sunny Jim Trail. This adds about 3 miles and involves much more climbing, but it is worth it for the spectacular views. On the Ipiwa Trail look for an overlook named for Gene Sheehan, one of Midpen’s first trail builders who I had the pleasure of working with early in my career. Here you’ll find incredible views of the coastal mountains.

Know before you go: It can get hot in the summer, so choose a cooler day to do the Ipiwa/Sunny Jim Trail loop, and of course watch out for rattlesnakes on the Ipiwa Trail and other trails (they don’t know to stay only on “their trail.”) No dogs allowed. Some portions of the described route are for hiking only, but there are lots of good bicycling and equestrian opportunities throughout the larger preserve.

– Brian Malone, Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District assistant general manager

Peter’s Creek at Long Ridge Open Space Preserve goes through creek, grassland and forest ecosystems. (Photo courtesy Marti Tedesco)

La Honda: Peter’s Creek Trail to Long Ridge Trail, Long Ridge Preserve

Distance and difficulty: Between 5 and 8 miles, moderate difficulty.

Why it’s special: This hike goes through so many ecosystems — creek, grassland, forest, it’s just amazing. Peter’s Creek is so beautiful, especially in the wet season. And the panoramic views from Long Ridge Trail are just breathtaking! Take a moment to find and reach the inscription on the Stegner Bench. 

Know before you go: If the weather is bad right at the parking area, the ridge, don’t be deterred! Just tuck down the Peter’s Creek Trail and you will be sheltered from most weather. The trails are well-maintained and well-marked. There are mountain bikes as well, so keep an eye out and be considerate of all users of the path.

– Marti Tedesco, Peninsula Open Space Trust chief marketing officer

James Eggers, executive director of the Sierra Club Loma Prieta Chapter, on a Loma Prieta Chapter hike at Montara Mountain in 2018. (Photo courtesy James Eggers)

Montara: Montara Mountain, McNee Ranch State Park 

Distance and difficulty: Up to 19 miles, 4,000 feet elevation gain (editor’s note: here’s a 7-mile route with about half the elevation gain)

Why it’s special: I love the views of the Pacific Ocean (from the northern end of the Santa Cruz Mountains) and the diversity of flora and fauna found nowhere else in the world.

Know before you go: Plan well. Parking is limited, climbs can be steep, and trails can be long.

James Eggers, Sierra Club Loma Prieta Chapter chapter director

The Craig Britton Trail takes visitors through the Purisima Creek Redwoods Open Space Preserve. (Photo courtesy Dawn and Dan Page)

Kings Mountain area: Craig Britton Trail, Purisima Creek Redwoods Open Space Preserve

Distance and difficulty: The Craig Britton Trail stretches 2.6 miles one way. It is located in the middle of the preserve. Connector trails from entrances to the open space at Skyline Drive and Purisima Creek Drive plus various loop options add miles and elevation gain/loss that turn this into a strenuous hike.  

Why it’s special: With roughly 24 miles of trails, Purisima Creek Redwoods Open Space Preserve is our favorite preserve on the Peninsula. The Craig Britton Trail takes hikers off of the preserve’s primary hiking trails, which are lovely but wide and heavily trafficked, onto a narrow foot path that travels deep into a cool, dark second-growth redwood forest. And if you enjoy banana slugs, you’ll especially like hiking at Purisima Creek.

Know before you go: Parking at the preserve is limited in the two lots off of Skyline Drive and the lot on Purisima Creek Drive, near Half Moon Bay. Arrive very early, particularly on the weekend.

– Dawn and Dan Page, bloggers at Coastside Slacking

Kate Bradshaw

Kate Bradshaw

Kate Bradshaw reports food news and feature stories all over the Peninsula, from south of San Francisco to north of San José. Since she began working with Embarcadero Media in 2015, she's reported on everything from Menlo Park's City Hall politics to Mountain View's education system. She has won awards from the California News Publishers Association for her coverage of local government, elections and land use reporting.

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