Remember outside? You can still go there — 7 (safe) local hikes to cure your shelter-in-place blues
Keep your distance while going the distance. Walk or run, among trees or to the ocean . . .
With mandatory shelter-in-place orders currently in effect across the state of California to keep residents from spreading the coronavirus, public health officials have been sure to leave people one last pressure valve: the great outdoors.
People can still walk, run, hike, bike and otherwise blow off steam outdoors during this stressful time, so long as they practice social distancing and stay at least 6 feet apart. And Santa Clara County even gone so far as to temporarily suspend its parking fees at county parks during the COVID-19 crisis.
But even the privilege of outdoor access is now in question, as stir-crazy crowds descend on already-popular outdoor spaces. Outdoor access in this pandemic depends on more of us taking trails less traveled.
The California State Parks Department has posted a running list of state parks where it has closed parking lots, in effect limiting access only to locals who walk, run or bike there. That list includes a number of state beaches in San Mateo County.
In addition, some of the Peninsula’s more popular outdoor areas, like Rancho San Antonio and Mount Umunhum, are now subject to intermittent closures, according to the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District (MROSD), the entity that controls those open spaces. Outside of those two open spaces, the district has hundreds of miles of trails that remain open for public use along the Peninsula, said Leigh Ann Gessner, MROSD spokesperson.
In short, it’s in everybody’s best interest to explore new trails.
Here are a few off-the-beaten path adventures in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties for people (and their dogs) of all ages and abilities to explore next time they need to get out of the house. They’re listed roughly from least strenuous to most strenuous.
When you do go outside, make sure to bring along some hand sanitizer, stay 6 feet apart from others and practice leave no trace principles.
[UPDATE—3/28: San Mateo County announced on March 27 that it would be closing all county parks, including Coyote Point Recreation Area, Huddart Park, Edgewood Park and Pescadero County Creek Park. Some other areas remain open for now, but check websites for the latest information.]
See an 1,800-year-old redwood tree
El Corte de Madera Creek Preserve
Distance: <0.1 miles
Dogs allowed: No
There’s nothing like spending time among ancient redwoods to help you catch your breath and feel a little calmer about the world. For folks who need some calm but aren’t feeling up for a long hike, consider a visit to the Methuselah Tree, an 1,800-year-old redwood.
With roots on land now owned by California Water Service and situated across the road from El Corte de Madera Preserve, it’s the largest redwood in the Santa Cruz Mountains, outside of those in Big Basin Redwoods State Park (which are also worth visiting separately). I’d also suggest pairing a visit to the tree with some reading: Richard Powers’ novel The Overstory, which won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. The Methuselah Tree makes a cameo, and the book is one of my favorite reads of the past year.
If you want to add a hike, from there, I’d suggest a roughly 3-mile loop out to see the Tafoni sandstone formation. Map here.
The preserve has about 34 miles of trails, so there’s no end of routes to take — keep in mind, though, that trails are steep, and the area is popular for riding mountain bikes.
If you want to see more giant redwoods, consult a list of the 10 biggest redwood trees in the Santa Cruz Mountains, put together by the Peninsula Open Space Trust.
Take a family stroll/roll
The Bay Trail
Distance: 2–6 miles, more if desired.
Dogs allowed: Yes, leashed only.
The Bay Trail is by no means a secret or off-the-beaten-path, but a great place for everyone in the family to get their wiggles out, especially when not everyone wants to walk or run. It’s wide and well-paved so folks can also ride bikes, scooters, etc. It can get busy on weekends, so be sure to follow social distancing rules and stay spread out. Consider going at less popular times.
One of my favorite segments of the trail is the three-mile stretch between Coyote Point in San Mateo and Baywinds Park in Foster City. About halfway between the two is Seal Point Park, which has a large off-leash dog area that offers plenty of space for both dogs and their owners.
Witness the wildflowers
Pulgas Ridge Open Space Preserve and Edgewood Park
Distance: 0.8 miles and up
Dogs allowed: Pulgas Ridge — yes, with an off-leash area. Edgewood Park — no.
It’s officially spring, which means that the Peninsula is at its most lush and floral. Though the dry winter has somewhat dampened wildflower blooms, there are still plenty of flowers to enjoy.
Consider taking in the wildflowers near San Carlos at either Pulgas Ridge Open Space Preserve, which is dog friendly, or Edgewood Park and Nature Preserve, which is not. Both are easy to access off of Edgewood Road.
You can even participate in a citizen science project through iNaturalist to observe, identify and record what you find there.
Pulgas Ridge offers a unique wooded off-leash area accessible via a 0.4-mile hike from the facility’s parking lot up the Blue Oak Trail. For a longer hike, seek out the Dusky-Footed Woodrat Trail, which extends from the off-leash area on the Hassler Trail down along a shady creek that’s perfect for staying cool. Map here.
Access a map of Edgewood Park here.
Explore a historic quicksilver mine
Almaden Quicksilver County Park
Distance: 5.1 miles
Dogs allowed: Yes, leashed only.
While the New Almaden Quicksilver Mining Museum is temporarily closed, you can still see many of the structures at Almaden Quicksilver County Park that were once used to mine mercury in the San Jose hills. The park was once the world’s second-largest producing mercury mine in the world. It operated from 1845 to 1976 and was once home to more than 1,800 miners and their families, according to the Santa Clara County Parks Department.
Take a 5-mile self-guided tour of the mines using this brochure and map.
For a separate 6-mile hike, you can access turn-by-turn trail directions here under the section “Bull Run Climb,” via Trailstompers.
The park is part of county parks department’s “Pix in Parks” challenge that invites participants to hike seven trails within its system. People who complete the challenge receive a t-shirt or bandana, while supplies last. Also, parking is free!
Hike Black Mountain
Rancho San Antonio / Monte Bello Open Space Preserve
Distance: 9.2 miles
Dogs allowed: No
At an elevation of 2,812, the peak of Black Mountain is among the Peninsula’s highest points. To enjoy the full distance for this hike, start at the small parking area off of Rhus Ridge Road in Los Altos. A lot is shady and single track, so be sure to keep your space from other trail users.
Much of the trail to Black Mountain is on the land of Rancho San Antonio Preserve, which is now subject to intermittent closures. However, the summit can also be accessed through the Los Trancos Open Space Preserve, which can be reached via Page Mill Road. That hike is about 2 miles each way. Map here.
Run (or walk) to the Ocean
Woodside to Half Moon Bay
Distance: 15.3 miles
Dogs allowed: no
For those looking to make a day out of their outdoors time, one of my favorite point-to-point trails on the Peninsula is the “Run to the Sea,” a 15.3-mile trek from Woodside to Half Moon Bay.
It offers a perfect blend of forested hill climbing, a glorious descent through the redwoods of Purisima Creek Redwoods Open Space Preserve, some rural-road running and finally a jog through downtown Half Moon Bay.
The catch: because it’s point-to-point, you’ll need a buddy to shuttle a car out to the endpoint at Half Moon Bay State Beach before heading to the starting point in Woodside. Since parking at the beach is currently closed, you’ll need to find a nearby parking spot elsewhere.
Many thanks to the Menlo Park Fleet Feet trail running group for introducing me to this route.
Spend a day in the forest
Pescadero Creek County Park / Portola Redwood State Park
Distance: 17.3 miles (shorter options available)
Dogs allowed: no
If you want to skip the logistics of a point-to-point but still want to log some serious miles on the trails, Pescadero Creek County Park and Portola Redwood State Park are criminally underutilized, and together, offer a challenging but gorgeous 17.3 mile route through immersive redwood forests. When I explored this route a couple of years ago, some trail sections were not very well-maintained. The sketchy trails were worth it, though, because I felt like I had the whole forest to myself. Make sure you start early and have adequate snacks and a map before venturing out on this one.
Alternatively, Michele Beasley, Executive Director of the San Mateo County Parks Foundation recommends an out-and-back on the county park’s Old Haul Road, which is a wide fire road lined with redwoods.
It’s also worth noting that prolonged, intense exercise can lower the strength of your immune system, so now’s not the time to push yourself to your physical limits. Runner’s World has a list of frequently asked questions about how to run and exercise and protect oneself against the coronavirus here.
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