Saturday, July 23, 2011

Hiking the Bay Area: Best tools for finding the best spots

One of the amazing things about the San Francisco Bay area is all the open space and protected green space around us. For such a densely populated area, we are really fortunate in how many accessible parks and open spaces exist. Even better, the terrain varies significantly within a small radius: hike the redwoods, walk the beach, jog along the Bay, hike in the golden hills. Your pick.

So how do you find the best hiking?

I've been in the Bay Area over 10 years and one of my favorite sites is still Bay Area Hiker. The author takes you on a turn-by-turn of each hike, rates the difficulty level, tells you the distance and the time to complete the hike. It is also sorted by kid-friendly, dog-friendly, easy hikes and more. It is the first place I visit when looking for something new to hike.

BA Hiker now has a blog at

Another long-time favorite has been When this first hit the scene, we were living in Seattle and it was a big hit there. It still seems to be a bit of an obscure "sport" but it is a fantastic way to find hiking trails you would not normally explore. Even if you don't play the game, you can use it find great spots in your area.

These days, mobile apps have made hiking even more accessible. Of course, the first awesome hiking app is Google Maps on your phone. In most areas, you can see the trails marked on the map for those times when you make a wrong turn. This saved my a*s at least once when I stubbornly kept going on a washed out trail and had to find my way back to something that was actually a trail.

For those of us needing dog-friendly hiking areas (on-leash or off-leash), the Dog Parks app is very good. It gives you the basic information you need to find locations that are dog-friendly. On a recent trip to Half Moon Bay, this became an essential tool to find a beach that allowed dogs.

And my new favorite app: Geocaching on the iPhone. I have always been a bit annoyed by having to run batches, download them into my GPS and then remember to take my GPS with me. Or have batteries in the device that aren't dead. I know, get over it right? I was always hoping for something that would just tell me what was around me - I may not always have time to plan ahead and download caches to a GPS. I guess I wasn't the only one - has an iPhone app that totally rocks. Even though my mobile is on ATT and my coverage is ... "spotty" at best, I can almost always get enough signal to track and download the cache info. It has only failed me once when I was deep in a creek canyon.

I'm always looking for the newest and greatest - what is your favorite?

-- Happy Trails!

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