Barely a day goes by where I don’t see a Facebook posting from somebody enjoying a visit to Nepal or Tasmania or, at a minimum, the back roads of Cinque Terre. Each of those trips, wonderful as they are, call for thousands of dollars, numerous hassles, and hours spent in phobia-inducing airline seats.
My thought for the day: Keep those ambitious trips on the books, but please consider the amazing attractions in our own backyard. That wall of green (now brown) that you see off to the north and south 280 as you travel north and south on 280? Turns out it harbors scores, if not hundreds, of amazing free hikes, each of which is within minutes — or at most an hour — of Menlo Park.
All you need to access them is a willingness to start, and maybe a few suggestions from people like me who have ideas about the best places to go first. My three top picks are:
Russian Ridge Open Space
Russian Ridge is easily found right at the intersection of Page Mill Road and Skyline Boulevard (Highway 35). It offers dazzling “I am the king of the world” views and a broad range of hiking distances and levels of difficulty.
I’ve used it for years as an intro hike, where you can assess your friends’ hiking tolerances before marching out into something more ambitious. A lovely, visually rewarding walk ranging from a few miles to about six. If you start your hike early in the day, you might just luck into views of fog flooding the valley. (Pictured top is the beginning of the Ancient Oaks Trail.)
Purisima Redwoods Trail
I think this is one of the best trails on the Peninsula. Here you get views of the ocean and Half Moon Bay, wonderful fern grottos (pictured above) and a Redwood “Cathedral” that is breathtaking. You’ll hear lots of opinions about the best routes to follow. Here’s mine: Start from Half Moon Bay (trailhead at Higgins Purissima Road), and follow Whittemore Gulch Trail up, Harkins Ridge and Craig Britton Trail (for the cathedral) down. Finish on Purisima Creek Trail. Note: Total distance is about 9 miles.
Monte Bello Open Space Preserve
Monte Bello is on the East side of the coastal mountains, near the top of Page Mill Road, and provides fantastic views of the mountains to the South and the Bay to the East. Stevens Creek (not just a place where they sell cars) emerges from the rocks on this preserve, but you don’t see much of it except in the winter after one of our increasingly rare rainstorms.
This is a fun, mostly shady set of hikes. Indian Trail provides a hearty test for those with mountain climber ambitions. The photo above shows taken in springtime about 300 yards from the Monte Bello parking lot.
The only requirement for all these hikes is water, a hat, some comfortable shoes, and an eagerness to enjoy these incredible resources. Each suggested area has many hiking trails of varying length and difficulty. A short video to get you motivated is viewable online.
Bruce Frymire, based in Menlo Park, hikes and does photography all over the world. But most of the time he can be found on the San Francisco Peninsula. He also leads hikes and can be contacted at 650-391-5382.