Hundreds of square miles of open space preserves, countless trails, spectacular scenery, and moderate year-round weather all blend together to create an ideal playground for hikers, runners and mountain bikers. Options vary from ridgetop trails with panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean on one side and Silicon Valley on the other, to winding paths through oak-studded meadows and meditative wanderings beneath the sheltering towers of majestic redwood trees. Keep a lookout for wildlife! Glimpses of deer and hawks are common, and you might even spot a coyote or bobcat.
Our top picks for local parks and preserves are listed here. For further resources as well as tips on specific hikes in our preserves, visit Peninsula Open Space Trust.
Sadly, our beloved Big Basin Redwoods—California’s oldest state park and home to the largest continuous stand of ancient old-growth redwoods south of San Francisco —as well as Pescadero Creek County Park are closed until further notice due to damage caused by the CZU Lightning Complex fires in 2020, but there are still parks offering hikes through redwoods and providing ocean views.
Off the beaten path, the Forest of Nisene Marks State Park provides a retreat from the busy towns and beaches along Hwy. 1 near Santa Cruz. Visitors come to picnic near Aptos Creek or to hike, jog, or bike on 30 miles of trails through the park’s semi-rugged wilderness. An 11-mile creek-side loop leads through a canyon to the epicenter of the 1989 earthquake, while panoramic views of Monterey Bay await ambitious hikers at Sand Point Overlook. Please note: portions of the park are currently closed due to the CZU Lightning Complex Fires. [Aptos]
Wilder Ranch State Park includes beaches, redwood and eucalyptus groves, and inland canyons. The easy Ohlone Bluff Trail follows the bluff overlooking the ocean. Fresh ocean air, crashing waves, and marine wildlife sightings make this a memorable hike. [Hwy. 1, north of Santa Cruz]
Purisima Creek Redwoods Preserve’s loop trail climbs 1,600 feet from Half Moon Bay to the ridgetop. Shaded by redwoods as it follows a fern-bordered creek, it opens up at the upper end to offer panoramic coastal views. [Access from Half Moon Bay or Skyline Blvd in Woodside]
Henry W. Coe State Park is one big wild and open space—89,000 acres of natural beauty, to be exact! The largest state park in Northern California, its terrain is rugged and beautiful, with lofty ridges and sheer canyons that make it an outdoor enthusiast’s dream come true. Please verify park is open before visiting. [Morgan Hill]
With a lush forest crisscrossed by 32 miles of hiking trails, Castle Rock State Park is a popular place to hike thanks to its unusual rock formations tailor-made for climbing. The big destination is Goat Rock—a sandstone outcrop with stunning vistas of the Santa Cruz Mountains. [Skyline Blvd., Los Gatos]
On the Peninsula’s eastern slope of the Santa Cruz Mountains, Huddart County Park offers trails through oak- and redwood-shaded canyons and ridges. [Woodside]
Russian Ridge Preserve offers trails through open grassland hills with views of the Peninsula and San Francisco Bay to the east, and forested mountains and the ocean to the west. [Skyline Blvd, San Mateo County]
Just outside Saratoga, Fremont Older Open Space Preserve is a gorgeous preserve with forested hillsides, open hayfields, and Hunters Point—a 900-foot hilltop with panoramic South Bay views. It adjoins Garrod Stables, which offers horseback tours through the preserve. [Cupertino]
Lushly wooded Sanborn County Park offers scenic trails and picnicking facilities. Start your hike near Peterson Grove, a stand of redwoods surrounding a small pond; then follow signs for the John Nicholas Trail which leads to sweeping views of the bay from north to south and across to Mount Diablo. [Saratoga]
Rancho San Antonio Preserve may be the Peninsula’s most frequented spot, with 23 miles of trails through open meadows and oak woodlands leading to vantage points for views. [Los Altos]
Further north on the Peninsula, Windy Hill Open Space Preserve presents a challenging hike through open grasslands and forests of redwood, fir, and oak, with wide-spanning bay views as a reward. [Access from Portola Valley or Skyline Blvd.]
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