Top 5 Bay Area Nature Preserves

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In an urban, industrial world, escaping into nature can provide mental and physical relief. While the Bay Area is a bustling metro area, there are still countless natural areas and preserves to explore when one is overwhelmed by technology and city life.

1. Portola Redwoods State Park

Palo Altans don’t need to travel hours north to catch a glimpse of California’s most prominent tree. A mere 45 minutes from Palo Alto, Portola Redwoods features 18 miles of hiking trails in the Santa Cruz Mountains and thousands of redwood trees. While a main draw is the park’s campsite, the optimal winter activity is hiking through the misty landscape. Pescadero Creek and Tip Toe Falls drain through the park, while biking trails also criss cross through the trees.

2. Big Basin Redwoods State Park

If you plan on immersing yourself in nature for a full day or more, Big Basin may be your best bet. The park not only offers thousands of redwood trees and numerous hiking trails, it also includes a low-altitude marsh, several photogenic waterfalls and a rocky ledge called Buzzard’s Roost. If you’re a hiking fan, there are several trails that meander for ten miles or more through the wilderness. Finally, Big Basin is a haven for wildlife such as banana slugs and the Western Fence Lizard.

3. Sunol Regional Wilderness

A regional park in Alameda County, Sunol Regional Wilderness is famous for its barren and hilly landscape. Despite the sparse flora, the hills provide stunning views of the East Bay and in winter, the hills transform into a lush green. Cave Rock formations provide perfect opportunities for rock climbing, and a long distance footpath winds its way through the park.

4. Foothills Park

While Foothills Park is a lovely park to spend a sunny afternoon, its main draw is its convenient location. Only about 10 minutes from Downtown Palo Alto, Foothills features pleasant rolling hills and a lake for canoeing. The park is open daily until sunset, and popular activities include fishing, hiking the various trails and searching for wildlife such as deer and hawks. Due to its location, Foothills is the prime destination for a spontaneous trip into nature.

5. Rancho Corral de Tierra

This large, unknown park is most known for Montara Mountain, a 2,000 foot peak that offers grandiose views of the Bay Area. The rolling hills transport visitors to a faraway state, as the chaparral environment mirrors none in the Peninsula. On foggy days, standing in the mist makes the environment feel erie yet interesting.


Review by Aidan Maese-Czeropski

Photos: Redwood Hikes, trailstompers, Bay Nature