The 5 best winter day hikes in the Bay Area

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A bird's-eye view of Mt. Diablo, one of the Bay's most accessible year-round hikes

An aerial view of the mountain. Diablo, one of the most easily accessible walks in the bay

Andrew Uematsu / Unsplash

If you’re looking for some peace and quiet this coming three-day weekend, we suggest a winter hike. The ideal situation: crystal clear skies, bone-dry trails, views of snow-capped peaks far away – and a whole day away from your laptop.

For now, the predictions for outdoor activities in and around S.F. on Saturday and Sunday. (Monday is a bit questionable.) Bonus: None of these hikes take a lot of travel time – and you can (almost) get one with BART.

Mount Diablo Grand Loop

Shortly: There is no better time to start this rather ambitious hike than on a cold, sunny January morning when the prospects are best. Yes, you give up your chance of wildflowers (they’ll be here in about a month), but Mount Diablo is all about the views from above – and in good conditions, they can range from the Farallon Islands in the west to a snow-capped one Mount Lassen over 200 miles northeast.
Distance: 6,7-mile loop

Mission Peak

Shortly: Are you looking for a solid hike without a car? Mission Peak is virtually accessible from Warm Spring BART when you’re ready to take an Uber to reach the staging area on Stanford Avenue. The breathtaking views of the Santa Cruz Mountains, Mount Diablo and the Sierra Nevada in the northeast make up for the crowds and the lack of shade, which fortunately isn’t a problem in winter.
Distance: 5.8 mile loop

Sometimes you only have to look at a few seals in life

Elephant Seal Guided Walk

Shortly: The guided hike to the elephant seals is definitely only possible in winter and takes place from mid-December to March 31 – when the seals live in this state park. You need to register in advance and prepare for a walk through varied terrain. The payoff: A look at these creatures amid their annual mating rituals. (Basically tinder for elephant seals, with more fists between the males.)
Distance: 3-4 miles depending on guide / conditions

Cataracts, Tamalpais Mountain

Shortly: Winter rain can make our trails slippery and uncomfortable – but they can also fill our waterfalls. After a few heavy rains, hike to Cataract Falls and you’ll have a solid climb (followed by a sometimes slippery descent) with pictures of the cascades and pretty Cataract Creek along the way.
Distance: 5.3 miles there and back

Las Trampas

Shortly: Cool weather (and green hills!) Make the climb to Rocky Ridge (and the ubiquitous cow litter along the trail) bearable, with a view of Mount Diablo from above. If you feel there is still energy left after the hike, make an appointment to visit the neighboring historic Eugene O’Neill site, which offers moving insight into the playwright’s life, including the long day’s journey in the night.
Distance: 6 mile loop