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Hikers Can Now Explore California’s Epic, Unfinished Bay Area Ridge Trail | Frommer's Bay Area Ridge Trail / Weiping Wang

Hikers Can Now Explore California’s Epic, Unfinished Bay Area Ridge Trail

If all goes as planned, California's ambitious Bay Area Ridge Trail will some day give hikers, bicyclists, and horseback riders an unbroken, 550-mile multiuse path along the hills and ridges encircling San Francisco Bay. 

When it is finished, backers say, the route, which has been in the works since the late 1980s, will lend itself to epic, multiday through-hikes encompassing San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge, the hills overlooking vineyard-lined Napa Valley, the Santa Cruz Mountains, and many more parks, ranches, and preserves blessed with sweeping views of the bay. 

(Credit: Bay Area Ridge Trail / Luana Espana)

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Officials with the nonprofit organization working to complete the loop told the San Francisco Chronicle that the finished product will be comparable to the long-distance Appalachian Trail and Pacific Crest Trail. 

The Ridge Trail still has about 150 miles left to link up, and, as the Chronicle points out, most of the remaining gaps pass through private property, which will require more negotiating than was necessary to connect the parks, open spaces, and other public lands that account for the majority of the established trail so far. 

(Lucas Valley in Marin County, California; credit: Bay Area Ridge Trail/Hugo Garcia)

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Napa poses a special challenge. Given the high value of land in Wine Country, property owners will be reluctant to part with precious acreage.

But even as organizers sort out that headache, outdoor enthusiasts have plenty to keep them busy along the Ridge Trail's existing path, which already totals 393 miles. (The Bay Area Ridge Trail Council expects to make that a nice round 400 miles by the end of this year.)

Some of the most promising of the shorter jaunts already available are transit-to-trail routes that start from stations in one of the region's most important public train systems, known as Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART). These options make nature easy to access from urban neighborhoods without requiring a car. 

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A portion of the Ridge Trail accessible from the Berryessa BART station in San Jose, for example, leads hikers and mountain bikers to peaceful, waterside Penitencia Creek County Park and, beyond, Alum Rock Park in a canyon of the Diablo Range.

The trail's San Francisco section, meanwhile, will take you past neighborhood cafes as well as up Mount Sutro and across the Golden Gate Bridge.

The Ridge Trail's official website supplies numerous ideas for exploring the completed parts of the trail via a collection of "Curated Adventures" organized by location and themes such as wheelchair-accessible trails, hike-and-swim adventures, dog- and kid-friendly hikes, wildflower-viewing routes, and many more. 

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(Russian Ridge Preserve in San Mateo County, California; credit: Bay Area Ridge Trail/Karl Gohl)

Through the end of this year, you can register for free to win outdoor gear and other prizes by completing select activities in the 2021 Ridge Trail Challenge

To download free trail maps and other navigational tools including the official mobile app, go to RidgeTrail.org.

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