Urban Hiking: 6 Gorgeous Nature Walks in San Francisco

Get your exercise by exploring the beautiful undeveloped corners of the city.

In San Francisco, you don’t need to travel outside city limits to trade in buzzing urban streets for green open space. In fact, you can get in a full hike at a number of popular and lesser-known recreational areas. Here are just six of the places where you can lace up your walking shoes and get your fill of fresh air and nature. 

Mount Davidson Park

Mount Davidson Park

Climb to San Francisco’s highest natural peak in this uncrowded, serene park in Sherwood Forest, a small residential neighborhood at the city’s southern center. You might recognize it from a scene in the 1971 action film “Dirty Harry.” The large cross at the summit now memorializes victims of the Armenian genocide. Ideal for dog-owners, families and birdwatchers, broad dirt trails wind through a dense, often-misty forest of eucalyptus and pine trees, blackberry brambles, ferns and ivy as well as open grassland. The 40-acre hill is covered in a maze of paths, but the best option is to head to the right at the first intersection then keep straight until bearing left at the junction right before the half-mile point. Cross the fire road and continue straight to the steep stone steps. Head left at the top and follow more steps up to the peak, where you’ll find magnificent views of the city and bay, which might be shrouded in moody fog. On a clear day, the panorama extends far to the East and North Bay. Enjoy a snack or quiet moment on the bench and snap a photo with the ominous looking fallen tree across the path.

Distance: 1 mile

Difficulty: Easy to moderate

Location: Lansdale Avenue and Dalewood Way

Getting there: Take the KT, L or M Muni metro lines from downtown to West Portal or catch the 43 Bus.

 Mount Sutro Open Space Reserve

Mount Sutro Open Space Reserve

With lofty eucalyptus trees soaring up to 200 feet high, chirping birds and wildflower meadows, these woods have an aura of enchantment. The fog here even creates a year-round cloud forest. Remarkably, the 80-acre hill is right in the middle of the city, near Cole Valley. Signs mark a network of maintained trails. For a nice walk, take Fairy Gates Trail to Historic Trail to South Ridge Trail, and then follow North Ridge Trail back to Fairy Gates. Find a handy map at sutrostewards.org.

Distance: 1.8 miles

Difficulty: Easy to moderate

Location: Multiple entrances, including Clarendon Ave. and Johnstone Drive; 17th and Stanyan streets

Getting there: Take the N Muni metro line from downtown or catch the 43 Bus.

 

 Glen Park Canyon

Glen Park Canyon

You’re likely to come across Islais Creek, migrating birds, rock formations and poppies and angelica while hiking the sunny canyon loop in this 70-acre recreation area tucked between the residential neighborhoods of Glen Park and Diamond Heights. And if you’re lucky, you might spot great horned owls, red-shouldered hawks and coyotes. Conveniently located near public transit and popular with dog owners, the lush, sprawling park is also home to a picnic area and a newly renovated playground and tennis courts.

Distance: 2 miles

Difficulty: Easy

Location: Chenery and Elk streets

Getting there: Take BART to Glen Park Station 

McLaren Park

John McLaren Park

This massive and underused 312-acre park on the city’s southern outskirts is home to picnic areas, 7 miles of walking trails, recreational courts and a golf course as well as grassland and wetland habitat. The 2.7-mile Philosopher’s Way loop will lead you through redwood and cypress groves to far-reaching vistas of the Bay Area. Along the trail, stone markers called musing stations offer context.

Distance: 2.7 miles

Difficulty: Easy

Location: Mansell Street and Visitacion Avenue

Getting there: Take BART to Balboa Park; then catch the 29 Bus

 Stern Grove

Stern Grove

This 33-acre treasure found in a ravine in the Sunset District is best known as the spectacular setting of a free annual music festival held on Sundays throughout the summer. The concerts attract crowds of up to 20,000 in a majestic natural amphitheater surrounded by towering eucalyptus trees. Insiders take advantage of the grove’s wooded trails year-round. Discover a redwood grove, a giant meadow and a natural lake in this hushed, otherworldly green space.

Distance: 1-2 miles

Difficulty: Easy

Location: 19th  Avenue and Sloat Boulevard

Getting There: Take the KT, L or M Muni metro line from downtown

Lands End Trail

Lands End Trail

As its name implies, this trail is located in the outer reaches of the city on the Pacific Coast, and it feels somewhat like the edge of the earth. Start your journey at the beautiful new Lands End Lookout visitors center, which outlines the nature and history of the area and has a polished gift shop and cafe. Then follow the gorgeous, well maintained 3.5-mile out-and-back trail to postcard-worthy landscapes. Jagged cliffs covered in windswept cypresses dramatically meet blue sea, with the Golden Gate Bridge and Marin Headlands in the distance. If you have energy to spare when you reach the end of the trail, keep walking past the mansions of the Sea Cliff neighborhood and take a detour to Baker Beach, a mile-long stretch of sand tucked below rugged hills with a famous panoramic view of the Golden Gate Bridge. Back at the starting point, make the descent to explore the Sutro Bath ruins.

Distance: 3.5 miles

Difficulty: Easy to moderate

Location: 680 Point Lobos Ave.

Getting there: Take the 38 Bus.