For the last three and a half years I’ve been hiking the Bay Area Ridge Trail, which encircles the bay area on the ridges high above the bay, except where it crosses at the Golden Gate, and the delta near Martinez. Of the completed trail (390 miles / 628 km), I have walked 92% of it, and have also walked some of the gaps in the trail which will eventually measure about 550 miles (990 km), so I have not even come close to the whole route, but with my hike two weeks ago on Almond Ranch have reached a point of completion that I’d like to write about.
And I did almost all of it by transit!
The Bay Area is relatively rich in transit, and many trail segments have transit access close to or even at the trailheads. Of course my tolerance for walking to the trailhead from the nearest transit stop is probably greater than most people’s, but a commitment to transit instead of driving makes for a wonderful accomplishment, and for me an enjoyable planning activity. I have been car-free for nine years, and car-lite for five before that. My life is one of walking, bicycling, transit and trains. The most important decision I’ve made in my entire life was to become car-free, and the word free is appropriate. One cannot truly be free if one is attached to a car. So I encourage everyone else to become car-lite, or car-free. The earth will thank you. The natural areas you love to visit, including the Bay Area Ridge Trail, will thank you. Your city or town will thank you.
I use both Google Maps and Transit app to plan my trips. Of course I take the Capitol Corridor train from my home in Sacramento, usually transferring to BART and/or the bus as I get closer. Google Maps is good for overall planning, as it shows multiple options if they exist. Google also allows you to save or send the planned route, for future reference on a different device. When I’m actually traveling, though, I use the Transit app (iOS and Android) as it contains real-time information for most of the transit agencies, rather than the scheduled times shown by Google Maps. It shows only up to three options, so sometimes misses an appropriate routing that Google would show.
Pandemic note: All of the transit agencies have cut back some of their services during the pandemic, ranging from minor cuts to cutting entire routes. Routes may have less frequent service, or longer gaps mid-day, or a shorter span of service (from start to end on each day), or run less frequently on weekends, or not at all. Do not rely on information that may be out of date, including mine, but check for the specific date you are planning on traveling. If the level of service seems unacceptable, try different times of day or different days of the week (weekdays/weekends). For some transit agencies, Google is updated to current schedules almost immediately, but for some agencies there may be a delay of several days or up to two weeks, so if a change has happened recently for the transit agency you are planning to use, it may be worth calling to check. Transit app, so far as I have experienced, is brought up to date within a day.
If you are traveling on any of the Bay Area transit providers (except Capitol Corridor), Clipper Card is the way to go. You can load value on the card, and can set it up to autoload more value when you get low. It is contactless and very convenient, and eliminates the need to figure out how to purchase tickets for each agency or trip.
For the trail itself, I use GaiaGPS iOS app on my iPhone. I have entered the trail segments, often by tracing on trail routes while looking at the Ridge Trail pdf maps. The web browser version is the place for planning trips and tracing routes, but the iOS version fits in my pocket. The council also has used OuterSpatial, a phone app, and recently developed a partnership with AllTrails.
I freely admit that your trip including transit will take longer than if you drove, sometimes a little longer, sometimes a lot longer. The further out you are, the less frequent the bus is likely to be, with up to 75 minute headways, gaps during the mid-day, and less or no weekend service. So part of the planning process is seeing if the transit schedule matches your schedule. How much time do you have? Do you have a choice about days of the week, or time of day?
If you bicycle the gap between the transit stop and the trailhead, of course that will be much quicker, but sometimes there are pretty steep hills, and unless you have an old beater bike, leaving your bike locked at the trailhead all day (or longer) may not be smart. But I have done that a few times, for some of the longer walks. Of course if you have a mountain bike and those skills, most segments of the trail are open to mountain bikes, and you can just continue right onto the trail. With the exception of Muni Metro, all trains and buses have some bicycle capacity.
I have also hitchhiked a few times. Saratoga Gap, where the Ridge Trail crosses Hwy 9 on the peninsula, is not accessible by transit, so I hitchhiked down to Saratoga at the south end of one hike, and then back up to the gap to continue my hike south. I also hitchhiked from the summit on Hwy 29 back to Calistoga, after completing the Oat Hill Mine, Palisades, and Mt. St. Helena spur trails. I realize that most people will not be comfortable hitchhiking (and you probably would not get a ride during the pandemic anyway), so making use of Meetup may be your solution for these segments.
The Meetup group Bay Area Ridge Trail (RT) & More, offers group hikes along various sections of the Ridge Trail and other nearby trails. You can often arrange to catch a ride with a participant, if you plan ahead of time, getting to the trailhead for hikes without transit access. The council itself offers guided hikes from time to time, day and overnight, including some segments that are not yet accessible to the public. Check https://ridgetrail.org/events/ for details. Of course there are many fewer group activities during the pandemic, but I imagine both sources will ramp back up as the pandemic fades.
The council’s trail maps, at https://ridgetrail.org/trail-maps/, and the book Bay Area Ridge Trail: The Official Guide for Hikers, Mountain Bikers, and Equestrians, by Elizabeth Byers and Jean Rusmore (https://www.wildernesspress.com/product.php?productid=16685; also Amazon Kindle book https://www.amazon.com/Bay-Area-Ridge-Trail-Equestrians-ebook/dp/B07WXPPWMS/), are of course valuable planning tools.
The council’s Backpacking Trip: Presidio to Mt. Tamalpais (https://ridgetrail.org/backpacking-trip-presidio-to-mt-tamalpais/), can be accessed by transit. Arguello Gate is accessible from Muni 1 on California, 0.3 mile walk, or Muni 38/38R on Geary, 0.6 mile walk. The south end of Golden Gate Bridge is accessible by Golden Gate Transit 30, 70, or 101 buses. The. North end of the bridge is NOT accessible by transit, except by walking the 1.8 miles across the bridge. Pantoll Ranger Station, the north end of this trip, is accessible by Marin Stage 61 bus. Some corrections to the book text: Haypress Campground is not free, it is $5/night, reservations at https://www.recreation.gov/camping/campgrounds/10067346. Site 3 at Pantoll Campground is $7/night for backpackers.
Access to both Almaden Quicksilver County Park and Santa Teresa County Park is also by transit, using VTA 83 bus stop on McKean Road near Almaden Road. Walking south 0.4 miles is the Mockingbird Trailhead entrance to Almaden Quicksilver County Park, and thence 16.3 miles (26.3 km) of Ridge Trail through the park and Sierra Azul Open Space Preserve to Lexington Reservoir. Walking north 0.3 miles to Alamitos Creek trailhead, that follows Alamitos Creek and Calero Creek, and into Santa Teresa County Park, 6.3 miles (10.2 km) to Coyote Peak.
A short 0.2 mile walk from the AC Transit 99 bus stop on Mission Blvd in Hayward to the Dry Creek Pioneer Regional Park leads onto the long Chabot to Garin segment of the Ridge Trail. This 10.6 mile segment to Five Canyons Parkway, is also the southern-most of a continuous 48.4 mile Ridge Trail to Kennedy Grove Regional Park in El Sobrante. Notes: You can also go through Garin Regional Park, but the walk to or from Mission Blvd bus stop is much longer. The Dry Creek section will become a side trail once the next segment to Niles Canyon is completed, perhaps in 2021.
And of course the council’s Berryessa BART Transit to Trails Adventures (https://ridgetrail.org/bart-transit-to-trails-adventures/), not only starts at the Berryessa BART station, but passes the VTA Penitencia Creek Light Rail Station as well. It provides access to Alum Rock Park, with a short but safe no-trail section of road, and Sierra Vista Open Space.
GaiaGPS: my Bay Area Ridge Trail tracks and routes, including waypoints for the major transit access points, at https://www.gaiagps.com/datasummary/folder/ced071b9-a8d3-45b3-9c28-570b755ef065/. I do not claim that my tracks and routes are completely accurate, or that they are fully up-to-date, but I do update it as often as I can, and refine the routes I’ve traced as soon as new trails show up in Open Street Maps, which is the underlying geographic database for GaiaGPS. You do not need to have a GaiaGPS account to view this information in a web browser, but do for iOS/Android, but to change map layers or manipulate data for your own use, you do need an account.
My photo collection for the Ridge Trail is on Flickr at https://www.flickr.com/photos/allisondan/collections/72157708271186714/.
Previous blog posts on my Ridge Trail trips are accessible at https://allisondan.wordpress.com/tag/bay-area-ridge-trail/. Not all my trips, mind you, I missed posting on some, particularly the shorter day hikes.