13 Trails for Bay Area Fall Foliage

There is beautiful fall foliage within the Bay Area. The trick of it is to think beyond forests and even trees to salt marshes (yes, salt marshes!), vineyards, and gardens. Pickleweeds in marshes turn a beautiful, vibrant red in fall, and you can find swaths of them along bayside trails. Grapevines light up Napa Valley for a lovely day trip. Tranquil Japanese gardens turn brilliant reds and yellows from maples and ginkgos. Many of our regional and county parks, even Pinnacles National Park, give off warm yellows, oranges, and browns from maples, sycamores, and deciduous oaks. And let’s not forget our real star of the fall foliage: poison oak! Perhaps the prettiest red you will find locally on trails (just don’t touch it…). Here are 13 trails in the Bay Area to find hints of fall in October and November.

Poison oak, a common plant on Bay Area hiking trails, turns a bright red in fall.

Napa Valley

Bothe-Napa Valley State Park

Ritchey Canyon

Big Leaf Maples, Black Oaks & Thimbleberry

Napa Valley is a beautiful and scenic destination in fall, with rows of reddish-orange vines. For a doubly special fall experience, pair a scenic drive with a hike through warm fall yellows in Bothe-Napa Valley State Park. Explore the Redwood and Ritchey Canyon Trails along Ritchey Creek to see a spectrum of yellows from maples and fuzzy thimbleberries. Hike up to 1170-foot Coyote Peak for valley vistas and fall color dotting the hillsides. No dogs on trails, $10 vehicle entrance fee.

Colorful vines at Round Pond Estate in Rutherford

Upper Ritchey Canyon Trail in Bothe-Napa Valley State Park, photo courtesy Rob and Dawna at hikethenwine.com

San Francisco

Golden Gate Park

San Francisco Botanical Garden, Japanese Tea Garden, Osher Sculpture Garden

Sycamores, Japanese Maples, Ginkgo Biloba & Cherry Trees

Golden Gate Park’s gardens and lakes display luminous pockets of fall foliage. Look for yellows, reds, and oranges at Stowe Lake, the Osher Sculpture Garden, the Japanese Tea Garden, and the San Francisco Botanical Garden’s Zellerbach, Temperate Asia, and Moon Viewing Gardens on the 7.5-mile Golden Gate Park Loop. Leashed dogs are allowed in Golden Gate Park, no dogs in the gardens. A garden entrance fee may apply. Free, time-limited street parking is available, as well as paid parking in the Music Concourse Garage. 

Waterfall at Stowe Lake in Golden Gate Park


Sam McDonald County Park

Heritage Trail & Heritage Grove

Big Leaf Maples

Yellow-orange maples mingle with evergreen redwoods on the Heritage Trail in Sam McDonald County Park  Take the Heritage Trail to Towne Fire Road, with side trips to the Heritage Grove and the Sierra Club Hikers’ Hut on a popular 4.6-mile loop hike. The Loma Mar Store & Kitchen, a 10-minute drive west of the park, is an excellent spot for a post-hike coffee and brunch. No dogs, $6 parking fee at the main entrance.

Fall colors near the Heritage Grove in Sanborn County Park

East Bay

Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge

Tidal Marsh along Newark Slough

Pickleweed & Marsh Plants

Pickleweed, a common name for several species of salt-tolerant plants, is a pleasant surprise in autumn when its green stems turn bright magenta. Visit the 1.6-mile Tidelands Trail Loop at Don Edwards National Wildlife Refuge in Fremont to enjoy a kaleidoscopic carpet of pinkish pickleweed, rosemary green alkali heath, and honey-yellow marsh plants beside Newark Slough. A hilltop vista at the top of the loop overlooks Coyote Hills and the South Bay. Dogs are allowed on Tidelands Trail, and parking is free.

Morning light over a tidal marsh in Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge

Hayward Regional Shoreline

Cogswell Marsh

Pickleweed & Slender Iceplant

Thickets of pickleweed and trailside iceplant splash red and pink throughout Cogswell Marsh, a restored 250-acre tidal marsh in Hayward Regional Shoreline. Explore the 2.9-mile Cogswell Marsh Loop for its ruby red and dusty pink fall colors against a blue sky and golden mountainsides. Waterfront views and bird-watching along the San Francisco Bay Trail are a wonderful bonus. Bring binoculars if you’ve got them! No dogs south of Winton Avenue, parking is free.

Waterfront vistas and pops of red on the San Francisco Bay Trail at Hayward Regional Shoreline

Sunol Regional Wilderness

Alameda Creek

Buckeyes, Sycamores, Valley Oaks & Poison Oak

Although Sunol Regional Wilderness is well-known for its spring wildflowers, you can also find pretty hints of yellows and reds in the fall. Along Alameda Creek and the Alameda Creek Overlook (formerly known as Little Yosemite), look for orange-yellow sycamore, valley oak, leather-colored buckeye seeds, and deceptively pretty red poison oak. The 8.2-mile Sunol Grand Loop visits these spots as well as beautiful park vistas. $5 parking fee on weekends and holidays, and dogs are allowed at $2 per dog.

Poison oak and deciduous trees along Alameda Creek in Sunol Regional Wilderness

South Bay

Shoreline at Mountain View

Coast Casey Forebay

Pickleweed & Marsh Plants

Coast Casey Forebay, a stormwater detention basin in Shoreline at Mountain View, displays paintbrush-like strokes of red pickleweed in fall among orange, yellow, and green marsh plants. Take in the view on a quiet, hidden bench on the east side of the forebay with an expansive vista of the marsh on the 4.5-mile Baylands and Shoreline Birding Loop. Be sure to visit the Charleston Slough and Adobe Creek Overlooks nearby to see an incredible variety of birds on their fall migration. No dogs, parking is free.

A bench overlooks the colorful Coast Casey Forebay

McClellan Ranch Preserve & Blackberry Farm Park

Stevens Creek

Sycamores, Walnuts & Cottonwoods

Sycamores, walnuts, and cottonwoods glow in yellows, browns, and greens at McClellan Ranch Preserve, an 18-acre park in Cupertino. Explore the paved, stroller-friendly Stevens Creek Trail to see the warm fall colors, scenic creek views, and even a 4-H barn with goats and alpacas. The 1.0-mile long trail runs from McClellan Ranch throughout the adjacent Blackberry Farm Park. Leashed dogs are allowed on the paved Stevens Creek Trail, and parking is free. 

The paved Stevens Creek Trail travels under fall foliage at McClellan Ranch Preserve

Quarry Park

Lower and Upper Terrace

Big Leaf Maples

Quarry Park is a peaceful, 64-acre park two miles west of downtown Saratoga with a picnic area and Santa Cruz Mountain vistas. Zip through the lower and upper terraces on the Saratoga Quarry Park Trail to see yellow-tinted maples and orange-magenta vines on the opposite hillside. As a bonus, the 9.6-mile one-way Saratoga to the Skyline Trail begins in Quarry Park and continues through redwood-filled Sanborn County Park up to Skyline Boulevard. Leashed dogs are allowed, and parking is free. 

Colorful vines on the hillside opposite Quarry Park in the fall

Hiking through warm orange and yellows in Quarry Park toward Sanborn County Park

Sanborn County Park

Sanborn Narrows

Big Leaf Maples

Marigold maple leaves carpet the forest floor in autumn on the Sanborn Narrows Trail in Sanborn County Park. This short and sweet 0.2-mile trail connects to nearby trails along Sanborn Creek and longer routes such as the Saratoga to the Skyline Trail. Although mostly flat, the Sanborn Narrows Trail has eroded crossings through Sanborn Creek that may be challenging for pups and littles. Leashed dogs are allowed, and parking is free along Sanborn Road. 

Small cascades fall in Sanborn Creek beside the Sanborn Narrows Trail

Heintz Open Space Preserve

Valley View Trail

Buckeyes & Neighborhood Fall Foliage

A panoramic Santa Clara Valley vista comes alive in reds and oranges from neighborhood foliage on the 1.0-mile-long Valley View Trail in Los Gatos’s Heintz Open Space Preserve. As you hike, look for buckeyes shedding their 2-inch chestnut-colored seeds from pear-shaped seed pods. Explore connecting trails in the adjacent Santa Rosa Open Space and Belgatos Park for a longer hike and early morning birdsong in the oak woodland forest. Leashed dogs are allowed, and parking is free.

A 180-degree vista of the South Bay and Diablo Range on the Valley View Trail

Henry W. Coe State Park

Hunting Hollow, Middle Ridge, Coe Ranch Trails

Big Leaf Maples, Black Oaks & Sycamores

Henry W. Coe State Park gains a warm yellow color from sycamores, maples, and deciduous oaks in the fall. According to park personnel, Hunting Hollow Road, at the Hunting Hollow Entrance, is a good choice for seeing yellow sycamores. You can also find hints of yellow from maples and oaks on Middle Ridge, as well as the Flat Frog, Corral, and Fish Trails. No dogs on trails, except the Live Oak Trail, $8 vehicle fee at the Coe Ranch entrance, and $6 at the Hunting Hollow entrance. 

Subtle yellows on the Mount Sizer Loop in Henry Coe State Park

Central California

Pinnacles National Park

Bear Valley & Bear Gulch

Sycamores & Buckwheat

Fall is a wonderful season to visit Pinnacles National Park, when the temperatures are cooler and the park develops fall color. Throughout the park, buckwheat flowers turn a pretty, rusty red. Sycamores develop an amber hue on the Bench and Sycamore Trails, and you can even find shrubby fall foliage in Bear Gulch. No dogs on trails, $30 vehicle entrance fee.

Fall foliage in Bear Gulch at Pinnacles

Rusty red buckwheat can be found throughout Pinnacles

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,