7 Tough Hikes near San Francisco

There is nothing like the feeling of accomplishment after pushing through exhaustion to reach a summit. When I reach summits like Mount Whitney, I feel my confidence grow and my perception of what I am able to achieve shift higher. I think it is the greatest hiking high. It is why I keep doing tough hikes each year, and why I think you might get something out of them, too. 

Green pastures and forested creeks on the Sunol Loop Tour.

So here are seven tough hikes near San Francisco to get you up high ridges and to see spectacular waterfalls, valleys, and wildflowers … And maybe unlock something in yourself that surprises you!

Tough Hikes Near North Bay

Mount St. Helena, 10.4 miles round-trip, 2300 feet elevation gain. Most of this trek is on a dirt fire road; however, the wine country views combined with Russian and literary history make it a must-do. The gorgeous drive through Napa Valley and Calistoga is an added bonus!

A sweeping vista looking north from the summit of Mount St. Helena.

Stinson Beach to Mount Tamalpais, 15 miles round-trip, 2900 feet elevation gain. This hike has it all: a beach, a redwood forest, the West Point Inn, a fire lookout, and panoramic vista of the San Francisco Bay. 

The San Francisco Bay and Mount Diablo are a prize vista from East Peak on Mount Tamalpais.

Tough Hikes Near East Bay

Mount Diablo Grand Loop, 10.3-mile loop, 3300 feet elevation gain. This challenging loop circumnavigates Mount Diablo on an undulating tour of chaparral ridgelines, peaks, and wildflowers.

The CCC-era Summit Visitor Center features 360-degree views and a gift shop where you can buy ice cream.

Mount Diablo Summit via Mitchell Canyon, 13.8-mile loop, 4100 feet elevation gain. This bottom-to-top loop hike in Mount Diablo State Park features stunning Mitchell Canyon, geology, and the Summit Visitor Center.

Murietta Falls, 12.5 miles round-trip, 4500 feet elevation gain. This undulating hike on the Ohlone Regional Wilderness Trail bisects two steep ridges on the way an ephemeral waterfall. It is considered one of the most difficult in the Bay Area due to it’s cumulative elevation gain.

Murietta Falls is a tricky one to catch, only flowing after heavy rains.

Sunol Grand Loop, 8.2-mile loop, 2300 feet elevation gain. This East Bay loop tours historic ranch lands, emerald green valleys, and high ridges in the Sunol Regional Wilderness. Spring wildflowers and cows…many cows… promise to delight.

Tough Hikes Near South Bay

Mount Sizer Loop, 15.2-mile loop, 4250 feet elevation gain. This strenuous loop hike has epic views leading up to and descending from Blue Ridge. It gets my vote as the toughest hike in the San Francisco Bay Area due to its steep climbs and cumulative elevation gain, cruelly saving over 1,000 feet of climbing for the final quarter.

A autumn vista of Blue Ridge in Henry Coe State Park.


Mount Dana (Tioga Pass, Yosemite) 6.1 miles round-trip, 3150 feet elevation gain, is an excellent hike to test your stamina and reaction to altitude before doing Mount Whitney

Montara Mountain (Peninsula) 7.8 miles round-trip, 1800 feet elevation gain, is a good “bridge” hike to for longer, tougher hikes with gorgeous ocean views along the way.

Mission Peak (East Bay) 6.2 miles round-trip, 2100 feet elevation gain, is a super-popular hike that none-the-less gets the job done if looking for a steep hike over a relatively short distance.

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