Hike Huddart Park - Hike Wildcat Peak in Tilden Park - Hike Owl Trail


Short Hikes, Warm Fires

The little groundhog dude said it—and Mother Nature seems to agree: spring’s coming. Here are three short hikes to ease you off the couch and up the hills or along the coast. And because it’s still technically winter, we’ve tossed in a few hearths whose relaxing fires will warm your bones.

The Mountain House in Woodside

Redwood Ramble

THE HIKE: The evergreens and redwoods in Huddart County Park on the Peninsula provide a canopy for black-tailed deer, banana slugs, woodpeckers, and you. There are tons of trails, so grab a map and chart your own course—or follow our suggestion and try the little-used loop along McGarvey Gulch Creek. At the wide-open McGarvey Flat resting spot, there's a sweet sitting log and a picnic table right next to the rushing creek, just the place for a gorp-and-gape break.

About 1 mile south of the Mountain House (see below), park on the west side of Hwy. 35 (which fits about ten cars); the trail is across the road. Walk left on Summit Springs Fire Road and continue until you get to Crystal Springs Trail and turn right (you've gone too far if you hit Richards Road Trail). Turn right again on Dean Trail. This takes you to McGarvey Flat. Cross the bridge and turn right on Chinquapin. This is about a mile-long stretch that follows the creek. Turn right on Skyline Trail to return to your car.

THE FIRE: Set in a redwood grove a mile north of Huddart Park, Woodside's Mountain House has a Paul Bunyan and plaid-shirt feel. The place looks like a barn from the outside; inside, the atmosphere is friendly and intimate. It's the perfect post-hike pit stop to call for a pint of Full Boar Scotch Ale and maybe a burger or fresh fish special from the bar menu, all while sitting by the cozy fire. Rusticating never felt so warm or tasted so good.

The Mountain House, 13808 Skyline Blvd., Woodside; 650-851-8541. Note: The bar and restaurant don't open until 5:00 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday. The bar opens at 2:00 p.m. on Sunday.

Wildcat Peak in Tilden Park

A Peak and a Pint

THE HIKE: With the hills a lush green and the buds blooming, this is a prime time to hike Berkeley's Wildcat Peak in Tilden Park. We recommend the Sylvan and Peak Trails. Just 3.25 miles round-trip, you'll hike through fresh-smelling groves of eucalyptus, bay, and coast live oak, with aah-inspring views of San Francisco and the bay along the way. At the 1,250-foot summit is the Rotary Peace Monument, a circular stone wall that's rededicated annually to the world leader who has contributed the most to world peace. You'll find your own peace just by taking in the sweeping views of the glittering San Pablo and Briones reservoirs, with massive Mt. Diablo rising to the east.

Park at the Environmental Education Center. The trailhead leads off from the deck behind the Center. Follow the sign across the lawn for Jewel Lake Nature Trail (marked by a duck with outstretched wings) for about 150 yards to the post showing the way to Sylvan Trail (marked by three trees). When you reach Sylvan Trail, head right. After .25 mile, cross Loop Road and continue on the Sylvan Trail to the Peak Trail leading off to the right (keep your eyes peeled for the signpost with the symbol for the Peak Trail: a hill). After the summit, turn left at Laurel Canyon Road and then take Laurel Canyon Trail (marked by a laurel leaf) if it's not too muddy. You'll come out at the Little Farm: stop and say hello to the sheep.

THE FIRE: Hip without attitude, and cozy without being crammed, the Albatross—Berkeley's oldest pub—is highly regarded by Cal students and local old-timers alike. They gather around the bar pondering which of the fifty bottled beers or fourteen on tap they should order. There are board games and pool, and the barkeep won't mind a pet dog underfoot (until 8 p.m., at least). Park yourselves by the wood stove and dive into some Little Star deep dish pizza. Before you know it, you'll be signing up for the Tuesday night darts tourney.

The Albatross, 1822 San Pablo Ave., Berkeley; 510-843-2473.

The Owl Trail in Marin

The Owl & the Pelican

THE HIKE: If you prefer crashing coast, Marin's Owl Trail is the place for you. This swooping seashore tramp—not for those with a fear of heights—offers a special bonus at this time of year: the chance to see migrating gray whales offshore. The two-mile round-trip trek, which parallels Highway 1 between the Muir Beach Overlook and Slide Ranch, is little-visited in late winter. Pack your binoculars and your patience, and you might even catch the trail's namesake nocturnes, great horned owls, perched in the trees along the way. Continue another three-quarters of a mile toward the sea from Slide Ranch and check out the tidepools beyond the rocky beach below.

The Owl Trail starts from an unmarked trailhead at the north end of Muir Beach Overlook parking lot. Take this north all the way to Slide Ranch, and return on the same trail.

THE FIRE: The Pelican Inn seems like it's been plucked from the Cornish coast and dropped intact right into Muir Beach. The picturesque place is full of old English charm, serving up bangers and mash and some tasty Olde Worlde bread pudding. There's usually a roaring fire in at least one of the inn's three fireplaces to help stave off the maritime chill. Stay until dusk, and you'll be treated to a chorus of bullfrogs tuning up. And if you just can't bear to leave, there are seven rustic rooms for overnighting. Cheers, mate.

The Pelican Inn, 10 Pacific Way, Muir Beach; 415-383-6000. To get to Muir Beach Overlook and the Pelican Inn, take Highway 1 north from Hwy. 101. Take the detour onto Panoramic Hwy. and at the top of the hill turn left onto Muir Woods Rd. When you reach Highway 1, turn right for Muir Beach Overlook, or left for the Pelican Inn.

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