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Best Bay Area Hikes for Spring: Where to See Waterfalls, Wildflowers and Mushrooms After All That Rain

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Purple wildflowers seen on coastal area.
Coastal wildflowers at an elephant seal viewpoint, Point Reyes National Seashore. (YayaErnst/Getty Images)

California experienced a brutally wet winter. But all that rainfall is paving the way for a beautiful Bay Area spring.

The rain from the winter storms has brought gushing waterfalls, meadows with carpets of blooming wildflowers and sprouting mushrooms — the subject of a recent radio show from KQED Forum. Keep reading for our guide to the best Bay Area hikes near you as recommended in that conversation, if you’d like to experience some of these wonders for yourself.

Waterfalls are supercharged right now

Whether you’re planning to visit one of these locations to look for wildflowers or chase waterfalls at one of California’s many beautiful parks, be sure to check the park website to make sure the trails are open — or whether you need a reservation for parking. Bring plenty of water, sunscreen or a hat, hiking boots and a change of shoes, and don’t forget to stay on the trail.

Outdoor-guide author Tracy Salcedo recommends heading out to Sugarloaf Ridge State Park right outside Kenwood. “There’s a waterfall there that is just supercharged right now because of all the rain that we’ve got,” she said. The park is expected to dry out a little over the coming weeks, but for now expect some muddy trails.

A waterfall over rocky cliffs into a pool, view with bright orange flowers in the foreground and a reddish cliff with green chapparral beyond it.
Alamere Falls at Point Reyes National Seashore. (Sean Duan/Getty Images)

Salcedo has written multiple books about hiking in California, including Hiking Waterfalls in Northern California: A Guide to the Region’s Best Waterfall Hikes.

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She expects that the waterfalls will stay robust for the bulk of the summer since we’ve had an abundance of rain to fuel them.

Other waterfall locations recommended on Forum’s show about post-rain hikes include:

Wildflowers are starting to bloom

You might already have seen the beautiful wildflowers now blooming in the Bay Area. The best part is they might be around longer this year compared to last year, due to the rain and cold we’ve been experiencing.

California boasts about 6,500 species of plants, 1,600 endemic bees and about 1,300 butterflies and moths. Our state is truly “a biodiversity hot spot,” Radhika Thekkath, president of the Santa Clara Valley chapter of the California Native Plant Society, told KQED Forum.

Thekkath recommends a number of places to see wildflowers starting to bloom around Santa Clara and San Mateo counties, including:

California poppies in a field. (Sundry Photography/Getty Images)

Right now, Thekkath said, you’ll see a lot of different species of poppies, lupines, fiddlenecks and goldfields. But compared to this time last year, we’re seeing only about 50% of the species blooming, since last year was a drier and warmer winter.

That said, Thekkath assured KQED Forum listeners, people can still expect more spectacular blooms all over California because of the colder winter this year. They’re just … slightly delayed.

Thekkath reminded listeners to stay on trails and not step into meadows, which can cause tremendous damage you can’t see. You’re not just threatening the millions of seeds lying in there, waiting for the right moment to germinate, but you could also be “destroying bees, caterpillars, butterflies and insects that rely on these wildflowers to support our local ecology,” she warned.

Want even more wildflower hike tips? Read our full guide, “Where to See Wildflowers Near You in the Bay Area.”

Where to see mushrooms sprouting

The wet year has also extended the mushroom season.

“Normally this time of year, it would be at the end of the season,” J.R. Blair, amateur mycologist and retired lecturer in biology at San Francisco State University, told KQED Forum.

Blair said that right now, you’ll be able to spot chanterelles, which have begun to sprout earlier. People should also be looking for yellowfoots and black trumpets, two really good edible mushrooms that can be found fruiting in numbers.

Mushrooms in the forest.
Three chanterelle mushrooms in the forest. (Tsvetomir Hristov/Getty Images)

Blair recommended visiting places like Point Reyes National Seashore and Salt Point State Park, which allow mushroom collecting in limited amounts. He reminded people to be sure to check the park websites for any closures.

Never gone foraging before and want to try it? Blair advises going on trips with local mycological societies, where you can learn from people who are more knowledgeable — and, most importantly, who can teach you how to identify the mushrooms you definitely should not eat.

“What you need to do, in essence, is to not only learn the characteristics of the edible species but learn the characteristics of the poisonous lookalikes,” said Blair.

The hikes that offer the ‘3 W’s’: Wildflowers, wildlife and wows

Brad Day, publisher for WeekendSherpa.com, recommended that KQED Forum listeners head out to Sunol Wilderness Regional Preserve in the East Bay to see some tremendous wildflowers blooming right now. Specifically, he recommends you register for the guided wildflower walks in the Little Yosemite area (PDF) as a great way to learn about the local fauna.

The Canyon View Trail to Little Yosemite brings you through beautiful woodlands and hills, with serene canyon views and a lush stream. Be sure to check out the website for closures and parking fees.

Point Reyes National Seashore from Chimney Rock Trail at sunset, in the winter of 2021. (Conrad J Camit/Getty Images)

Chimney Rock in Point Reyes is another spot Day recommends. He says such places have the “three W’s” going for them: “It has the wildflowers, has the wildlife and it has the wowing views,” said Day. And once we get some warmer weather, there will be a bounty of wildflowers at Chimney Rock through the spring.

Also, from January through May, there’s a chance you might see migrating gray whales as they head up to Alaska. “In the spring, they usually have had their babies or their calves, so they’re sticking a little bit closer to shore,” said Day. “So your chance of seeing them are a little bit better.”

Plus, Chimney Rock is a great place to spot elephant seals. Overall, said Day, Point Reyes is a great place to see a combination of all the wonders of spring.

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See a list of helpful resources and trails from Forum, including these below:

Related articles:

Tips for your hiking plans:

  • Check out the website of the park you plan to visit before heading out to see whether the trails are open, whether you need a reservation for parking, etc.
  • Always bring plenty of water.
  • Always bring sunscreen or a hat (or both!).
  • Always bring hiking boots and maybe a change of shoes for afterward.
  • Stay on the trail and do not step into the meadows.
  • Foraging: Learn the characteristics of the edible species of mushrooms and the characteristics of the poisonous lookalikes.

Hikes and waterfall sites in the Bay Area and beyond:

Dog-friendly Bay Area hikes and waterfall sites:

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