There are few things that bring me peace of mind as swiftly as those first steps onto a trail. The chatter of news, social media, and my own thoughts fall away as I tune into the birds chirping, trees rustling, and my footsteps on the dirt. It’s a treat to share that experience with a hiking companion, but if living alone during this pandemic has taught me anything, it’s that there is a profound sense of ease that comes from being in nature by yourself.
Solo hiking isn’t completely new to me, but these days it’s become the main way I get outside. I’m fortunate to have grown up near open space preserves in the North Bay, and I had the experience of feeling safe and comfortable on those trails. Pair that with my outlook as a stubbornly independent only child, and you’ve got the makeup for someone primed to hike on their own.
But I think anyone can enjoy hiking in solitude, and that’s why I’m here to share some of the things I’ve enjoyed about this practice, preserves to check out, and safety precautions to keep in mind. For me, solo hiking has become one of those unexpected gifts from physical distancing over the last year.
When I moved into my apartment in mid-2019 to live alone for the first time ever, I had no concept of just how much time I’d be spending by myself within those walls a year later. As anyone in a household-of-one can tell you, it can be hard to get a break from your internal dialogue when you can’t leave your house much.
Early on in the pandemic, I recognized that I needed to regularly get outside to stay sane. In its own way, social distancing precautions created an opportunity to continue my exploration of POST-protected lands safely, and on my own schedule.
Over the last year, I’ve enjoyed the views from preserves like Almaden Quicksilver County Park, Coyote Valley Open Space Preserve and Rancho Corral de Tierra, allowing nature to welcome me in, slow down my mind, and put things into perspective. No matter what was going on everywhere else that day, trees were growing taller, squirrels were on a nut gathering mission, creeks were wandering to their destination. The natural world, despite everything, moves forward.
As a woman, it’s even more gratifying to walk for miles, freely occupying space without interruption other than a friendly passerby now and then. After all, annoyances and dangers of the urban world tend to stay in urban spaces, and the only catcalls I might come across would be from actual bobcats — and they prefer to keep to themselves.
Whether you are a seasoned hiker or just someone suddenly realizing that “outside” means much more to you during these always-inside times, here are some things to keep in mind when you embark on a solo hike:
Finally, remember to visit Bay Area Outdoors to check trail availability and find tips for staying Covid-safe at a distance from others on your hike.
As I’ve learned over the course of this year, there are so many great places to hike alone in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Here are two spots that I’ve found especially enjoyable. Hope to see you on the trail!
The views from the top of Windy Hill are spectacular. On clear days, you can see both the San Francisco Bay and Pacific Ocean. As the site of POST’s first-ever land acquisition, this spot is well worth a visit. Here’s more information about the hike to help get you started (there’s a shorter option available too).
This place has a little bit of everything — ridge top views, giant trees, and beautiful meandering creeks. The hike we have detailed here is a good challenge and takes you through the heart of the park. Enjoy!
Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST) protects open space on the Peninsula and in the South Bay for the benefit of all. Since its founding in 1977, POST has been responsible for saving more than 80,000 acres as permanently protected land in San Mateo, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties. Learn more