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:

  • Pick a preserve that is moderately trafficked, ideally where you’ll at least run into a few others in the parking lot, if not on the trail.
  • Plan a route that matches your hiking level, looking at mileage and elevation, so that you feel comfortable completing it on your own. It’s good to challenge yourself, but know you can always build up to longer distances.
  • Tell a friend or family member where you are hiking, your expected duration, and send them a message when you’re back.
  • Bring sustenance and layers: plenty of water, a snack or two, a jacket, a hat. As any Bay Area-an knows, the fog, cloud cover, and wind here have a way of changing without notice throughout the day.
  • Pack a small first aid kit, just in case you or others need help with a minor injury.
  • Navigate with a map or GPS app. Since print maps aren’t always available at preserves, I tend to use apps like Avenza and AllTrails to plan my routes, download the offline map, and check my location as I go, which helps me avoid getting turned around if the trail markers are unclear.
  • Ensure your phone is fully charged, especially if you plan to use it for navigation. If your battery runs out quickly, consider bringing a portable battery charger for longer hikes.
  • Plan to go during broad daylight. While it may seem obvious, make sure you have enough time to complete your hike before it approaches dusk. Dusk is the time it starts getting more dangerous to be by yourself, with mountain lions and other critters starting to emerge for the evening.
  • Keep an ear out if you plan to listen to music or a podcast. While listening to the sounds of nature are a great escape from life’s distractions, some people may want a little more audio accompaniment. Keeping one earbud out allows you to listen for oncoming hikers, bikers, equestrians, and wildlife (you may not want to miss that strange-sounding bird call).

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.


Favorite Solo Hiking Spots in the Santa Cruz Mountains:

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!

Windy Hill trail view - POST

Windy Hill Open Space Preserve

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).

Creek within Sanborn County Park - POST

Sanborn County Park

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!

About Post

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 87,000 acres as permanently protected land in San Mateo, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties. Learn more

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