Three springtime hikes lead you to the Bay Area's most solitary summits

Lora J. Finnegan

The winter rains are ending, the hills are green, and thefirst wildflowers are blooming. In the Bay Area, March is primehiking season. The trouble is, a lot of other people know that too.If you're looking for a spring hike that offers both exercise andwonderful views, you don't need to fight the crowds at Mt.Tamalpais. Instead, you can ascend any of these three lesser-knownBay Area pinnacles and have the summit practically to yourself.Each is a local's secret ― and each offers killer views on anafternoon hike.

MISSION PEAK

Mission Peak Regional Preserve, Fremont. Set above Fremont'sMission San Jose, this peak offers unparalleled views of the SouthBay. But the steep hike is for determined summiteers―youascend nearly 2,000 feet. From the staging area, follow the HiddenValley Trail (part of the Ohlone Wilderness Trail) about 2 1/4miles as it snakes up the grassy slope. Veer right onto Eagle Trailfor about 1/4 mile, then make the last 1/2-mile climb to the top onPeak Meadow Trail.

From the 2,517-foot summit, look for red-tailed hawks or evenhang-gliders riding thermals to the south. Look west to SanFrancisco Bay and east to ridge upon ridge of limitless greenhills.

WHERE: From I-680 in Fremont, take the Mission Blvd. exit,turn east on Stanford Ave., and go to the park staging area at theroad's end.
DISTANCE: 6 miles (out and back).
DIFFICULTY: Difficult.
COST: Free.
CONTACT: www.ebparks.org or (510)635-0135

SAN BRUNO MOUNTAIN

San Bruno Mountain State and County Park, near Brisbane. Notlong ago, this land just south of San Francisco was privatelyowned. Now it's a 2,500-acre park that's gorgeous in spring.

Hop on the Summit Loop Trail for knockout views of SanFrancisco, the East Bay, and the Pacific. In March, you may spotthe peak's unique butterflies, such as the mission blue, and nativewildflowers, such as sun cup.

WHERE: From U.S. 101, take Brisbane/Cow Palace exit toGuadalupe Canyon Pkwy. and follow park signs.
DISTANCE: 3-mile loop.
DIFFICULTY: Moderate.
COST: $4.
CONTACT: (650) 992-6770 or www.sanmateocountyparks.org

WILDCAT PEAK

Charles Lee Tilden Regional Park, Berkeley. InspirationPoint is the hike's jump-off ― and on spring's cool days,this easy walk elicits more inspiration than perspiration. Thefirst 1 3/4 miles are on paved, rolling Nimitz Way, popular withcyclists and joggers. Glance east to see emerald Mt. Diablo andsapphire San Pablo Reservoir, west to gaze at San Francisco,looking like it's made of platinum. Jog west on the short, steepWildcat Peak Trail, pass Rotary Peace Grove, and go about 1/4 mileto the summit of 1,211-foot Wildcat Peak for your final 360-degreevista. Backtrack to return.

WHERE: From State 24 in Orinda, exit at Fish Ranch Rd. andgo west. Head north on Grizzly Peak Blvd. to the Shasta Gateentrance. Follow Shasta Rd. east to Wildcat Canyon Rd., and headsouth to Inspiration Point.
DISTANCE: 4 miles (out and back).
DIFFICULTY: Easy.
COST: Free.
CONTACT: www.ebparks.org or (510)635-0135

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