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Free guided New Year’s Day hikes: Where to get a workout in the Bay Area

Several people are taking photos with smartphones against a city skyline, with water and a boat visible in the foreground.
People take photos of the San Francisco Skyline during a hike on Angel Island State Park in Tiburon. | Source: Michael Macor/SF Chronicle/Getty Images

Ready to start 2024 off in a healthy direction?

On New Year’s Day, hundreds of free, guided hikes will be available in all 50 states under a program called First Day Hikes. In California, more than 60 state parks are offering some 80 hikes guided by park staff or seasoned volunteers.

In the Bay Area, about two dozen hikes are scheduled, including a five-mile climb to the top of Angel Island, and a two-mile trek through Samuel P. Taylor State Park in Marin County, which has one of the few remaining redwood groves around.

California’s First Day Hikes website includes an interactive map so that all the state’s hikes – from mere meanders to serious vertical climbs – can be searched by park name and county. Clicking on individual hikes brings up information on start times and descriptions about what you’ll see, what to bring and wear, the distances involved and the difficulty of the hikes. 

View of San Francisco Bay from Mount Tamalpais
Hikers on Mount Tamalpais can be rewarded with spectacular views of Marin, San Francisco Bay and the city. | Source: Adobe Stock

No reservations are required for most hikes, though some ask for an RSVP.

Generally, the hikes are free, but most parks have day-use parking fees that apply.  

First Day Hikes got its start in 1992 when about 400 hikers gathered on New Year’s morning at the Blue Hills Reservation in Milton, Massachusetts, with its scenic views and 125 miles of trails, according to the Quincy Sun newspaper. A more nationwide effort began 20 years later, said Jorge Moreno, a public information officer at the California Department of Parks and Recreation. 

Entry to a Big Basin Redwoods State Park
A minivan drives through the southern entrance of Big Basin Redwoods State Park along California State Route 236 in 2012. | Source: Shmuel Thaler/MediaNews Group/Getty Image

He said the most popular New Year hikes at parks in Northern California are at Big Basin Redwood State Park, north of Santa Cruz, and Mount Tamalpais in Marin.

Moreno is planning to take his beagle, Luka, on a 6.5-mile loop trail overlooking the Middle Fork of the American River at the Auburn State Recreation Area, which has a number of dog-friendly hikes.

As a word of caution, Moreno advised checking the First Day Hike website on the morning of Jan. 1 to make sure your hike is still on schedule. Last year, many were canceled due to winter storms.