Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Urban Hiker SF's 2017 Holiday Gift Guide

The holidays can be fun—or stressful—if you're trying to pick out the perfect gift for a loved one. To make your job a little easier, we at Urban Hiker SF have compiled a list of gifts for your favorite urban explorers. These are my own personal recommendations and are not sponsored by these companies. I've organized this list into a few categories: fitness trackers, hiking gear, clothing, books, and misc. in case you want to scroll down to the category that's most relevant for what you're looking for.


Fitbit: I wear a Fitbit every day and love how it tracks my sleep, measures my heart rate, reminds me to move, and lets me use the Fitbit app to enter friendly competitions with friends (or solo). Though it's one of the more expensive models, I wear and recommend the Alta HR because I love seeing how my resting heart rate goes down after a few days of activity or how the amount of sleep I get affects my mood for the rest of the day.

Amazfit: If you're looking for a tracker that doesn't look like a fitness tracker, some people (including my mom!) prefer the Amazfit Equator, which looks like an design-y bracelet. It doesn't have a display, but you can always open up the Amazfit app to track your progress.


Backpack: Every hiker needs a good backpack, and I have an older version of the Deuter Speed Lite. The backpack has two easy-to-reach pockets for water bottles on each side as well as another easily-accessible top zip-up pocket where I store my wallet and phone. The pack is light enough to carry for long hikes but large enough to fit layers, snacks, and anything I'd need for a full day of hiking. Another great thing is that it has a special pocket for a hydration reservoir (see below) and a drink tube holder on one of the backpack straps for easy drinking access.

Hydration reservoir: If you're going on a longer hike, you will need a good hydration reservoir. I have a three-liter one as I know I never want to run out of water on the trail. Three-liter reservoirs are common and there's a wide selection of them here. I've got this one from Platypus and it works great for me.

Headlamps: Headlamps let you keep the urban exploring going long after sundown. I have this basic Petzl model, which I use for hiking and camping. When buying a headlamp, just make sure you get one with >50 lumens, so it's bright enough to see on the darkest nights. If you want a detailed buying guide for headlamps, check out this one from REI. 

Hiking Poles: Hiking or trekking poles are great for a number of reasons, including reducing the impact of hiking on your body. They can also propel you forward and can be a big help on hills. I personally like adjustable, collapsable poles, so you can stow them in your backpack when you're not using them. And while some people swear by anti-shock hiking poles, they can be significantly heavier than regular poles and therefore not ideal for longer routes. Again, check the REI guide for more details. I don't necessarily have a recommendation here, but here is Amazon's pick for poles.

Tecnu: According to the American Skin Association, 85% of the population is allergic to poison ivy, oak, and sumac—and 10-15% is extremely allergic. 

The great thing is that you can prevent reactions from these plants even after exposure with something called Tecnu. This product wipes away the urushiol oil that causes the reaction, and keeps you away from annoying (and potential harmful) rashes. I buy 50-packs of the stuff like this: Tecnu Oak-n-Ivy Cleanser, Box of 50 0.5 oz. Packets and throw a few packs in my bag before every hike.

Clothing is very personal, so I'm just offering two ideas here that should work for most people.

Wool arm warmers: I discovered wool arm warmers when I was more of a biker than a hiker. Now, I don't understand why more hikers don't wear these. I much prefer putting on and taking off these than wearing a long-sleeved shirt. If you live in a warmer climate, you can always opt for fleece arm warmers instead of wool ones.


Scarf with built-in insect repellent: I am lucky—when I'm in the outdoors, mosquitos leave me alone. But I know most aren't so lucky. I don't personally need this item, but received one for free, and I just love it because it's really cute! The clothing includes Insect Shield® repellant and you can even wash it up to 25 times.

Urban Hiker SF T-Shirts
We created a new line of urban hiking-themed t-shirts that help you show off  your love of SF. T-shirts either feature our logo or our favorite SF landmark, Sutro Tower. 


I love Stairway Walks in San Francisco. My dad bought me this book when I moved to San Francisco 10 years ago, so for me, this is the quintessential urban exploring book for our city. The fact that this book is in its eighth edition is a testament to its enduring success.

And of course I need to suggest my book, Urban Trails: San Francisco! If you want to explore not just stairways, but also the 70 miles of hiking trails that San Francisco has to offer, this is a great book for you. The book includes 50 different routes, 40 right in the city, 6 north of the city, and 4 south of the city.


To be fair, I do not have this book yet: 111 Places in San Francisco That You Must Not Miss, but I've been intrigued by its title and think this could be fun for  people new to the city as well as seasoned veterans who are looking for new things to do.

I'm going to stop here with the books, but could mention so many more! Maybe I'll do a whole post on books for urban explorers. :)


365 Mile Challenge: This year I joined the 365 Mile Challenge, an online community (run on facebook/over email) where the goal is for everyone to strive for 365 self-powered miles in one year. As someone who runs a hiking company, I knew I'd hit 365 miles, but I joined anyway to meet other hikers. The community is well-run and has lots of giveaways too for hiking gear. I ended up winning a swag bag with probably $200+ worth of stuff! You can sign up to be notified when 2018 registration opens. I gave this to myself this year and it was a blast to be a member. While anyone can join, I'd say 99% of the people in the group are women. For people looking for more of a challenge, it looks like there is a 1,000 mile challenge too (run by another group)!

Urban Hiker SF Gift Certificates: Gift Certificates are available on the Gifts & Merch page of our website. Gift certificates are sent to your recipient—or you—instantly, so they're great for even the most last minute of shoppers.    

I hope you've enjoyed this holiday gift roundup for hikers. Happy Trails and Happy Holidays from Urban Hiker SF. 

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Mt. Umunhum—Open to the Public at Last

At a book signing for Urban Trails San Francisco in early 2017, an attendee asked me if I
had heard of Mt. Umunhum. Um...unhum? Um...no.

I had done a fair bit of hiking in the Bay Area to research and write my book, so I was perplexed as to why I hadn't heard about this mountain. When I returned home, I Googled it and realized that Mt. Umunhum had been closed to the public since 1958. Lucky for me, it was set to re-open in September 2017. 

Silicon Valley is somewhere there under the clouds

Resting Place of the Hummingbird
That gave me some time to learn more about this place. At 3,486 feet, Mt. Umunhum is the fourth highest peak in the Santa Cruz mountains and the highest point on the Bay Area Ridge Trail

The mountain's name means "resting place of the hummingbird" in the Ohlone language. In fact, at one time, this was a large Native American population centers—with 70 diverse tribal units.

Here's a timeline of what happened to the mountain since then:
  • Mid-1800s: the area was part of a nearby mining operation.
  • 1870s: German and Austrian immigrants poured into the area to escape the Franco-Prussian War. 
  • 1957-1980: The US government built and operated the Almaden Air Force Station here. It was part of a network of radar stations used to watch over the area during the Cold War. 
  • 1986: Midpeninsula Regional Open Space bought the land for $260,000.
  • 2009: Federal funding helps restore the peak.
  • 2014: Santa Clara County Measure AA provided funding to complete road and trail improvements, parking areas, and weather shelters.
  • September 2017: Mt. Umunhum opens to the public!
So finally...after months of waiting...not long compared to the years others have waited...I got to hike Mt. Umunhum this past weekend. Here's a bit more about my hike:

About the hike
Distance: 8.4 miles
Elevation: 1,401
Difficulty: Challenging according to this calculator, but I felt it was moderate.
Trail type: Multi-use (we saw a fair # of mountain bikers on the trail)
Dogs allowed: No :(
Route: https://www.strava.com/activities/1253931464
Official Map: https://www.openspace.org/sites/default/files/map_SA.pdf

We started our hike in the Mount Umunhum Summit Parking Area at the end of Mt. Umunhum Road. We had initially planned to park in the Bald Mountain Parking Area lower down on Mt. Umunhum Road, but all 20 or so parking spots were already taken by the time we got there....at 9:30 am. So off to the summit we went. 

View from the Summit Parking Area

The summit parking lot offers some nice views of Silicon Valley below. Once you've explored those views, climb 159 stairs to the actual summit. There, you find "The Cube" a Cold War era radio building. Behind the cube, you'll find the start of the Mt. Umunhum Trail. 

The Cube
The trail is in good condition and is wide enough to walk two abreast. It has some overlooks with views of the valley below, but is mainly wooded and surrounded by trees. It took us about 1.25 hours to get back to the Bald Mountain Parking Area where we originally tried to park. We stopped in the parking area to take a quick lunch break and then headed uphill. Our return trip took about 1.5 hours. While I was scared about doing the uphill with 4 miles already in my legs, the grade is gentile with 350 feet of elevation each mile.

Parting thoughts
Overall, I enjoyed this hike and am glad we did it. I wanted to make sure I saw this peak for its significance for the area, but I might not drive 3 hours each weekend to do this unless it's a spectacularly clear day. 

Up for a visit? Visit the Sierra Azul Open Space Preserve website for park hours, directions, and info on an audio tour.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Two Great Hikes Near Cavallo Point and Fort Baker

Last year, I went to a wedding reception at the Cavallo Point Lodge and my boyfriend and I decided to spend the night there. The morning after the reception, we wanted to take advantage of our location and get some exercise, so we decided to explore some local trails. I revisited these trails again recently and wanted to write about them so you can take advantage of them, too.

Hike 1: Cavallo Point Loop

2 miles, 200 feet elevation gain
Shortened version on the trail on Relive 

From outside the hotel’s main building (where the valet stand is) walk diagonally across the large lawn to reach the intersection of Murray Circle and Center Road. There you'll see a (small) trail sign for the Bay Trail. Head straight here onto Moore Street and then take your first left onto Sommerville Street. Start walking along Horseshoe Bay. 

When you reach the Presidio Yacht Club after about 0.1 mile, take a wood walkway in front of the building. Then continue walking along the bay through a parking lot, and at the back of the parking lot, take a dirt path on your left that leads to a stairway up Battery Yates. Walk on a path along the battery, and then at the end of the battery, climb down a few stairs.

Pick up a wide dirt path and turn on narrow path to your right (see below: you probably won't think this is a trail). This narrow path will take you to a wide dirt area (see below). Walk to the back of the wide dirt area and look for a narrow (often overgrown) path that takes you up stairway and then to East Road (no sign).

Here's where the path gets tricky!
Across East Road and to the left is a trail sign for the Drown Road Trail. Continue uphill for 0.6 miles on this trail. The first 0.4 miles will mainly be in eucalyptus groves and the last 0.2 miles are exposed.

Eucalpytus trees on the Drown Road Trail

View of Fort Baker and the GGB from the Drown Road Trail
After this, you'll see the Chapel Steps Trail on your left. Follow this trail for a short 0.1 miles to a flight of stairs that leads you by the Mission Blue Chapel. Continue on the trail until it ends at the intersection of Merrill Street and Settler Road. Take Settler Road and then take your first left on Kober Street (no sign). You know you're on the right street when you see the large lawn peeking into view. Turn left onto Murray Circle to finish your hike.

Hike 2: Slacker Hill
3.5-5.4 miles, 900-1,100 feet elevation gain
View on the trail on Relive 

If you have access to a car or the hotel shuttle, you can do the shorter version of this hike (seen in linked Relive video above), which starts at the North Tower Golden Gate Parking area. If not, you'll have to climb Conzelman Road (see here) up to the Golden Gate Bridge.
If you're starting at the parking area, walk to the back of the parking lot away from the highway. You’ll soon see a sign for the Coastal Trail. 

Head up a few stairs and enter a small grove of trees—your only shade on this route. At 0.1 mile, reach Conzelman Road. Cross at the crosswalk, and pick up the SCA Trail (Coastal Trail) on the other side of the road. For 0.3 mile, you’ll walk along a few long uphill switchbacks lined with coastal scrub as you climb high above busy US 101. Across the highway, you can see Fort Baker, the bay, and Angel Island. When the switchbacks end, your route heads north in the direction of the Robin Williams Tunnel.

When you reach a junction with the Coastal Trail at 1.1 miles, stay left to follow it toward McCullough Road. The din of car traffic will finally die down. After 0.3 mile, reach a sign for McCullough Road. Right after this, turn left and climb 0.2 miles to the top of Slacker Hill - elevation 930 feet. Here you'll get some of the best views of the Golden Gate Bridge. Return the way you came. 

View from Slacker Hill

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Can you walk across an entire country? Yes, yes you can. Enter: Liechtenstein.

Every year, one of my goals is to leave the US and to visit a new country. In March 2017, I was still feeling the energy behind my new year's resolutions, and wanted to take care of this goal early in the year.

My boyfriend had a business trip in London that month. And while I often join him on these trips, the scheduling just didn't work out this time. But we decided to take advantage of his being in Europe for me to fly over there and for us to visit a new country together: LIECHTENSTEIN.
A tiny bit about the tiny country of Liechtenstein...  
SchloƟ Vaduz or Vaduz Castle
Liechtenstein is a constitutional monarchy. At the head of the monarchy is His Serene Highness Hans-Adam II. The prince and his heir apparent, prince Alois, still live in an actual castle, Vaduz castle. Liechtenstein appears to be so safe, that you can walk right up to the front door of the castle. (Can you imagine doing this at the White House?!)

Liechtenstein is the 6th smallest country in the world. At 62 square miles, it's just 20% larger than San Francisco. It is also highly developed: it has more registered companies than citizens and boasts has a literacy rate of 100%! (Other Liechtenstein fun facts here.)
Now, back to the story of our hike...

From London, Brett headed to Zurich where I met him. The day after my arrival, we took a quick train ride to Lucerne, where we climbed Mount Pilatus....in sneakers....in knee deep snow (route on Strava). In our defense, we did not know it would be covered in snow until about halfway through the hike, and by that time, we didn't feel like turning around.

Pedestrian bridge across the Rhine
In order to hike across Liechtenstein, we were going to start in Switzerland and end in Austria. So a few days after our Pilatus hike, we found ourselves on a train to Buchs with some friends of ours—two of whom live in Berlin and two of whom live near Fribourg, Switzerland.

The Buchs train station is just 0.4 miles from the Rhine River and the Liechtenstein border. After getting off the train, we walked toward the river and headed north for on a bike and pedestrian path to reach a pedestrian bridge.

On the bridge, we crossed over into Liechtenstein. My 2017 goal was accomplished and I was feeling good!

Love locks: a global epidemic
On the other side of the bridge, we continued north on another path along the Rhine. After about 2.5 miles, we began to bear right to get off the riverside path to enter a town called Bendern where we took a small detour to look at a church. The church was perched on a hill and gave us a nice view of the valley below.

We continued on main roads to head east across the country. We decided to take a lunch break in the town of Eschen. There were just a few restaurants there and many of them were closed. We loaded up on food, and reinvigorated by the calories (many of which came from Pringles), we soldiered on, starting our post-lunch walk with a long staircase.

Snow in the Alps, smiles on our faces
We passed many adorable houses on our way. I don't think it gets much quainter than this.

Quant surrounds all around
We eventually reached a stairway with a view of the next valley, which was in Austria!

Looking down at Austria
At the bottom of the stairs, we approached the Austrian border. While most people drive, we, of course, were walking. We also saw a cyclist ride through. Now we were in a small city called Feldkirch (population ~30,000). 

Crossing the border on foot
We reached a serene path lined by fields. There was a garbage cleanup crew with an adorable border collie. I think there were two pieces of trash in the whole country.

Nature's glory. Why did I leave this place?
We continued into town and headed to a bus stop to get to Vaduz, Liechtenstein's capital, where we spent the night. The next day, we got our passports stamped at the Liechtenstein Center for a few € and hiked to the ruins of an old castle, WildSchloƟ, also known as Shalun Castle.

Here is a summary of our hike!
Distance: 9.8 miles
Time: 4.5 hours total including lunch; 2.5 hours moving
Start: Buchs, Switzerland
End: Feldkirch, Austria
Strava track: https://www.strava.com/activities/916801849

If you ever get a chance to hike across Liechtenstein, I highly recommend it. The walk was lovely and you'll get bragging rights for crossing a whole country on foot.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Tomales Point Trail in Point Reyes: Elk, Sun, and Sand

The Fourth of July weekend was a great time to do a day trip outside my normal stomping grounds. My friend Alex was game for an adventure, so we decided to hit up the Tomales Point Trail in Point Reyes National Seashore. 

Hike Stats:
  • Distance: 9.5 miles 
  • Elevation gain: 1,223 feet
  • Moving time: 3:14
  • Elapsed time: 4:13 
  • Trailhead: goo.gl/kaMAE3 
According to this site, the hike is rated as  Challenging, but I'd rate it as Moderate. Though there were some hills, but I didn't find them particularly difficult or steep. That said, I do live in San Francisco, so my view on hills is likely skewed.

Why this hike was awesome:

Tomales Point
1. Non-stop ocean and bay views: This hike follows a narrow peninsula between Tomales Bay and the Pacific Ocean. This means you are surrounded by water for the entire route. The first part of the hike ends at Tomales Point, a great place to have a picnic lunch while soaking in the views.

2. Wildlife: The hike goes through a Tule elk preserve. I mean look at these guys! After speaking with a bunch of hikers, it seemed that people who hiked earlier in the day saw more elk than we did (we started at 11 am). The early hikers mentioned that the crowds that come later sometimes scare the elk away. We were lucky to hike at a time of year when there were many babies among the adult elk.

In addition to the elk, another hiker saw sea lions and I saw an adorable gopher.

Yellow bush lupine
3.  Wildflowers: There were a lot of lovely flowers including wild radish and yellow bush lupine and wild radish. While the rest of the trail was covered in dead grasses, the flowers added a lot of beauty. 

4. Easy to follow: I venture to say it's almost impossible to get lost on this trail. You find the trailhead by walking in a straight line from the parking lot, and there are zero turns on the trail. It was super easy to find our way into, out of , and around the area.

What could have been better:

I really enjoyed this hike, but if I could come up with a few minor critiques, they would be the following:

1. Crowds: There were a lot of people on this trail. I did do the hike on the Fourth of July weekend, so maybe that was my fault. :)

2. Out-and-back instead of a loop: I am a novelty seeker, so I prefer loop hikes that don't double back over repeat territory. But honestly, this out-and-back trip didn't bother me. I enjoyed it!

3. Walking in sand. From miles ~4-7, the trail is unmaintained. It's marked as such, so you know when you're getting to the unmaintained section. This wasn't a huge bother, but parts of the trail were very sandy and sand is not my favorite terrain. Still, not a big deal! You can just empty your shoes after the unmaintained section. And you can't really be surprised to see sand when you're walking on a narrow peninsula between two bodies of water

Overall assessment:
As an animal lover, I really enjoyed this hike. The elk sightings were a true highlight as were the ocean and bayside trails. The hike was also just hard enough to be satisfying, but not hard enough to be too tiring. I would definitely do this hike again as the elk sightings would be different every time. As long as the weather is good, this is a unique hike I'd bring out-of-town friends on, too.

View this trail on Relive: https://www.relive.cc/view/1065011721

Note: No restrooms at the start of the trail, so stop 5 miles before this trailhead at the Abbott's Point Lagoon trailhead.