A highlight of a trail  popular with cyclists in Montara State Beach/McNee Ranch State Park: Going over Highway 1, aka Devil's Slide. All state parks will be free to the public the day after Thanksgiving.

A highlight of a trail popular with cyclists in Montara State Beach/McNee Ranch State Park: Going over Highway 1, aka Devil's Slide. All state parks will be free to the public the day after Thanksgiving. (Miranda Leitsinger/KQED)

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Get outside!

Simple as that, a rebuke to the shopping mania that Black Friday has become known for. Last year, outdoor retailer REI launched a movement to get people to #optoutside, shuttering its stores on what is traditionally one of the biggest shopping days of the year to push people to go, well, outdoors.

This year, the California State Parks and two environmental groups are continuing that idea in spirit, offering free admission to dozens of state parks. Here’s how you can snag one of the free passes they’re handing out (the number is limited to 13,000 statewide).

To give you some inspiration, here are nine favorite state park hikes from KQED staff members — including yours truly. The walks range from moderate to hard in difficulty, and all should give you some great exercise and scenery as well as a break from the shopping crowd. Note: Dogs are permitted in most state parks but must be on a leash (more details; a good idea to call ahead and check).

Hard

1. Mount Diablo State Park: Triple Peak Grand Loop

Mount Diablo State Park. All state parks will be free to the public the day after Thanksgiving.
Mount Diablo State Park, view from Eagle Peak. All state parks will be free to the public the day after Thanksgiving. (Miranda Leitsinger/KQED)

This includes three summits: the actual one (at 3,849 feet), North Peak and Eagle Peak.  About 11 miles. Stunning views, challenging climbs and magnificent sunsets. Full-day hike. Bring water, food and a hat! Best starting place for the hike is Juniper Campground, meaning you should take the park entrance (North Gate) in Walnut Creek. (See park brochure.)
Miranda Leitsinger, Engagement Producer

2. Portola Redwoods State Park: Peters Creek Loop

Portola Redwoods State Park. All state parks will be free to the public the day after Thanksgiving.
Portola Redwoods State Park. All state parks will be free to the public the day after Thanksgiving. (Miranda Leitsinger/KQED)

Nestled between Skyline Boulevard and Pescadero on the coast in La Honda, Portola offers a unique hike in the Peters Creek Trail Loop. About 12.5 miles with a few tough climbs and a descent into a canyon with ancient old-growth redwoods spared from logging (due to the steepness of the canyon). A true treasure — otherworldly — and worth the workout. Full-day hike. Mostly shaded. (See park brochure.)
Miranda Leitsinger, Engagement Producer

3. Montara State Beach/McNee Ranch State Park: Montara Mountain Hike

Montara State Beach/McNee Ranch State Park. All state parks will be free to the public the day after Thanksgiving.
Montara State Beach/McNee Ranch State Park. All state parks will be free to the public the day after Thanksgiving. (Miranda Leitsinger/KQED)

A climb up Montara Mountain, tucked between Montara and Pacifica, to the summit from Gray Whale Cove will really get the heart pumping. It is challenging. But the 360-degree views from the summit — from Mount Diablo to the Golden Gate Bridge to Half Moon Bay — are worth it. Add on a trail (that crosses “The Saddle'”marked on the map) more used by cyclists that goes over the top of Devil’s Slide — you won’t regret it. About 10.5 miles. Bring layers — you can go above the clouds, in this case, fog — and end up in sunny skies. Also you should have a hat, too, in case it’s sunny. (See park brochure.)
Miranda Leitsinger, Engagement Producer

4. Henry W. Coe State Park: Grizzly Gulch to Coit Lake

Henry W. Coe State Park. All state parks will be free to the public the day after Thanksgiving.
Henry W. Coe State Park. All state parks will be free to the public the day after Thanksgiving. (Olivia Allen-Price/KQED)

Henry Coe in Morgan Hill in the South Bay is my go-to spot for last-minute backpacking trips or hikes when I want to get away from it all. The park is massive, and I’ve never seen it crowded  — partly because most hikes in this park feature some strenuous climbs, such as the Grizzly Gulch Trail to Coit Lake for a 12- to 13-mile round-trip trek (you can also make the hike shorter by checking out some of the other trails off of Grizzly Gulch). Coit Lake is my favorite spot for camping or a picnic (and in summer months, a skinny dip!). (See park brochure.)
Olivia Allen-Price, host/producer of Bay Curious podcast

Moderate

5. Angel Island State Park: Mount Livermore 

Angel Island State Park. All state parks will be free to the public the day after Thanksgiving.
Angel Island State Park. All state parks will be free to the public the day after Thanksgiving. (Miranda Leitsinger/KQED)

History, a ferry ride, views of the Golden Gate, lots of wildlife and a charming cove. Angel Island was home to an Army camp in the mid-1800s and to an immigration station from 1910 to 1940. Some of the buildings from each era remains, and you can, and should, visit them as part of a hike on the island. The hike up to Mount Livermore is energetic but manageable (the round trip is 6 miles). The reward is the incredible view of the Golden Gate Bridge from a unique vantage point in the bay. Other hikes around the island are less taxing and friendly family. Definitely a fun day outing. (See park brochure.
Miranda Leitsinger, Engagement Producer

6. Big Basin Redwoods State Park: Berry Creek Falls Trail

Big Basin Redwoods State Park. All state parks will be free to the public the day after Thanksgiving.
Big Basin Redwoods State Park. All state parks will be free to the public the day after Thanksgiving. (Miranda Leitsinger/KQED)

I grew up around the North Carolina mountains, and what I miss the most are the waterfalls — they’re everywhere in Appalachia. When I need a waterfall fix, I head to the Berry Creek Falls Trail in Big Basin Redwoods State Park in Boulder Creek, about 20 miles north of Santa Cruz. Paired with the Sunset Trail and the Skyline to the Sea Trail, you can make a 10-mile loop that’s great for trail running. (See park brochure.)
Olivia Allen-Price, host/producer of Bay Curious podcast

7. Mount Tamalpais State Park: Dipsea Trail

Mount Tamalpais State Park. All state parks will be free to the public the day after Thanksgiving.
Mount Tamalpais State Park. All state parks will be free to the public the day after Thanksgiving. (Miranda Leitsinger/KQED)

When I first moved to California about three years ago, one of the first hikes I went on was the Dipsea Trail in Marin County. It’s a 7-mile hike that starts near the bottom of Mount Tam in Mill Valley and ends at Stinson Beach. The first 2 miles are a grueling uphill slog but you’re rewarded with beautiful views of the Marin Headlands, old-growth redwoods and the Pacific Ocean. You can take a bus back to town from the beach — or if you’re in for an all-day affair, you can hike back! (See park brochure.)
Tiffany Camhi, reporter

8. The Forest of Nisene Marks State Park: Bridge Creek Loop

The Forest of Nisene Marks State Park. All state parks will be free to the public the day after Thanksgiving.
The Forest of Nisene Marks State Park. All state parks will be free to the public the day after Thanksgiving. (Miranda Leitsinger/KQED)

In Nisene Marks, a park outside the Santa Cruz County beach town of Aptos, an enchanting, moderately difficult loop takes you through lush green forest. When I went in early fall, the sunlight coming through the trees gave the forest a brilliant glow. There’s a lot of history in this forest — from its logging days (there are some historical structures you can see, marked on the park map) to its being the epicenter of the 1989 Loma Prieta quake (you can detour from the trail to visit the spot). I’d read that you could see seashells — yes, seashells — from when the area was part of an inland sea, and thrillingly I came across many.  This can be from 7 to 9 miles if you take detours. Do be careful to keep an eye on the trail. I wandered off the path to take in the seashells and it took me a while to find a way back onto it from the creek. Mostly shaded. (See park brochure.)
Miranda Leitsinger, Engagement Producer

9. Millerton Lake State Recreation Area: Sky Harbor Hike

Springtime California poppies at Millerton Lake State Recreation Area. All state parks will be free to the public the day after Thanksgiving.
Millerton Lake State Recreation Area. All state parks will be free to the public the day after Thanksgiving. (Sasha Khokha/KQED)

Spectacular hike in the Sierra foothills near Fresno featuring an occasional glimpse of bald eagles that nest near Millerton Lake. It’s a medium-level hike, with quite a bit of uphill, but my 5-year-old did the first mile of it, determined to collect poppies last spring. (See park brochure.)
Sasha Khokha, host of The California Report Magazine

One last photo, for inspiration, from Mount Diablo.


Mount Diablo State Park. All state parks will be free to the public the day after Thanksgiving. (Miranda Leitsinger/KQED)
  • Nancy Berry

    So, no hikes for those of us who love to hike, but can’t manage more than an easy trail. Perhaps someone could give us some suggestions.

    • A pleasant and intriguing walk is the trail down to the ruins of Wolf House at Jack London State Park in Glen Ellen (Sonoma County). This is the grand lodge in the woods that London was building for him and his wife, Charmian. It burned when it was nearly completed but the rambling multi-story stoneworks still stand. London didn’t live to restart the project. Afterward, you can hang out at the visitors’ center, which is in Jack & Charmian’s former house — the one that didn’t burn down.