Having worked in the parks and open space field for over 30 years each, one might imagine that Walter Moore, President of the Peninsula Open Space Trust, and Mike Williams, Real Property Manager with Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District, have seen much of what Bay Area parks have to offer. But it wasn’t until they started on their joint venture to circumnavigate all 400 miles of Ridge Trail that their eyes opened up to how stunningly diverse the Bay Area landscape can be.
Their adventure started in the middle of 2020 while looking for something to do during the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown. Walter picked up Elizabeth Byers’ guidebook of the Bay Area Ridge Trail and said, “Mike, we need to get on this.” Mike has been familiar with the Ridge Trail for a long time and even worked on a number of segments, so he was eager to start. Their travel companions (whenever allowed) are “the girls,” two amiable and trail-loving black labs named Shadow and Nellie. Proceeding in a counter-clockwise direction and using mostly a car shuttle approach (leaving one car at the end of the trail and driving back to the start to avoid hiking extra miles out-and-back), they are steadily racking up the miles and are only about one-third of the way through. Walter and Mike expect it will take 5-6 years to complete their journey.
Walter discovered a whole new perspective on the Bay Area: “[circumnavigating] really opens up extraordinary experiences almost every time you go out. I can’t think of any other way that is as well-structured to experience the entire Bay Area.” Mike shared his renewed enthusiasm for the incredible parks and open spaces that encircle the Bay Area. He has noted how well-used the Ridge Trail is, seeing greater diversity and that “a lot of families are out being healthy, having a good time and, in general, it’s free.”
Their advice for those of you considering a circumnavigation? Do it! “Having this ‘North Star’ creates a wonderful way to go sequence-by-sequence through the Bay Area, which is invaluable,” says Walter. “It makes a 400-mile trail very manageable. Absolutely do it.”
We sat down to ask a few questions about their journey on the Ridge Trail so far.
How much did you know about the Ridge Trail before the circumnavigation?
Mike: I’ve been familiar with the Bay Area Ridge Trail Council for a long time through my work supporting the Peninsula’s parks and open spaces. It always amazes me, and I am so appreciative of all the people that had the foresight to create the Ridge Trail. It’s a phenomenal task and requires support from so many organizations and members of the public.
What were some of your favorite trails or places to visit?
Walter: I am well-versed with the parks in the peninsula and on the east side of the south bay. As part of a further exploration, I really wanted to see what other parks are like. I increased my respect and admiration for Santa Clara County Parks in the East Bay, mainly due to Joseph D. Grant county park, and Coyote Lake-Harvey Bear Ranch county park. Those locations were kept up extraordinarily well. Not only were they well-maintained, well-managed – but there were beautiful groves and wide trails. It was a true “ridge” trail in the sense that you are on the ridge the whole way. Just lovely amenities, you get to see all the picnic areas, the lakes, the camping and you think, ‘oh, I’d love to go back and see some of the other trails there.’
Is there a trail or area that you especially look forward to visiting?
Mike: I am always in the moment. As we go north of Tilden Park in the East Bay, I’ll be starting on trails that I haven’t done much hiking on. I am really interested in hiking in the North Bay, Sonoma and Napa. I know that there are some incredible trails to explore.
How is this experience changing your life?
Walter: Well as I’m doing it, it is meeting one of my goals, of the kind of person I always wanted to be—more of a discoverer—getting out and seeing and experiencing new things. It’s helping me do that and I am really deeply appreciative. What I am looking forward to overall is the accomplishment of having done a 550-mile trail and being able to say, ‘Oh yeah, I’ve done the whole thing!’
What has been most surprising?
Mike: I have been pleasantly surprised by how well-used the Ridge Trail is. A number of San Mateo and Santa Clara county trails have become as popular as some of the East Bay Park trails. In general, they are all courteous users, and most of the bicyclists we encounter are very polite. And this is especially true of other people with dogs—who always want to introduce their dogs to “the girls.”
Any final recommendations for someone considering circumnavigating the Ridge Trail?
Walter: A Ridge Trail circumnavigation really opens up extraordinary experiences almost every time you go out. If it’s not learning about a new area, or learning about a park or park district, it’s just the trail itself that’s stunning!
Find resources and more information about circumnavigation here.