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    Bay Area Hikes During the Pandemic to Experience Shinrin-yoku (Forest Bathing)

    By John Chen–

    How many of you have spent more of your time outdoors this past year? Raise your hand if you found yourself at one with nature, often to keep your sanity. Pump your fist if you got in better shape because you have become more active than ever. If you responded positively then somehow, in the most unlikely scenario, the pandemic has actually helped you to reshape and refocus your priorities. And, more likely, it has improved your overall health. If you answered negatively, then perhaps you may want to consider following what many of us are doing to keep us mentally, emotionally, and physically fit: hiking in the great outdoors!

    On social media, now more than ever, I see many friends taking selfies and posting photos of their scenic hikes. Come to think of it, I have done the same thing. My friend Kyle Thompson, a science teacher, is one of many who has discovered nature and tells me, “Hiking is one of the few great activities available during the pandemic lockdown because it’s great to get outside and breathe fresh air, and do a little ‘forest bathing’ (Shinrin-yoku).” Another longtime friend, Tom Todd, said, “[My husband Boris and I] really enjoy urban hiking because it keeps us busy for hours so that we aren’t tempted to go do things that, let’s just say, may not qualify under COVID-19 safety protocols.”

    We are fortunate to live in the Bay Area where natural wonders and beauty surround us amidst the concrete jungle. In fact, we don’t have to travel far to get away. Many of the best hikes are practically in our own backyards! For example, I really enjoy hiking the hills at Garin Regional Park in Hayward as well as Coyote Hills in Fremont. Both offer excellent views of the Bay once you reach the top. There are many other great hikes within a short drive or even walking distance to wherever you are in the Bay Area for you to discover. Here are some of my “pandemic-turned-avid-hiker” friends’ favorite local hikes.

    Leona Canyon Trial, Oakland (recommended by Kyle Thompson)

    Leona Canyon Trail is a somewhat lesser-known hiking trail in Oakland and is a favorite spot for Thompson, his partner, and his two dogs. He told me for the San Francisco Bay Times: “One of our favorite secret spots is the Leona Canyon Trail, where the steep canyon walls shield the trail from excessive heat in the summer, and the stream running along the trail keeps the ground wet year-round to support large bay laurel and California buckeye trees. The trail also has unique features, such as an abandoned homestead with only a mossy stone chimney remaining.”

    The Presidio, San Francisco (recommended by Tom Todd and Boris Wang)

    Many of you may have heard about The Presidio because it is a former military post that is now a National Park and a major recreation hub where people take in the history and the beauty that the city has to offer. Todd tells me that maybe it is time to go again and again. “[Boris] and I take every opportunity to hike The Presidio,” he says. “It is our little national park with miles and miles of trails through forests, defunct forts, and military barracks overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, and downtown. There is always something to see and do. We love it!”

    Claremont Canyon Regional Preserve, Berkeley (recommended by Orlando Baez and William Bir)

    Baez and Bir have been hiking all over the Bay Area every weekend since the start of the pandemic. Baez is especially enthusiastic about finding more challenging hikes through the “AllTrails” app ( https://www.alltrails.com/ ) and recommends the scenic Claremont Canyon Regional Preserve that spans across Berkeley and the Oakland Hills. He explains, “This hike is fun because of all the hills and their ups and downs. Although somewhat of a strenuous hike, once we reach the top, we are rewarded with an amazing panoramic view of downtown Oakland and San Francisco as well as the 5-mile connecting bridge.” Baez also cautioned that “due to the elevation, this hike is probably for the more active and experience hikers. But, if you can do it, it’s well worth the effort!”

    Alum Rock Park, San Jose (recommended by Thang Asia Vuong)

    For those in Silicon Valley, my essential worker friend Thang Asia Vuong tells me that Alum Rock Park is the place for great hikes. The park has nearly 13 miles of trails ranging from easy walks on the valley floor to the most challenging climb to the ridge where you can see sweeping views of the Santa Clara Valley. Vuong says, “There are always beautiful views, especially during spring when wildlife and native plants come to life! I really like all the different view points that give you great perspectives on the South Bay. Just goes to show that you don’t have to leave the Bay Area for an amazing outdoor experience!”

    John Chen, a UCLA alumnus and an avid sports fan, has competed as well as coached tennis, volleyball, softball and football teams.

    Published on February 25, 2021