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The Bay Area’s best bird hikes

Birding is dorky—there, we said it. There’s nothing cool about donning a big floppy hat and a pair of binoculars and heading into the woods to check a new songbird off of your list.

But we’re into it anyway. Because time spent outdoors isn’t (always) about getting a new Facebook profile picture… sometimes it’s actually about finding a sense of peace through communion with nature. And that’s what birding is all about. So this week, we rounded up our favorite hikes for spotting birds in the Bay Area.

Walk with stilts in Coyote Hills

Stilts in Coyote Hills | Bootprints

Coyote Hills Regional Park is surrounded by cattails and bulrushes, making it a haven for herons, egrets, ducks, and other marshland birds. But the park’s crown jewels are its black-necked stilts: black and white birds with long, bright pink legs. They travel in flocks of 20 or 30, which are a sight to behold.

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Hikes around Santa Cruz’s “Mystery Spot”

You’ve seen the billboards. And the bumper stickers. And the t-shirts. And the tote bags. And we know it’s entirely possible that even though you’ve never been to the famous Mystery Spot, you’re already sick of it.

And maybe you’ll never go. But just in case curiosity (be it yours or your out-of-town guests’) gets the best of you, we’ve rounded up a few of our own favorite spots in the area.

Run the trails of Wilder Ranch

Wilder Ranch Trails

Located right off the coast west of Santa Cruz, Wilder Ranch State Park is a former dairy ranch turned state park with 30 miles of trails weaving through the coastal hills. Most of the trails here are fire roads, so they’re wide and rise gradually, making them a favorite for trail runners.

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Sweat one out with Mount Madonna

Close to Big Basin but rarely as crowded, the 3,658-acre Mt. Madonna County Park is one of Santa Clara County’s best hidden gems. The park is best known for its redwood forests, but at lower elevations the landscape transitions to oak woodlands and grassy meadows.

It’s also just 10 miles west of Gilroy, the self-described “garlic capital of the world.” So after you tackle one of the hikes below, stop by Garlic World to stock up your kitchen—unless you’re into fresh breath, of course.

Short Day: Meadow Loop Trail

Meadow Loop Trail | Bootprints

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See California’s drought first-hand

This is California’s worst drought in 100 years. The state’s major reservoirs are at 40 percent capacity, and some are as low as 16 percent of their historical averages. It’s bad out there—but it can be hard to really grasp the extent of the problem from an apartment downtown.

So this week, we’ve rounded up a few local hikes that tour the Bay Area’s diminishing reservoirs. And remember: the state has restricted water consumption by 25 percent, so do us all a favor and leave the trail dust on the Prius a little longer than normal. Don’t skip the post-hike shower, though.

Hike the King Canyon Loop

"July 13, 2014. Upper San Leandro Reservior, near Moraga."

Water from the Upper San Leandro Reservoir is used by the residents of Oakland, Alameda, Hayward, and other nearby cities. The reservoir is usually filled by San Leandro Creek, but it’s been supplemented recently with water diverted from the Sacramento River. So if it looks full, know that’s an illusion.

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Short Day / Long Day: Hayward’s hills

If you’ve been to Hayward lately, chances are it wasn’t to hike. Chances are you were there to do some shopping at the Southland Mall… or you were dragged there by someone who was.

But not too far from Home Depot and Jamba Juice are acres of rolling hills created by the Hayward Fault Zone. With 3,019 combined acres, the Garin/Dry Creek Pioneer Regional Parks offer short hikes—a good way to de-stress after braving retail chaos—and longer hikes for a full day of exploration.

Short Day: Garin Peak

GarinPeak640

From the summit of Garin Peak, hikers get a full view of the San Francisco Bay Area and landmarks like Mt. Tamalpais, Mission Peak, and Mt. Hamilton. Usually that sort of panorama takes hard work… but not here. The3.3-mile loop up the mountain climbs just a few hundred feet.

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