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Aja Pete

I'm that girl you find on every trail crouched in the loam trying to get a macro shot of a banana slug.

Alamere Falls is one of the most popular hiking destinations in the Bay Area, and sees slightly less daily foot traffic than the Gold Gate Bridge. Despite its busyness, the hike from the Palomarin trailhead is nothing short of delightful. Things get intermediate when you hit the cliffs to climb down to the beach and the waterfall. Expect a backup on the single person trail that diverges from the Coast Trail down to the massive bluffs above the water. Be prepared to wait to climb down and to climb back up when your day is done. Plan for at least 2 hours to hike back to the parking lot. The weather is highly changeable, with the marine layer rolling in and dropping the temperature 20 degrees without warning. Camping can be found a few miles north at Wildcat, and is enjoyable in any season with the right gear. If you take this trail in late fall, you may just catch a glimpse of whales migrating to Baja through the Gulf of the Farallones, as well as the imposing profile of the islands beyond.

Cataract is one of my favorite bay area hikes, but only during the week/offseason. Weekends and holidays see so much action up these epic steps you feel like you've inadvertently entered into some kind of competition. Once you reach the top, you're connected to a handful of options to wind your way back down the mountain, as well as a great picnic area perfect for throwing up a hammock for an early afternoon snooze. Best of all, the trail is dog friendly, with no need to surreptitiously conceal one's 3lb traveling companion in one's backpack.