Outdoor Fun and Cool Rewards: Two Bay Area Trail Challenges

San Mateo County’s Take a Hike Challenge and Bay Area-wide Ridge Trail Challenge offer locals a taste of what their nearby parks have to offer–and prizes!

By Naomi Friedland

Two Bay Area trail challenges present unique opportunities for hikers and would-be hikers for the next couple months. The Take a Hike Challenge in San Mateo County and the Bay Area-wide Ridge Trail Challenge offer structure and encouragement for residents to get outside and explore local trails. Both programs provide participants with routes across their park systems, rewarding those who complete the challenges with prizes. 

Initially, the Take a Hike Program was created in 2008 to help San Mateo County residents connect with local officials. In 2010, Take a Hike shifted into a county parks program within the county’s Healthy Parks program. The program, which runs from April 1st to Oct. 31, 2023, aims to increase outdoor recreation and improve parks to provide appropriate services in the community. 

“Take a Hike is a good way to get people out and get people exercising and having fun while doing it,” says Park Ranger Katherine Wright. 

In the original Take a Hike Program, participants got a taste of the different parks within the county through monthly ranger-led hikes. After the start of the pandemic in 2020, the County adjusted its program into a virtual format, introducing the Take a Hike Challenge rather than the ranger-led program.

The self-guided alternative provides participants with seven selected hiking routes in different areas of San Mateo County. Hikers take selfies or group photos on the trail and submit them through a form or by email to receive prizes. 

San Mateo County brought the in-person Take a Hike Program back in 2022, and both the ranger-led events and the virtual program still draw crowds. 

“We typically get about 200 participating in person and about 50-75 people submitting photos for their Take a Hike Challenge,” Wright says. While the in-person option still remains popular, Wright says she finds a lot of people really enjoy being able to do the hike challenge at their own pace. Take an opportunity to get involved in both challenges at once on the Huddart County Park trail to El Corte de Madera

Ridgetop Adventure

The Ridge Trail Challenge has always been a program for participants to complete independently but with optional guidance from Ridge Trail-provided resources. Alex Sabo, the advocacy and outreach manager at the Ridge Trail, says this hands-off model can be more approachable than the larger, more time-constrained outings.

Until Sept. 30, participants can explore five or more Ridge Trail segments not just by hiking, but also by trail running, biking, or horseback riding. Those who complete the challenge have a chance to win outdoor gear from sponsors including REI, Patagonia, and Mountain Hardwear. 

While the challenge aims to be participant-led, digital tools are available to help people explore, plan, and track trails. This year Bay Area Ridge Trail built a digital Trail Challenge map in collaboration with app developers at OuterSpatial. The map includes directions to trailheads and a list of trails for participants to track progress and check off completed trails. A Bay Area Ridge Trail web page dedicated to the challenge offers clear directions on how to participate as well as suggested trails categorized by the type of experience desired. 

“In order to build that awareness and build that excitement around it, this challenge was created,” says Sabo. There are 150 miles of trails left to build that will fully connect the Ridge Trail and the donations by members help to continue its growth. By getting more people on the trail she hopes more people will fall in love with the Ridge Trail and want to support it.

What these two challenges have in common are their missions to expand outdoor recreation opportunities for people of all backgrounds. 

“There is a range of experience people have outside,” says Sabo. “For people who are experienced or hungry for the outdoors, it is an opportunity to push themselves. For those that being outside is very new, it offers some guidance, tools, and information.” 

Accessibility information for all routes is available to ensure that differently-abled people can participate. 

“Sometimes people don’t feel comfortable going out on their own, so it’s nicer to get a group to go with,” Wright says, referring to the in-person Take a Hike program. She also does outreach to organizations around the county that support underserved communities, promoting the challenge to populations who may be hesitant to visit or unaware of their local trails. 

Follow these links to join in on the fun trail challenges:

Take a Hike Challenge, including two upcoming in-person events: 

Bay Area Ridge Trail Challenge. 

Learn about the San Mateo County ’Parks Foundation.