7 Fall/Winter Adventures in Northern California + What to Gear
(Courtesy of Goldwin)

7 Fall/Winter Adventures in Northern California + What to Gear


Just because summer is over doesn't mean the year's adventures are at an end. In Northern California, they're just getting started.

Blessed with a mildly cool, crisp climate in the Bay Area and a snowy wonderland of mountain peaks just beyond, fall and winter in NorCal can fuel just about any outdoorsy activity you can imagine, from mountaineering to trail running. These seven epic adventures will keep you exploring through spring, whether you're sticking close to home or heading to the Sierra.

Just make sure to gear up properly. Our pairings of high-performance wear from Goldwin, the Japanese adventure outfitter with a store in San Francisco's Jackson Square, are the warm-and-waterproof icing on the cake.

Backpacking the Lost Coast

The Lost Coast

(Bob Wick, BLM/CC)

The Adventure: Backpacking

The lonely Lost Coast Trail is one of the last remaining stretches of raw, isolated coastal landscape in California. Most backpackers head to its iconic northern section, which winds its way 25 miles from beach to bluff and back again (the less popular 32-mile-long southern section strays from the seaside to pass through the wooded Sinkyone Wilderness State Park). The upper Lost Coast Trail takes two to three days to complete, starting at the Mattole Trailhead, ending at Shelter Cove, and camping along the way at one of several freshwater creeks that empty into the Pacific.

As you hike, the rocky coastal reaches team with frolicking seals, barking sea lions, and breathtaking sunsets. And while elevation remains fairly steady throughout, this trip isn't exactly easy: You'll not only trudge for miles through deep sand but there are three different stretches where the trail becomes impassable during high tide. Getting caught in those sections at the wrong time of day can be deadly. Permits are required to backpack the Lost Coast Trail and you'll have the best chance at securing your preferred dates if you reserve early (the year's permits are released the prior year on October 1st).

The gear: Fast Shell Light Jacket

Stay warm and dry in the foggy, wet fall and winter weather along Humboldt's Lost Coast in the Fast Shell Light Jacket ($330) from Goldwin. The hooded, waterproof shell is lightweight and stuffs down small to fit easily in your pack.

Road Running on West Cliff Drive in Santa Cruz

West Cliff Drive passes through Natural Bridges State Park.

(Paul Komarek/CC)

The Adventure: Road Running

Lose yourself in the beauty of the Monterey Bay on this run along Santa Cruz's West Cliff Drive. The paved, mile-marked route begins at the Santa Cruz Wharf, the longest wooden pier on the West Coast, then heads uphill before reaching Seal Rock and Lighthouse Point. From there the road pushes into Natural Bridges State Beach with its rocky, waterbound arches and gliding pelicans. As you run, the waves will keep time, crashing below the 7.6-mile cliff-side trail (for a shorter 6-mile run, start and end where Bay Street crosses West Cliff). On sunny days, views from here stretch all the way to Monterey on the bay's southern shore.

The Gear: Compact Jacket

Any time of year, the ocean winds can slice across West Cliff Drive like icy knives. Keep it at bay with Goldwin's packable Compact Jacket ($170). The eco-friendly recycled nylon windbreaker has ventilation and reflective accents for better visibility at night.

Hiking Mount Diablo

The summit at Mount Diablo

(Annette Teng/CC)

The Adventure: Hiking

Summit four peaks in a single day on one of Northern California's most strenuous, and most rewarding hikes. The 15-mile long Four Peaks Loop at Mount Diablo State Park is remorseless—the trail has an elevation gain of over 6,000 feet and takes around eight hours to complete—but the views alone make it worth the challenge. On clear winter days, you can see all the way to the Farallon Islands in the west and Mount Lassen in the north.

Start your hike at the Mitchell Canyon trailhead. From there, the route twists and turns its way through oak and chaparral to the peak of Mt. Olympia then on to the summit of North Peak. From there you'll continue to Mount Diablo, the sacred place of creation for the Miwok Indians, followed by a stop at remote Eagle Peak, before heading back down the ridge.

The Gear: Fly Air Down Jacket

Weather works differently at high elevations, changing quickly from warm and sunny to windy and freezing. The Fly Air Down Jacket ($370) from Goldwin will assure that you're up for anything the skies throw at you. Its lightweight baffle design is made with a high-quality eco-friendly material stuffed with down and packs up small on the go.

Rock Climbing at Pinnacles National Park

Pinnacles National Park

(Kee Yip/CC)

The Adventure: Rock Climbing

There are those who would argue that climbing the rocky fingers of Pinnacles National Park is more challenging than scaling the granite faces of the nearby Sierra: The volcanic rock here is so brittle and unpredictable that holds can pop right off the cliff face. But what's an adventure without a little danger? That's part of what puts the iconic hoodoos at Pinnacles among the most bucket list–worthy rock formations to climb, not just in California but in the country.

There are a number of different routes climbers can take at the park and, despite the whole crumbling rock thing, you don't have to be an expert to ascend—there are easy and intermediate routes at First Sister, Ordeal, and Wet Kiss, among others. Just be sure to research your route in advance. Some formations close between January and July to protect falcon and eagle nesting grounds.

The Gear: One Tuck Tapered Stretch Pants

Get a full range of movement on the wall and off in the One Tuck Tapered Stretch Pants ($190) from Goldwin. These comfortable trousers are made with four-way stretch polyester that are resistant to wear, tear, and unexpected showers.

Snow Sports at Heavenly Resort

Heavenly Resort, Lake Tahoe

(Adam Baker/CC)

The Adventure: Skiing and Snowboarding

From world-famous Squaw Valley to bite-sized Bear Valley, Tahoe has no shortage of great powder. But one resort, Heavenly, racks up more superlatives than all the others combined including the most skiable acres (4,630), the highest elevation (10,067 feet), and the most vertical feet anywhere on the West Coast (3,500). Almost 100 trails crisscross Heavenly's diverse landscape, and that's not even counting the expert-level backcountry at Mott and Killebrew Canyons. There are also two terrain parks stocked with dozens of rails and jumps for tricks of all sorts. The 2021 season opens November 19th with day passes for adults starting at $91.

The Gear: Arris Jacket

Keep warm on the mountain with Goldwin's Arris Jacket ($760). The wind- and waterproof design takes all the details into account—think underarm ventilation, aerogel pockets to protect your smartphone, and a hoodie that accommodates your helmet..

Trail running at Mount Tamalpais State Park

Mount Tamalpaias State Park

(Bastian Hoppe/CC)

The Adventure: Trail Running

Race through fog-drenched redwoods and along windswept hillsides in Mount Tamalpais State Park. Close to 60 miles of trails encircle the mountain, many of them with views of San Francisco and the Pacific so irresistible that even the most fleet-footed will find themselves slowing their pace. The 6.5-mile Matt Davis-Steep Ravine Loop, which meanders through wooded canyons and past waterfalls, is consistently voted one of the Bay Area's best. The trail starts and ends on Belvedere Avenue in the town of Stinson Beach. When your run is over, you'll find several spots just a couple blocks away to reward your effort with a cold drink or two.

The Gear: Woven Breeze 5inch Shorts (with mesh liner)

Keep cool on the trail with a pair of breathable Woven Breeze 5inch Shorts (with mesh liner) ($130) from Goldwin. Made from eco-friendly recycled polyester, these running shorts have an antibacterial inner mesh lining and reflective logos for better visibility after the sun goes down.

Mountaineering  at Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks

Thor Peak, Mount Whitney, Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks

(Penny Higgens/CC)

The Adventure: Mountaineering

Climbing Mount Whitney, the highest peak in the lower 48, is an adventure any time of year. But when winter descends on Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks and Whitney's 99 switchbacks are transformed into channels of ice and snow, explorers head to the Winter Mountaineers Route, a 12-mile trail with a 6,200-foot elevation gain that only crampons and ice axes can conquer. The climate will test your mountaineering skills but it won't take long to remember why you're there: The peak is at its most spectacular in winter, with mirrored frozen lakes and snow-white slopes that sparkle in the sun. Unlike in the summer months when advance permits are required and the trails are clogged with backpackers, after November 1st you'll be one of only a few intrepid climbers on the mountain.

The gear: Gore-Tex Fly-Air Pullover

Don't even think about climbing Mount Whitney in the winter without a warm jacket that will protect you against wind and weather. Goldwin's Gore-Tex Fly-Air Pullover ($730) is built for mountaineering with a hood that's compatible with a helmet and a leg loop at the hem to prevent the jacket from riding up while climbing the ice.

This article was written by Shoshi Parks.

// Shop men's and women's gear at the San Francisco store, 444 Jackson St. (Jackson Square), goldwin-sports.com. Thank you to our partners at Goldwin.

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