Bay Area Ridge Trail by Jean RusmoreThe little blue Bay Area Ridge Trail markers are all over the hills we hike around these parts. Typically they mark high, wind-swept lengths of trail where you rest up and enjoy the view before seeking out shade and shelter in the forests of oak, redwood, madrone and Douglas fir.

Bay Area Ridge Trail logoIn some utopian future a single contiguous Ridge Trail will collar the entire nine-county region of the San Francisco Bay Area. While I’m not entirely sure we need a Bay Area Ridge Trail, Jean Rusmore’s guide to the trail’s completed sections is essential reading. Not so much for the descriptions of the Ridge Trail’s links—far too many track old logging roads that skirt much sexier trails nearby—but for the experience of discovering that the Ridge Trail is a common link that binds all the Bay Area’s hiking opportunities, from Stinson Beach to Novato to Fairfield to the southern reaches of Silicon Valley.

Rusmore’s guide has all the essentials: maps for each section, an index with a table comparing all the features of the parks that contain trail links (yes, it tells whether your dog will be welcome). Each hike offers turn-by-turn descriptions and encourages side trips to nearby attractions.

To me, though, the best parts are the little gray boxes highlighting the history of the Bay Area. Ohlone encampments, Spanish ranchos, mercury mines, logging mills and mines. You find out that the same forces which felled the great redwoods evolved into the forces that set land aside where new ones could take their place (it’s disturbing to think that an entire old-growth forest in the Oakland Hills was cut to the last tree. It’s somewhat humorous to learn an idiotic land developer brought in all these Australian eucalyptus trees, thinking he’d make a killing selling the fast-growing wood for lumber. Turns out it was too soft, and worthless. You’d think he’d have asked a few Aussies first.)

My only regret is that I waited so long to get around to reading this book. The descriptions of hikes I’ve done seemed spot-on, though Rusmore does tend to downplay some of the things that might annoy the purists among us. Hey, it’s her book.

In any case, you want to find out how we’re all in this together — and get some clues on where to hike in the opposite end of your corner of the Bay Area, the book is definitely worth a look.

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(Thanks to the folks at Wilderness Press in Berkeley for providing a review copy).

Also by Jean Rusmore: