Mission Peak is one of the most popular hikes in the Bay Area, and it’s getting more popular every year: on nice weekends you might have to park a mile from the trailhead, and there can be a continuous stream of hikers all the way to the peak. It feels more like going to the beach than an open space preserve — but that is, of course, part of the fun.
It’s easy to see why this hike is so popular. Mission Peak is conveniently located, it’s a prominent feature in the South Bay, and few other nearby trails provide so much of a view, and such a good workout, in such a short distance. On nice spring days, in the brilliant sunshine and with unobstructed views of the Bay, the miles of rolling green hills with paragliders circling overhead can be so pretty that it almost seems surreal.
In response to complaints from neighbors, the park has been trying to get people to use an alternate route from Ohlone College instead, but there’s really no comparison; the original Stanford Avenue route is much more scenic and enjoyable.
It’s a pretty nice hike in the summer, too, but avoid it when it’s above 85 degrees: the hillside, which is almost completely exposed, is much warmer than the city below.
Dogs are allowed on the trail and it’s common to see exhausted pooches waddling their way up the hill or collapsing in the shade.
This out-and-back hike is by far the most popular route up to Mission Peak. For a much less-used but more difficult route see the Horse Heaven page.
If the Stanford Avenue parking lot is full, which it will be, drive down Vineyard Ave; if there are no parking spots, turn left on Antelope Drive. These are the only two streets in this neighborhood where parking is allowed. Even so, some areas on your left side are off-limits, and they aren’t very clearly marked; the easiest way to tell which areas are off-limits is to look for parking tickets. At the busiest times you’ll need to cross Mission Blvd and park on the west side, where there are no parking restrictions. From Mission Blvd to the trailhead is about 0.8 miles or a 15-minute walk each way.
The trail, which is actually a well-maintained dirt road, immediately begins a gentle ascent through open grasslands, with the partly-wooded peak directly in front of you. After an initial stretch of gentle climbing, the trail begins to switchback and gets steeper.
The switchbacking continues for quite a while as the trail gradually leaves the city behind. The parking lot and much of the trail behind remains visible throughout most of the hike.
Reaching the ridge, turn right onto a wide road that climbs the distinctive triangular hump of Mission Peak. Seen from the valley floor, the hump doesn’t look that big, but up close it’s huge. The road turns into a steep, rough trail, and as you climb it gets even rougher and more rocky.
Finally the trail reaches the peak, which is marked with an odd-looking, graffiti-covered landmark pole. In previous years hikers would sit around on the rocky outcropping eating and talking on cell phones, but now on busy days there’s a line of people waiting to take selfies next to the pole instead. The peak has one of the most dramatic views of the Bay Area — the huge glittering metropolis spreads out below the peak, with downtown San Jose and San Francisco both visible. There’s also a pretty nice view of the endless rolling grasslands to the east, with Mount Diablo prominent to the northeast.
The descent is a little too steep for comfortable walking. Parts of the road are covered with gravel and can be slippery.
© 2012, 2013, 2017, 2019 David Baselt