Having hiked more than 150 miles of the Bay Area Ridge Trail, I wouldn’t have predicted that one of the toughest parts would be just outside San Rafael in the hills of Marin County. But it is what it is.

Last weekend, I hiked about 13.5 miles on several Marin ridge trails, including about five miles of trail that are part of the Ridge Trail. The trail section was in the Lucas Valley Open Space Preserve, but the hike included portions of several nearby preserves, specifically Ignacio Valley and Pacheco Valley. The hills form a true ridge trail with spectacular views of San Pablo Bay and into San Francisco as well, but beware of the slopes.

Our group spent about six hours hiking around, and in that time, we did two monster uphills. What made them killers? Not necessarily the length, though each one lasted a couple of miles and we bagged about 3,600 feet in elevation climbing, but the degree of the incline, as sharp as 25 degrees at one point, and the exposed, un-shaded terrain. Granted, things were not in my favor for this kind of hike – jet lag from a recent overseas trip, no breakfast, and the wrong hiking attire – but still, it was a challenge.

There are ways to make it not quite so difficult. Park at the Marinwood Community Center (plenty of spaces, facilities, safe) and hike into the nearby neighborhood and head into the Pacheco Valley Preserve for a quick uphill climb and back. Or slowly add to the total by picking up more ridges along the way.

Click here for more information on the entire 320-plus-mile Ridge Trail.