TAKE A HIKE Bay Area’s bounty includes lovely places to go for a stroll

EITHER THE COUCH is getting smaller or the turkeys are getting bigger.

Giving thanks can be a broadening experience. Unfortunately, you tend to show too much gratitude for a bountiful harvest. Afterward, the only movement you can muster is a determined waddle from the Thanksgiving table to the couch.

Next year, you vow in a post-gluttonous stupor, no more caloric overdoses. You will nibble. You will scrape half your plate into Tupperware containers. The last conscious pledge you make before sinking into a Naugahyde abyss is that you will exercise, at least a little. At the very least, you will take a walk.

Well, it’s next year already, and if you don’t want to eat your words, it’s time to make some plans. Set aside time in which to relinquish your hold on the fork or remote control and get outside. The East Bay Regional Park District has planned activities from walks to kayak trips for those who want more than a neighborhood stroll. Most parks are open Thanksgiving Day, and certainly the days thereafter, for personal explorations.

Getting outdoors fits in nicely with the spirit of Thanksgiving, a time of reverence and reflection. The occasion doesn’t just praise the bounty, it appreciates the land itself. So admire the spacious skies, walk amid amber waves of grain or ascend purple mountain majesties.

Here are some places to start.

For purple mountain majesties

Purple, sandstone, moss green, Mount Diablo changes its shades throughout the year. Its generosity lies in the 3,849-foot-high overview of other mountains: Mount Hamilton to the southwest, Mount Loma Prieta to the south, and Mount St. Helena and Mount Lassen to the north.

The mountain accommodates everyone from the casual walker to the determined climber. A short walk can be a foray into meadowlands, a substantial hike can pass through oak-shrouded canyons and an arduous ascent can confront the unyielding, granite-hard resistance of the mountainside.

This is the time of year post-wildflowers and pre-waterfalls when the flush red and orange colors of fall come into play. Hikers can plunge into autumn on the moderately demanding Sycamore Canyon Loop, a recommendation from the Mount Diablo Interpretive Association. The 3.4-mile round-trip begins in rolling meadows and cuts through a thicket of trees. Leaves crunch underfoot in an otherwise hushed canyon. The starting point is Curry Point, not far from Live Oak Campground and Rock City. The route uses Knobcone Point, Black Hawk and Sycamore Creek roads, then a connector trail back to Knobcone Point Trail.

Mount Diablo State Park, South Gate Road entrance, Danville, 925-837-2525, www.mdia.org. Open daily 8 a.m.-sunset. Take the Diablo Road exit off Interstate 680. (If you take Stone Valley, turn right on Green Valley Road and left onto Diablo Road.) Head east and turn left on Mount Diablo Scenic Boulevard/South Gate Road.

Above the fruited plain

With Napa Valley to the north and Livermore Valley to the south, the fruited plains are yielding wine right about now. One of these vineyards, Chouinard Winery in Castro Valley, started its informal Walk Off the Turkey hike about 10 years ago. The husband-and-wife team, George and Caroline Chouinard, wanted an old-fashioned, family-oriented activity for the holidays, so the Chouinards invite people to bring their sandwiches and relatives onto their private trail on Friday, Saturday and Sunday afternoons after Thanksgiving. Fall colors usually tinge the heavily wooded path around this time. The hilltop overlooks the valley and, on a clear day, offers a Bay view.

Heidi, the resident winery dog, probably gets more exercise this time of year than any other. The boxer-Rottweiler mix joyfully escorts visitors on the half-mile hiking trail to the top. “She has more energy than the rest of us put together, ” says Caroline Chouinard.

Hikers rest at the top, sometimes spending their break rolling rocks down the hill for Heidi to fetch, then come down for wine-tasting. The samples include sparkling, granny smith apple and orange Muscat. Children can test their palate tasting Jelly Bellies. The energetic can join Heidi in chasing airplanes that fly overhead.

Chouinard Winery, 33853 Palomares Road, Castro Valley, 510-582-9900, www.wines-across-america.com. Open Thanksgiving weekend, noon-5 p.m. Friday-Sunday. From Interstate 580, exit Eden Canyon/Palomares Road and head south. Turn left on Palomares Road and drive 5.9 miles to the red barn. From Niles Canyon Road, go north on Palomares Road.

Sea to shining sea

The Lafayette Reservoir isn’t quite the sea, but people can still cast off or cast a line on its waters. Rent the paddle boat for hands-off activity. Panoramic sightlines induce tranquillity, ducks provide companionship and, on the water, no one can hear you pant.

Several trails surround the former drinking-water supply owned by East Bay Municipal Utility District. The paved route encircling the waters measures 2.7 miles. The recreation area permits bicycles and skates only three days a week. One of those days happens to be Thursday, convenient for a pleasant Thanksgiving Day respite.

The outlying 4.7-mile Rim Trail gives the workout astounding scenery, although rains can make this a muddy trek. Beware of dog droppings; they will add a spring to your step as you try to avoid them. A number of intersecting trails barely a half-mile long provide shortcut options or escape routes, depending on your bloated point of view.

Lafayette Reservoir Recreation Area, Mount Diablo Boulevard, Lafayette, 925-284-9669. 6 a.m.-5:30 p.m. daily through January. Biking and skating hours: noon until closing Tuesday and Thursday, 6:30-11 a.m. Sunday. Boat rentals: $20 cash deposit, with hourly rates $8 rowboats, $10 paddle boats. No rentals 2 1/2 hours before closing. Parking: $5 all day or quarters-only meters. From Highway 24, exit Acalanes/Upper Happy Valley Road exit. Head to the Acalanes side of the freeway and go east on Mount Diablo Boulevard for one mile; the Lafayette Reservoir is on the right.

Stairway to heaven

It’s a discordant change of pace, but the Greenwich and Filbert Street steps provide an idyllic detour if your plans take you to San Francisco for the day. Above the Levi Plaza, Filbert Street dead-ends for cars, but pedestrians can literally walk up the side of Telegraph Hill on narrow steps. The steps, besides being steep, can be slippery, so take care.

This isn’t the Coit Tower climb, but that monument is just on the other side of the hill. At every level, tiny walkways lead to otherworldly homes transplanted from some European village or southern hideaway. Blinding in the summer and still vibrant in the winter, flowers sprout behind knee-high gates and spill over walls. Houses and buildings jut defiantly into space; one pressed its luck too far and tumbled down in the early 1990s.

A bench here and there placed by Providence lets you rest and take in the splendid Bay and bridge views. The breaks give you time to wonder: How the heck do homeowners get the furniture moved in? How do they carry the groceries?

The apartment building at 1360 Montgomery St., by the way, was the art-deco home of Lauren Bacall’s character in the 1947 “Dark Passage.” Down the street there’s a castle, the romantic restaurant Julius’ Castle.

Greenwich and Filbert Street steps. From the Bay Bridge, exit Fremont Street. Right on Mission Street, left on Embarcadero, sharp left turn on Battery Street (almost a U-turn). The bottom of the Greenwich Steps is at Greenwich and Battery streets.

This article originally appeared in the Contra Costa Times

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