They say “Cabin Fever” is best treated with a heavy dose of recreational ether or, in the absence of that, some fresh air may do. But if you must break quarantine to move around in the great outdoors, please try to do so at some of these less congested, “lightly treaded” hiking trails near you.
PINE NEEDLE PARK
This short, winding trail — a rough .8 mile loop, beginning near a pair of overturned dumpsters — is a classic example of “urban trekking.” Pine Needle Park is named for the tall lodgepole pines that line the path, and the many discarded hypodermic needles that litter it. Proceed quickly through a campground of temporary residences, keeping your eyes cast down, then past a patch of scorched meadow where you’ll finally reach a trail junction. From here, you may continue along the easier fork to the left, past a lone man who is quietly masturbating, and the park’s unofficial mascot, “Peanut,” a lively squirrel with its head stuck in the trigger guard of a Mossberg shotgun. Hikers who prefer a challenge can follow the fork directly ahead, up a steep incline where your effort will be rewarded with impressive views of “Junkie Hollow,” “The Condom Graveyard,” and that spot by the playground where Alberto got jumped that one time. From here, the trail can get confusing because most of the directional signs have been removed and sharpened into weapons by the park’s transient residents. However, if you require re-orientation, you can always ask Nasty Ricky, but it will cost you.
THE MOBIUS STEPS
Some locals insist this trail was designed by a Minotaur. You’ll be the judge of that, as you ascend a set of naturally formed spiraling steps with a dizzying 1,800 feet elevation gain over 2.1 miles, only to end up 60 feet below sea level. This is the trail’s halfway point. You might think your mind has played tricks on you, and may even wish to backtrack here. AVOID THIS TEMPTATION AT ALL COSTS, for the moment you turn around and descend the stairs again, you’ll feel the air thin and your lungs tighten like a kinked garden hose. Don’t scream — you’ll just waste precious oxygen. Instead, keep climbing the steps to continue your descent, passing several intriguing thermal mounds, as well as past and future versions of yourself. DO NOT APPROACH THESE PAST AND FUTURE VERSIONS OF YOURSELF OR YOU WILL FALL UNDER THE MOBIUS STEPS’ CURSE. American Hiker Magazine calls the Mobius Steps, “Proof God exists — a cruel, vengeful God.” Be sure to check out the trailside churro cart.
Most hikers eschew this unfortunately named trail, preferring to congest the park’s sister trail, “Heaven’s Cradle.” And that’s great news for you! As the “weekend warriors” jostle along that trail for a selfie at one of its dozens of natural springs, or seek out the surprisingly outgoing kit foxes that call it their home, you will likely have Urine Falls all to yourself. A modestly attractive, easy-to-moderate hike begins at the base of Urine Falls and winds its way up, perfunctorily, to a view from the top — a “decent-looking” trickle of spring, limping 30 feet over a bed of unremarkable limestone. You can drink the water here, though nobody does. To exit from this trail back into the main park, you must first pass through a cloying little gift shop whose owner, an insane person, will toss a jar of his urine at you.
“HEY, WAIT—IS THAT PAUL GIAMATTI?”
This trail’s informal name is also its most frequent question from the handful of trekkers drawn to it each year. That is because every odd formation of rocks, each gentle bend and slope of the path, even the odd shadow cast by its dense canopy of spruce trees, will bring to mind the precise contours of Paul Giamatti. (Sideways) But, like a vexing Buddhist koan, Mr. Giamatti (Private Parts) is nowhere to be found on this trail, even as he is found everywhere. As you ascend this moderately difficult trail and navigate its switchbacks, you may find yourself urgently fumbling through your backpack for a pen and autograph book, so convinced are you that you just heard the distinctive sound of Paul Giamatti (The Nanny Diaries) blowing cooled air across the surface of a hot bowl of jambalaya — his favorite. But no — it was just the wind. Hikers will reach this hike’s final elevation of 2200 feet feeling refreshed, possibly invigorated, and absolutely bedeviled by the confounding number of natural features that absolutely had to be Yale School of Drama alumnus, Paul Giamatti (Big Momma’s House) but, alas, were not. Also, beware of gopher holes. You will know them because they look like Paul Giamatti (Fred Claus).
SAN MATEO NATIONAL SNAKES!
RECREATION CENTER SNAKES!!!
AND NATURE LOOP SO MANY SNAKES!!
This gently sloped lake reservoir, just .3 miles from the trailhead, feels like a day hiker’s dream. The flat, wide, accessible path is ideal for families, or anyone who wants an easy trek around a beautifully manicured lake. It’s absolutely perfect, except for the snakes. And my God, there are so many snakes. Most people come across one, maybe two snakes in the wild over the entire course of their life. At the San Mateo nature loop, you’ll lose count of snake sightings within the first 30 feet of this 1.4-mile reptile orgy. Why are there so many? And what are they so angry about? You’ll be forgiven if you miss the yellow pond lilies along the shore, as your brain will likely be occupied with thoughts of snakes — where the next one is coming from, whether they are poisonous (they are), and if they can slither their way into a baby stroller (they absolutely can). Sometimes it will feel like the very ground you’re standing on is made entirely of hissing, writhing snakes. And not those skinny ones you occasionally find in a garden — the kind that look like living shoelaces. No, as one hiker who braved this path commented in the guest book, “While trying to untangle a snake from the spokes of my mother’s wheelchair, I accidentally dropped my Hydroflask water bottle, then watched a python, thick as my well-muscled forearm, swallow the bottle whole in a matter of—“ and here the passage ends, presumably for reasons snake-related.