Once again the East Bay Regional Park District has issued a challenge to all residents; a challenge to get outdoors, explore the parks and reap the benefits of their experiences.

This year's challenge contains three significant numbers, 80 years for the park district, 21 years for the Trails Challenge and the 10,000 who registered last year, all worthy of celebration. What better way than joining in to top that 10,000 for 2014.

For each year's Trails Challenge, the park district selects 20 specific hikes in 20 regional parks, each with unique features and leading to scenic destinations. The challenge to park-goers is to complete five hikes or a marathon 26.2 miles by Dec. 1, log each on a trail log and submit it to the district for a 2014 commemorative pin.

Participation requires online registration which grants access to the Trails Challenge Guidebook, full of helpful information that should be required reading for anyone headed outdoors. The guide offers tips on choosing an appropriate outing, using a map and compass, wildlife encounters and hiking with children and dogs.

Of particular concern is the section that discusses how to avoid ticks and what to do if bitten and avoiding ever-present poison oak. Post-hiking advice for pet owners and recommended mileage distances for hiking with kids are guaranteed to promote successful outings.

In 2011, the park district began promoting Healthy Parks Healthy People through its partnership with Kaiser Permanente, and health tips accompany each hike. An Every Body Walk app, free from Kaiser, provides ways to personalize walking plans, connect with walking communities and keep up with fitness trends and tips.

The park district has its own tech-age stay-connected features for this year's Trails Challenge, including posting hike photos on Instagram, following on Facebook and downloading the free Trails Challenge app for easy access to trails, maps, hikes and mileage logs.

The major portion of the guidebook is given over to the 20 selected hikes, rated easy, moderate or challenging, with varying distances and elevation gains. Each hike is clearly described with hike length, elevation gain, GPS coordinates and level of intensity. There's also information on park features, trail highlights, trail directions and map, and driving directions.

There are 65 parks, 114,000 acres and 1,200 miles of trails within the East Bay Regional Park District, enough to create new Trails Challenges for many years.

Easy hikes are relatively flat and range from one to three miles, while moderate hikes have significant elevation gain, from 500 to 1,000 feet, and are three to six miles in length.

  • An out-and-back hike on Lafayette Moraga Regional Trail is rated easy-to-moderate, with the option of turning back at any point. The total distance one-way is 7.65-miles which can be covered by walking, biking, or skating. The 600-foot elevation is gained during the first half making for an easy downhill on the way back.

  • The Carquinez Strait Regional Shoreline in Martinez has a moderate hike, a 3.52-mile loop with an elevation gain of 1,397 feet. The hike features a lot of ups and downs, views of Mount Tamalpais to the west, the ridges of Briones and Las Trampas to the south and sights and sounds of tugboats on Carquinez Strait below.

  • A real challenge awaits at Briones Regional Park, with benefits that far outweigh the effort. The 12.1-mile loop of 4,012-feet elevation gives hearty walkers a chance to experience the rolling hills, diverse flora and fauna and wonderful wildflower displays of the entire park. Ridge tops offer expansive 360-degree views of Carquinez Strait, Las Trampas hillsides and Mount Diablo.

    Though the three described hikes could well total 26.2-miles, the park program may encourage outdoor adventurers to challenge themselves to more. Participants could plan a hike every month for a happy dozen, exploring new parks, enjoying the outdoors, getting exercise and benefiting from all of it.

    for more information
    Visit Trails Challenge 2014 at http://www.regionalparksfoundation.org/trailschallenge/moreinfo.
  • Briones Regional Park: Bear Creek Stage Area, Briones Valley Road, 888-327-2757.
  • Carquinez Strait Regional Shoreline: Hillside Place, Martinez, 925-228-0112
  • Lafayette Moraga Regional Trail: Trail begins at Pleasant Hill Road at Olympic Boulevard, Lafayette, 888-327-2757