I had vowed to go the gym at least twice a week in 2013. Before I knew it, January was over. I had taken my exercise bag out of the trunk of my car where it lives maybe twice the entire month.

My fitness program was in desperate need of quick start.

So a few days ago, I signed up for the 2013 Trails Challenge sponsored by the East Bay Regional Parks Foundation.

In order to complete the challenge, you have to walk at least five of the 20 featured trails in Alameda and Contra Costa Counties or hike a total of 26.2 miles over the course of the year. It's a self-paced program based on the honor system where you go online and log your progress.

The program is free for all residents of Alameda and Contra Costa Counties thanks to support from Kaiser Permanente. Some parks do charge for parking so check the website beforehand.

I logged my first 2.2 miles at Don Castro Regional Park on the Hayward and Castro Valley boundary. From Don Castro, you can access the Bay Area Ridge and Chabot to Garin among more than 5 miles of trails in the Five Canyons Open Space. Breathing the fresh pine and taking in the sweeping vistas, I could feel my mind relax with every step. I tracked my progress on a pedometer app called Accupedo.

I took my dog along. One of the great things about the East Bay Regional Parks is that most parks are dog friendly. Some allow dogs to roam off leash as long as they are under voice command. Some parks charge a $2 dog fee.

Don Castro and Five Canyons are just one tiny part of the massive East Bay Regional Park District.

In the East Bay, we are blessed to have the largest urban regional park district in the country. There are 65 parks. Over 1,200 miles of trails. The problem is a lot of the parks are not near public transportation. If you don't have a car, you'd have no way of getting to them. So it doesn't matter if they are free or not.

I am glad that the East Bay Regional Park District has a program called Parks Express that provides low-cost transportation for low-income schools and groups that serve children from low-income families, seniors or people with disabilities.

We need to do everything we can to make this wonderful free public resource accessible to as many people as possible.

The goal of the trail challenge is to encourage Alameda and Contra Costa residents to take advantage of this treasure in our backyards. Last year, 10,000 people participated.

"For people who have spent a lot of time in the parks, this introduces them to new trails, and for people who've never been before, it's a chance to discover them," says Emily Hopkins, an East Bay Regional Park District spokeswoman.

You don't have to be a fitness fanatic. There are walks for people of all levels.

In fact, there are several short loop easier walks. These include select trails in Coyote Hills and Quarry Lakes Regional Parks in Fremont, Iron Horse Regional Trail in Dublin, Martin Luther King Jr. Regional Shoreline in Oakland, Martinez Regional Shoreline in Martinez, Garin/Dry Creek Pioneer Regional Parks in Hayward and Tilden Regional Park in Berkeley.

"It's not like a marathon which might be unattainable to some people," says Chris Abess, a board member of the East Bay Regional Parks Foundation. "Everybody and anybody can enjoy the parks."

The Danville resident, his wife, Mary, daughter Brooke, 9, and dog Jiminy are Trails Challenge veterans. Abess said that taking hikes several times a week has taught his daughter to enjoy the outdoors. Unlike so many children, I might add, who spend all their time indoors on video games and mobile devices -- then we wonder why so many are obese.

We are also fortunate in the East Bay not to have freezing East Coast temperatures that make going outside about as appetizing as having your fingernails plucked out.

So what are you waiting for? It's time to hit the trail.

Tammerlin Drummond is a columnist for the Bay Area News Group. Her column runs Tuesday and Sunday. Contact her at tdrummond@bayareanewsgroup.com or follow her at Twitter.com/Tammerlin