Whether she’s planning an event for the outdoor club she founded or driving her Outback a hundred miles before dawn to hike Lake Tahoe’s trails, Paulina Dao is always on a mission: to help other women pursue the joys of outdoor adventure. 

Dao peering into a tent with the sun shining brightly behind her
Paulina Dao. Photo: Mac / Halfway Anywhere


Dao, who grew up in Cupertino, California, has loved the outdoors since she was young, going from science camp attendee to camp counselor to freshly minted UC Santa Cruz grad taking hiking and rock climbing classes around the San Francisco Bay Area. 

Dao began to gravitate toward the few outdoor groups that cater to women, especially women of color. While attending events produced by PNW Outdoor Women, co-founded by friend (and fellow Subaru owner) Meghan Young, Dao noticed “the camaraderie and how supportive women were with each other,” she says.

Follow Dao on Instagram or check out her website.

To create that same feeling of community for women in Northern California, Dao, now 31, launched Bay Area Outdoor Women in September 2017. “I want to provide women a space to find adventure friends and learn and build [outdoor] skills,” she says. 

She was determined to “cultivate a community where people don’t feel excluded,” she says. “If they come to an event, I want them to feel seen and supported.” Members of the group get together for hikes, climbs and camping weekends, including an 18-person campout at Portola Redwoods State Park. (Group activities have been on pause during the pandemic and will resume when safe to do so.)

Dao often thinks back to a group outing that also fueled her mission to create a safe space for women. Six months prior to launching Bay Area Outdoor Women, she felt excluded while on a climbing trip with her former partner and his friends, who barely acknowledged her. The silver lining is that the ending of the relationship pushed her to reach out to other women for support, which she says was hard at first.

“As women, especially as immigrants, we tend to get into the mindset of ‘we are independent and we can do this on our own,’ but it’s a sign of strength to ask for help,” Dao, who’s Vietnamese American, says.

By opening up in this way, she connected with an outdoor enthusiast she met at the Portola campout, and they’ve become regular backpacking partners as well as friends with whom to share cat photos and thoughts about corny holiday movies. 

Another person who found Bay Area Outdoor Women through a tweet joined a backpacking trip with Dao. “It was her first backpacking trip ever,” Dao says. “It was super tough and out of her comfort zone, but she did it.” Now, the two women are also in a book club together. 

“How do you make friendships as an adult? It’s so hard,” Dao says. “The most gratifying thing to me is the sense of community that’s been built.”

Dao’s Subaru Outback parked next to a lookout tower with mountains in the background.
Dao’s Subaru Outback at Girard Ridge Lookout, McCloud, California. Photo: Paulina Dao

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