Length: 3.5 miles
Time: 1 hour and 20 minutes
Elevation Gain: About 350 feet of gain from trailhead to Sibley Staging Area.
Dogs: Yes! Dogs are supposed to be leashed on the Skyline Trail until reaching the Sibley Staging Area and then can be off leash in Sibley, away from the parking lot. You will typically see many happy dogs in the park!
EBMUD Permit: Not Required
Calories: 600-700 calories
Highlights: This is the fastest way to reach the 32-mile East Bay National Skyline Trail from Lamorinda, and an interesting and scenic way to access Sibley Volcanic Preserve.
Directions: Take Highway 24 west towards Oakland. Before going through the tunnel, exit on Fish Ranch Road. At the stop sign, take a left across the highway and then take a right on Old Tunnel Road. After about a quarter of a mile you’ll see a parking area.
Trailhead: The new parking lot is at the bottom of Old Quarry Road, but you want to get on the Skyline Trail going south towards Sibley (look for sign shown below). You can take it in the other direction to reach Tilden Regional Park.
When you first take a right on Old Tunnel Road, it’s fun to remember that this small road used to lead to the old tunnel that was 220 feet above the current Caldecott Tunnel. It was called The Broadway Tunnel, Kennedy Tunnel, and Inter-County Tunnel. After surviving protests from Lafayette residents that thought it would increase competition for land, the old tunnel opened in 1904. It was 1.040 feet long, 17 feet wide and lined with timber. Long, dark and narrow, the tunnel could only accommodate one-way traffic.. Wagon drivers lit up newspapers when entering as a signal to those at the other end to wait. In 1915 the ceiling was raised three feet to accommodate cars and trucks. In 1937, when the old tunnel was retired, it was handling 30,000 cars per week. Today the Caldecott handles 160,000 cars daily!
After you park you’ll see the signs for the Skyline Trail. The 32-mile East Bay Skyline National Recreation Trail goes through six different parks and preserves. The trail begins at the entrance to Wildcat Canyon Regional Park in Richmond and leads through Tilden Regional Park, Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve, Huckleberry Botanic Regional Preserve, Redwood Regional Park and Anthony Chabot Regional Park. It is part of the larger 550 mile Bay Area Ridge Trail that circles the entire Bay Area.
To start the hike, go through the gate (shown in picture) with signs pointing the way to Sibley Volcanic Preserve. Right away you will see a sign explaining how the Caldecott Wildlife Corridor provides an important path for animals to move between parklands on the south and north sides of Highway 24. They certainly don’t stand much chance trying to sprint across the highway!
You will begin a steady, gradual climb through the wooded canyon adjacent to Round Top Creek, which is dry in the summer. Many of the trees are California Bay Laurel Trees. After about 9/10ths of a mile you will reach the parking lot and visitor center for the Sibley Volcanic Preserve. The park is named in honor of Robert Sibley, who helped found the East Bay Regional Park District and served for 10 years on its board of directors.
This is a good chance to use the bathrooms, get a drink, and check out the unstaffed outdoor visitor center that has interesting displays illustrating the preserve’s geology.
It’s pretty cool that we have a 10 million year old volcano in our back yard! It features a complex volcanic center that was the source of most of the lavas that underlie the ridges from Inspiration Point in Tilden Regional Park to Moraga. Since the volcano’s active days, tectonic forces on the Hayward and Moraga earthquake faults have uplifted the Berkeley hills and tilted the Round Top volcano complex on its side. So, under the grassy cover, its guts are exposed, and a self-guided brochure is available highlighting visible geological features.
Backtrack to where the Skyline Trail continues into the trees, on the south side of the visitor center. After about a quarter mile you’ll reach an intersection of trails. Look across to the other side of the road and you’ll see a post showing where the Skyline Trail continues. After another fifth of a mile, you’ll intersect the road that leads up to Round Top, one of the highest peaks in the area at 1763 feet. Cross the road and then take the Round Top Trail to the left. The Skyline Trail continues to Huckleberry Preserve and then Redwood Regional Park.
The Round Top Trail circles around the peak for about a mile. When you reach a viewpoint of an old quarry pit, you are about half way around. This pit was made by quarry operations that removed huge amounts of massive basalt lava, and it now exposes the interior of the Round Top volcano. Looking down into the pit you’ll see a large labyrinth. It was crafted in 1989 by Montclair sculptor and psychic Helena Mazzariello as “a gift to the world.”
Continue past the viewpoint and then take a left to stay on the Round Top Trail. After going through a gate, you’ll reach the junction again. Take the Scenic Overlook Trail on the right. This will take you back to the visitor area, where you can rejoin the Skyline Trail and follow it back down to where you parked.
Full Map of Sibley Volcanic Preserve – Trailhead for this hike is where it says “Old Tunnel Road Staging Area”