Length: 4.5-5 miles
Time: 2 hours
Difficulty: Moderately Strenuous (similar to Reservoir Rim Trail)
Elevation Gain: 748 feet
EBMUD Permit: Not Required
Calories: Around 1200
Highlights: This hike in the southeast corner of Briones Regional Park, offers a good workout, sort of like the Rim Trail, with stunning views out towards Mt. Diablo and over Lafayette, and some beautiful forests of oak trees. It’s especially good in the spring when the hills are green.
Directions: From Highway 24, get off at Pleasant Hill Road and go north. Take a left on Springhill Road and take it to the very end (a couple miles). Just before the road ends you’ll see a fire road gate and cars parked on the right side. The end of Springhill Road is best known for the Girl Scouts camp, called Twin Canyon, that’s been here since 1954. Map…
Trailhead: To begin the hike, pass through the gate.
Right after going through the gate, you’ll see a sign saying “Future Site of Buckeye Ranch Staging Area.” Apparently this area is the site of a former dude ranch – maybe called “Buckeye Ranch?” I’m not sure when they plan to build a staging area, but it seems OK as it is. There just aren’t any Briones trail maps to grab.
Start your hike by veering to the right on the Buckeye Ranch Trail versus going straight up the hill in front of you on the Springhill Trail, which is where you’ll come down. The Buckeye Ranch Trail runs alongside a creek with a pleasant canopy of oak trees. After about a half mile of hiking you’ll reach a gate. Once through the gate, hang a sharp right and follow signs for the Sunrise Trail. Now you’ll be walking back in the same direction on the opposite side of the creek. This section is flat and surprisingly scenic – a magical oak forest!
A little about oak trees… Seven species of oak trees comprise most of the oaks you’ll see in the East Bay. These are amazing trees. They have evolved to survive with almost no rain for six months of the year and a mature tree can produce thousands of acorns in a year. But only about 1 out of every 10,000 acorns becomes a tree! Most become food for wild animals. Oak woodlands are one of the richest and most diverse habitats in California, providing a home to over 170 species of birds, 100 mammals, 60 amphibians and reptiles, and 4000 types of insects. Learn more ….
After another half mile or so on the opposite side of the creek, you’ll begin to climb, and will emerge from the trees onto the open hillside. You’ll steadily climb about 700 feet over the next mile or so. You may encounter cows on the hill. Just walk widely around them if they are on the trail. Make sure to turn around and enjoy the view out towards Mt. Diablo.
At the top you’ll reach the Briones Crest Trail. Take a left. You’ll pass the Crescent Ridge Trail on your right and then pass the Seaborg Trail on your right. There are many more oaks to enjoy! After a little under a mile you’ll reach the Lafayette Ridge Trail. You’ll take a left here, heading East, but there is an optional add-on if you have the time.
OPTIONAL: Continue past the Lafayette Ridge turnoff on the Russell Peak Trail. After about a quarter mile, at the top of a hill, there is a little single-track trail heading up the hill on the left side. This will take you to the top of Russell Peak (1357 feet) where there is a nice large picnic table – a great spot to enjoy a snack and the view. Then return to the Lafayette Ridge Trail.
As you head down the Lafayette Ridge Trail you’ll see the trail in the distance following the ridge up and down. It looks sort of like the humps on the back of a camel! The first section is quite steep. Continue past the Buckeye Ranch Trail and follow the ridge until you reach the Springhill Trail. Stop to enjoy views from the Oakland Hills to the sparkling Lafayette Reservoir to Rocky Ridge and Mt. Diablo. An incredible vista!
Take a left on the Springhill Trail and follow it back down to the staging area. There are a couple of steep sections so be careful. It helps to wear hiking shoes with grippy soles.
You can do this loop in either direction, but climbing up Sunrise is more of a steady and manageable incline than going up the Springhill Trail. Bring plenty of water and protection from the sun!