Carr Ranch Loop Trail

16 Jan

Length: 8.3 miles from parking lot
Time: 3.5-4 hours
Difficulty: Strenuous (see elevation map at bottom)
Dogs: Yes, on a leash
Calories:
1300
Elevation Gain: 2074 feet, lots of climbing
Best Season: Winter or Spring after a couple weeks without rain – to avoid mud
EMBUD Permit Required: Yes
To Bring Along: Plenty of water and a snack
Highlights:  Explore the newest open space around Lamorinda – Carr Ranch! 604 acres just opened on October 14th, 2017. Perfect if you’re looking to get away from it all and want a real workout.
Directions: Take Canyon Road south from Moraga. Take a left on Camino Pablo and take it all the way until you reach Rancho Laguna Park. Park in the parking lot just past Knoll Drive.
Trailhead: The EMBUD trailhead and sign-in is at the back of the park.

Carr Ranch was owned for over 100 years by the Carr Family. Muir Land Trust was able to purchase it in November 2016 with the help of $7 million in donations received from individuals, foundations, agencies, and businesses. The 604 acres of unspoiled ranch and wild lands is now permanently protected and open for us all to enjoy! The only prior inhabitants of Carr Ranch have been wildlife and cows grazing.

To start the hike, walk to the back of Rancho Laguna Park and you’ll see an EBMUD sign-in kiosk and gate. To access the Carr Ranch Loop Trail you need to take the EBMUD Rocky Ridge Trail for about 2 miles.  Official Carr Ranch Trail Map…

Beginning of Rocky Ridge Trail

After climbing a little hill you’ll take a right on the Rancho Laguna Trail and go about .4 miles to reach a sign for the Rocky Ridge Trail (heading East).

The trail runs adjacent to a creek and then ascends through a forest of coast live oak and bay laurel trees. You may notice many logs on the ground with bracket fungi growing on them (see picture).  Over 1000 varieties have been discovered!  These and other decomposer fungi are the first step in food chains that feed on decomposed plant material. Anyway, then you’ll emerge onto a high meadow and continue climbing to the top of the first hill at 1097 feet.

 

 

Hiking up through oak and bay laurel woodlands

Bracket fungi on fallen trees

After descending down the other side, and hiking about 2 miles or so, you’ll reach the year-round Buckhorn Creek, an untouched riparian habitat. It drains into the Upper San Leandro Reservoir and so all of this land is part of the huge watershed for the Reservoir. And as you cross the creek, imagine for a moment that you’re far under water. It could have been. At one point in the late 80’s EBMUD proposed to build a new reservoir in the Buckhorn Creek Valley, but fortunately it was opposed and finally shelved.

Standing next to Buckhorn Creek

After another tenth of a mile, you’ll reach the turn off to the Carr Ranch Loop Trail (see picture). Take a left, instead of zig-zagging up the hill, and soon you’ll reach the 3.5 mile loop. We went to the right, hiking the loop counter-clockwise.

Turn off to Carr Ranch Loop Trail – about two miles from the start and a tenth of a mile past Buckhorn Creek

During the first part of the loop you’ll hike through the trees, adjacent to Buckhorn Creek. We noticed many, many acorns on the ground, which were a staple for the Native Americans that lived in this area.

Beginning of the Carr Ranch Loop Trail

Tons of acorns!

Soon you’ll begin climbing and climbing, up, up, up to the ridge that surrounds the valley. At about 4.5 miles of hiking you’ll reach the high point of 1275 feet. There is a fire road heading off to the right that actually leads to the back of St. Mary’s College. But the Loop Trail continues straight. Enjoy the vistas of undeveloped land in all directions!

View of Carr Ranch – about half way through the hike

Approaching the summit of 1275 feet

After another mile and a half you’ll reach the junction where you started on the loop. Return the same way that you came.

During your hike you may notice a shrub that looks like this (picture) and somehow thrives on these dry hillsides. It’s called Coyote Brush. Like all native plants it has evolved to survive without water from May through October. We have shifted most of our yard to native plants and have a couple large Coyote Brush plants that seeded themselves and didn’t cost us a penny!

Coyote Brush

One other thing you might notice is that there is almost no noise of any kind on Carr Ranch, except for planes flying overhead. Unfortunately there is a bit of a highway overhead with planes heading East from SFO and Oakland. This is becoming a bigger and bigger issue. Save Our Skies is fighting to protect our skies in the East Bay.  Their motto is “Too many, too loud, too often”.

You may encounter cows on this trail. No worries. Just walk in a wide arc around them and make sure not to get between a mother and a new calf. EBMUD and the East Bay Regional Park District both lease some grassland areas for cattle grazing. This is to keep the grass height down, which lessens the fire hazard during the dry season.

Muir Land Trust has now protected over 3,000 acres in the East Bay, all dedicated to open space forever! Learn more at www.jmlt.org.

 

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5 Responses to “Carr Ranch Loop Trail”

  1. Noah January 16, 2018 at 12:35 am #

    I’ve been waiting for this write-up! Another great entry, and I would imagine this is just about as undiscovered as it gets.

    “There is a fire road heading off to the right that actually leads to the back of St. Mary’s College.” That might be a cool way to circle back, take the fire road to the Cross and then the old moraga ranch trail back to Rancho Laguna. Lotta options.

    Wayda go JMLT! And Wayda go lamorindahikes! Love the write-ups

    • stever January 16, 2018 at 12:58 am #

      The route is not completely open to the public but if you don’t mind climbing over a couple gates you can access the Carr Ranch Loop Trail by starting at the back of St. Mary’s College instead of at Rancho Laguna Park. Take the fire road near the Observatory and then take the first left.

  2. Noah January 16, 2018 at 12:37 am #

    Also, I love that brand spanking new trail marker! Way better than the sun-blanched wooden posts leading to Las Trampas

  3. Jim F. February 12, 2018 at 1:24 am #

    Wish they had an easement for what looks like 150 yards or so of the fire road between the drop to Buckhorn Creek and the west end of the loop. I cried the whole way up on the way back, looking at it over my right shoulder :-).

  4. Eric May 11, 2018 at 4:14 am #

    Firstly, thanks for putting this site together – we’re new to the area and this is soo helpful! We did the hike last weekend and it was really pretty – flowers out in force. They do need to release the cows though – trail was nearly overgrown in spots but you can find your way nonetheless.. Recommend wearing long pants if planning to do it soon as you will be brushing through the grass & flowers for stretches.

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