Eastport to Sibley Loop

7 Mar

Length: 3.5 miles
Time:  1 hour, 30 minutes
Difficulty: Medium
Elevation Gain:  636 feet
Dogs:  Allowed
EBMUD Permit:  Not Required
Calories: Around 800
Highlights:  This was my first favorite hike in the Lamorinda area and my kids used to call it the Ladybug hike since they found a bazillion ladybugs!  Start in Canyon at the former site of “Eastport” and hike up a scenic, wooded canyon to Sibley Volcanic Preserve (reaching 1600 feet), hike around Round Top, and descend back the way you came.    This is a great year-round hike – a manageable amount of mud in the winter and a good dose of shade in the summer.
Directions:  Drive to Moraga and then go south on Canyon Road, which ends at Pinehurst Road.  Go right on Pinehurst Road.   You will pass through the tiny town of Canyon.   It’s fun to remember that a train used to run through this canyon.  After a little over two miles you will reach a hairpin turn with a fire road gate.  Park there.
Trailhead:   You will see a fire road gate and a sign that says “Lower Pinehurst Trail.”
Special Notes:  Sibley allows dogs off leash away from the parking lot, so you’ll likely run into hikers with dogs on the Round Top loop.

A couple hundred yards before reaching the hairpin turn, you will pass the spot (on the left side) where the Sacramento Northern Railroad used to go through a tunnel between Canyon and Sheperd’s Canyon (on the Oakland side).  The Sacramento Northern Railroad was an electric train that ran 183 miles from Oakland all the way to Chico.  The first stop on the East side of the tunnel was called Eastport (the eastern portal).  Eastport still shows up in Wikipedia and on Google Maps!

Eastport-gateEastport-sign

After parking at the hairpin turn, begin your hike by walking past the gate.  After about a quarter mile, and a short climb, you will reach the Skyline National Recreation Trail, which runs for 32 miles through the East Bay Hills and is part of the Bay Area Ridge Trail.  Going left will take you to Huckleberry Preserve.  Going right will take you towards Sibley Volcanic Preserve.  Go right.

Right away you will cross the San Leandro Creek, which begins near Sibley and continues for an amazing 21.7 miles through San Leandro Reservoir, Lake Chabot and then out to the Bay near the Oakland Airport.    This is one of the few places in the Lamorinda area where you can hike next to a running creek.

Eastport-climb

Climbing up the ridge to Sibley.

After following the creek for a little ways, the trail will begin climbing up a ridge, and eventually reach a little, open grassy area with pine trees behind it (see picture).  This is a great spot to catch your breath, turn around, and enjoy an amazing view.  Continue through the grove of Monterey pine trees.

Eastport-viewEastport-pine-steve

After about 25 minutes of hiking and just a hair over one mile you will reach a junction with the Round Top Loop Trail.  This trail circles around Round Top, the central feature of Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve, and one of the highest peaks in the area at 1763 feet.  Take a right.   You will be following the Round Top Loop Trail for about a mile all the way around Round Top.

Junction with Round Top Loop Trail - take a right

Junction with Round Top Loop Trail – take a right

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.  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.

Eastport-Eucalyptus

Eucalyptus trees

In the next section of the hike there are many, many eucalyptus trees.  They have become such a familiar sight in California that many people probably don’t realize that they are really transplants from Australia. Almost all of the 600-plus species of Eucalyptus are native to Australia, where they are the dominant plants in a number of different habitats.  They are some of the tallest trees in the world and extremely drought tolerant.

After going through a cow gate, you will a junction, with a fire road heading off to the right.   For this hike you want to stay left.  Taking a right will lead you into a “land banked” area that is not open to the public yet.   Read more about this at the end of the article.

As you come down the hill you will see an overlook, where you can view the old quarry pit.   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.”

Quarry pit with labyrinth

Quarry pit with labyrinth

Continue past the viewpoint and then take a left to stay on the Round Top Loop Trail.   After going through another cow gate, you’ll reach a junction, where you’ll see a small sign on your left that says “Geologic Marker #1.”    Hang a left at that point.  The Round Top Loop Trail continues across the paved road leading up the hill.

In a quarter mile or so you’ll cross over a road and reach the junction where you started on the Round Top Loop Trail.  Continue straight and descend back down the canyon the way you came.

View of San Leandro Creek on way back

View of San Leandro Creek on way back

Map of trail

Map of trail

Alternate Loop for the Adventurous

There is an alternate loop for those that are willing to climb fences and explore areas not open to the public.   Enter at your own risk!!  After going through the Eucalyptus zone and the cow gate, take a right at the next fire road where it says “Park Boundary 0.3 Miles.”

Eastport-Landbank-JunctionEastport-Ridge

Shortly you will reach a fire road gate that borders the land-banked area.   This land-banked area will eventually be developed and added to the Sibley Preserve.   If you continue on this fire road it will take you down a ridge with incredible views out towards Moraga and Mt. Diablo.  Stay right and you’ll eventually reach a junction with two large power line towers.  Take a right.    You’re now on the main road that led out of Eastport, off of Pinehurst Road.   As you near Pinehurst Road you’ll see old foundations and other remnants from the days when Eastport was an important train stop and small unincorporated town.   When you reach Pinehurst Road, take a right and walk along the side of the road back to your car.   You’ll walk right by the spot where the tunnel was!   Check out pictures of Eastport back in the 50’s.

Alternate Loop

Alternate Loop

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Claremont Canyon Lookout

14 Jan

Length: .7 miles to lookout, 1.4 miles roundtrip
Time:  20 min to lookout and 20 min back
Difficulty:   Easy-Medium
Elevation Gain: There is a little climbing on the way back.
Dogs:  Yes
EBMUD Permit:  No
Calories: ~300
Highlights:  This is a great short hike to an amazing viewpoint in the Berkeley hills that looks out over Berkeley, Oakland and the whole northern bay.  It’s a great hike to take out-of-town visitors on, and it can be done or your way to or from Oakland/Berkeley.
Directions to Trailhead:  Take Highway 24 west to Fish Ranch Road (last exit before the Caldecott tunnel).  Go right on Fish Ranch Road.  When you reach a four-way intersection take a right on Grizzly Peak Blvd.   Drive about 8/10th of a mile.  When you see logs along the left side of the road and a fire road gate on the right, park on the right side.    This trailhead is called the Scotts Peak Trailhead and is less than 10 minutes from downtown Orinda!
Special Notes:  This hike is best on a clear day with good visibility.

Nearby Grizzly Peak (1759 feet), up past the Tilden Steam Train, was named for the California grizzly bear, which inhabited the local area until sometime in the late 1800s.  The last grizzly in all of California was killed in the Sierra foothills east of Fresno in August 1922.

Beginning of Side Hill Trail

Beginning of Side Hill Trail (Grizzly Peak Blvd. in foreground)

After parking you’ll see a small trail across the street that goes over one of the big logs (see picture).  This unmarked trail is called the Side Hill Trail.   And after a couple minutes you will be on the side of a hill (get it?) with truly jaw-dropping views of San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge.   Down to the immediate left is Telegraph Canyon, which feeds into Claremont Canyon.   Take your time and enjoy the views!  The land and trail that you’re hiking on is part of the University of California Preserve (map).

Claremont-Sidehill

View of Side Hill Trail (San Francisco in the distance)

Claremont-Sidehill-Robert

My friend Robert enjoying the view

After 10 minutes or so on this single-track trail, you’ll emerge onto a fire road.  Remember this spot, because when you’re on your way back, it’s easy to walk right by this small trail.   Take a left going downhill.   Right away you’ll reach a four-way junction (see picture).  Going right will take you on a pleasant, flat fire road that ends at the U.C. Campus (near the Lawrence Hall of Science), and is popular with student joggers.  Going left will take you on the Claremont Trail, which descends down into Claremont Canyon.  For this hike just go straight through the intersection on what’s called the East-West Trail.   You’ll be walking on Panoramic Ridge and boy is it panoramic!

Four-way junction.  Go straight across.

Four-way junction. Go straight across.

Little side trail to the lookout on the right side.

Little side trail to the lookout on the right side.

After just a couple minutes you’ll see a little hill in front of you with a small trail on the right side (see picture).  Take that trail out to an amazing viewpoint!!  It’s a great place to bring a snack or lunch.  But the only place to sit is on the ground and there is no shade.   So prepare accordingly.   There is a little labyrinth that kids will enjoy.

Enjoying the views at the lookout!

Enjoying the views at the lookout!

After you are done enjoying the amazing view, head back exactly the way you came.

Claremont-Lookout-Map

Continuing into Claremont Canyon Regional Preserve…

If you were to continue down hill on the main East-West Trail you’d soon enter the Claremont Canyon Regional Preserve, a 208 –acre preserve nestled in the Berkeley hills behind the historic Claremont Hotel.  The trail becomes the Stonewall Panoramic Trail and runs all the way down Panoramic Ridge to a neighborhood next to the Claremont Hotel.  There are fantastic views and some pretty steep sections.   View map…

One fun idea, that I’ve done once, is to hike all the way down to the Claremont Hotel area for lunch and then hike back up to your car, parked on Grizzly Peak Blvd., after lunch.

A Little History…

Claremont Canyon, down the hill to the south of this hike, has an interesting history.  In 1858 a transcontinental telegraph line that linked the west and east coasts was strung through the canyon and in the early 1860s Pony Express riders carried mail along this route. It then became the main “highway” for horse and wagon traffic between Oakland and Contra Costa County.  The intersection of Grizzly Peak Blvd and Fish Ranch Road was an important pass and had an inn and stage stop called the Summit House located there.  Travel through the canyon declined after 1903 with the opening of the Kennedy Tunnel, which preceded today’s Caldecott Tunnel.

Skyline to Sibley Trail

21 Oct

Length: 3.5 miles
Time:  1 hour and 20 minutes
Difficulty: Moderate.
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.

The old Broadway Tunnel was 200 feet above the current Caldecott Tunnel

The old Broadway Tunnel was 200 feet above the current Caldecott Tunnel

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!

Skyline Gate

The wooded trail leading to Sibley

The wooded trail leading to Sibley

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.

Sibley Volcanic Preserve Visitor Center - 9/10th of a mile from trailhead

Sibley Volcanic Preserve Visitor Center – 9/10th of a mile from trailhead

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.

Skyline-to-Sibley-Map-Marked

Full Map of Sibley Volcanic Preserve – Trailhead for this hike is where it says “Old Tunnel Road Staging Area”

Bear Creek Trail

15 Oct

Length: 4.3 miles (for entire trail)
Time:  Any amount of time up to 2 hours (depending on where you turn around)
Difficulty: Easy to Moderate.
Elevation Gain: Modest
Dogs:  Not Allowed
EBMUD Permit:  Required
Calories: 800-900 (for 90 min hike)
Highlights:  The Bear Creek Trail traverses the south side of Briones Reservoir.  It is an outstanding trail that’s forested, has beautiful water views, and minimal climbing to contend with.  You can start on the Briones Dam side or the Briones Creek side and hike as far as you’d like and turn around.
Directions to Briones Overlook Trailhead (from Orinda):  From Orinda take Camino Pablo north towards San Pablo Dam Road.  Take a right on Bear Creek Road and go a couple miles to the Briones Overlook Staging Area (on the left).  The trailhead is on the northwest corner of the parking lot.
Directions to Bear Creek Trailhead (from Lafayette):  From Lafayette take Happy Valley Road up over the hill to Bear Creek Road.  Take a right and then a quick left into the Bear Creek Staging Area.   This staging area is on the opposite side of the road from the entrance to Briones Regional Park.   The trailhead is on the creek side of the parking lot.
Special Notes:  There’s a lot of poison oak here, although the trail is well-used and generally clear.

This is really one of the best trails in the Lamorinda area.  You can start on either end and turn around whenever you feel like it.  I typically hike about 45 minutes before turning back.  There is a high point with two benches that also makes a good turnaround spot.  The other option is to use two cars and leave a car at the end you’re hiking towards.  Then you can complete the entire trail.

The trail runs between Bear Creek Road and the Briones Reservoir, along the southern slopes of the Reservoir.  The south side is much more wooded (mostly Bay Laurel) than the north side that has scattered oak trees.  Along the way there are many great views of the Briones Reservoir.

Hiking from the Bear Creek Staging Area:

Crossing Bear Creek

Crossing Bear Creek

Enter the gate on the left, cross the creek, and then you’ll arrive at an old unused paved road.  Take a right and follow the straight road/path towards the reservoir.   The open area is an old tree farm.   A dirt fire road follows the shoreline and then begins to climb and changes into a singletrack trail.

Bear-Creek-2Bear-Creek-3

After about 1.7 miles you’ll reach a service road.  Look for posts with directional arrows that show how to stay on the Bear Creek Trail.  Soon you’ll crest at a high point with two benches.  This is a great spot for a picnic/snack before turning around.

Bear-Creek4Bear-Creek-5

If you continue you’ll begin to go gradually down towards the Briones Overlook staging area – near the dam.

Two benches at high point of trail - reached after about 60 minutes of hiking

Two benches at high point of trail – reached after about 60 minutes of hiking

Hiking from the Briones Overlook Staging Area:

Briones-Dam-1Briones-Dam-2

Enter the gate on the northwest side.  You’ll begin to gradually climb and wind along the slopes of the reservoir with views out towards the dam.   Briones Dam is an earthen dam that was completed in 1964.  It is the largest of EBMUD’s five East Bay terminal reservoirs with a total capacity of 60,510 acre·ft (74,640,000 m3).

View of Briones Dam from trail

View of Briones Dam from trail

After about 30-40 minutes you’ll reach a high point with two benches that make for a good spot to have a snack and possibly turn around.   After this point you will gradually begin to descend towards Bear Creek at the far end of the reservoir.

Briones-Dam-4Briones-Dam-5

The map below shows a hike that went about 45 minutes from the staging area before turning around.

Map of Bear Creek Trail - red line shows hiking for 45 minutes from Briones Dam side of trail.

Map of Bear Creek Trail – red line shows hiking for 45 minutes from Briones Dam side of trail.

King’s Canyon Loop

25 May

Length: 6.6 miles
Time:  2.5 hours
Difficulty: Long hike with one steep section
Elevation Gain: 643 feet
Dogs:  Allowed
EBMUD Permit:  Required
Calories: 1200
Highlights:  If you love the Lafayette Reservoir Rim Trail then you’ll love this hike.  It’s a similar degree of difficulty, but a little longer and with fewer people.  This trail leaves from the Valley Vista Staging Area, just south of Moraga, and skirts along the northern edge of Upper San Leandro Reservoir, which feels a world away from the rat race in Moraga (kidding).
Directions:  Drive to Moraga.   Take Canyon Road until you see the Valle Vista Staging Area on your left.  Park.
Trailhead:   You will see a gate and a sign-in kiosk where you enter your EBMUD permit info.  Take the trail to the left.
Special Notes:  Make sure to bring plenty of water!

This is the only trail next to the sprawling San Leandro Reservoir, which was completed back in 1926 by the East Bay Water Co.   It receives water from the San Leandro Creek, which runs adjacent to Pinehurst Road and the small town of Canyon, traveling a total of 21.7 miles along the eastern side of the Oakland and San Leandro Hills.    The creek is famous for having been the site of the first rainbow trout hatchery in the world.   There are signs about the rainbow trout along Redwood Creek in Redwood Regional Park.

Beginning of the Kings Canyon Loop

Beginning of the Kings Canyon Loop

The Kings Canyon Loop starts at the Valley Vista Staging Area.  After you go through the gate and sign in (EBMUD permit required), head down to the left towards the reservoir on the Rocky Ridge Trail.  After about a quarter mile, take the trail that veers to the left down a little hill.  This will take you through a pleasant forest of monterey pines (picture below).   It is native to three very limited areas located in Santa Cruz, Monterey Peninsula, and San Luis Obispo Counties.  When you reach a fire road, take a right, crossing the bridge over Moraga Creek, and then passing a working ranch area with horses (picture below).  After you go through a gate, you will reach a junction.  The Rocky Ridge trail goes up the hill to the left.  Continue straight or to the right along the reservoir.   This is the beginning of the Kings Canyon Trail.

Knobcone pine forestKings-Canyon-Ranch

The trail winds, up and down, through a forest of California bay trees and oak trees along the northern side of the Reservoir (see picture).    There are many views of the Reservoir along the way, but you’ll reach the best view after about an hour of hiking.  There is a clearing with a bench and a perfect view of the Reservoir looking south (see picture).  It’s worth a stop for a few minutes!  This is a perfect place to have a little snack or picnic lunch.  With no signs of civilization in any direction it seems a world away.

Kings-Canyon-Trail

The Kings Canyon Trail

Kings-Canyon-Bench

My favorite hiking partner admiring the view of Upper San Leandro Reservoir!

When you continue, the trail will begin to turn away from the Reservoir along an inlet.  The inlet gets marshy towards the end and is a great place to spot birds.   After a little ways you will reach a gate near Rancho Laguna Park.  This is officially the end of the Kings Canyon Trail and for the rest of the loop you will be on the Rocky Ridge Trail.   From here it’s 2.6 miles back to the parking lot.

Take the single-track trail to the left.  When you reach a tiny creek bed, the trail appears to go right and left.  Make sure to go left up the hill.   Next, you will reach a fire road that goes straight up/down the hill.  Take a left up the hill.  This is the steepest part of the hike!  Take the second right turn.   The wrong turns will say “Fire Road Closed to Public.”  On the next stretch you will see views of Moraga in the distance and then a great view towards the Valley Vista Staging Area once you emerge from the trees.   After a steep down section, you’ll reach a junction where you take a left down the hill.  Take a right at the bottom, going back to the staging area the way you came.

View of Moraga

View of Moraga on the way back

If you don’t have time for the whole loop, you can easily hike as far as you want on the Kings Canyon Trail and then turn around.    For instance you can turn around at 45 minutes for a 1.5 hour hike.

Hike goes counter-clockwise

Hike goes counter-clockwise

Bear Creek Loop in Briones

21 Mar

Length: 2 miles or 5 miles (longer version)
Time:  1 Hour
Difficulty: Easy.  Fine for kids.
Elevation Gain: 371 feet
Dogs:  Allowed
EBMUD Permit:  Not required.
Calories: 450
Highlights:  When most people think of Briones Regional Park they think of rolling hills with a huge network of fire roads to hike or bike on.  But the Bear Creek Trail offers one of the few “single track” trails that winds through a more woodsy and shaded part of the park.  This is very pleasant trail that anyone can enjoy that reaches a scenic picnic area for a lunch or dinner stop.

Trailhead

Trailhead

Directions:  From Lafayette take Happy Valley Road up over the hill to Bear Creek Road.  Take a right and then another right into the Bear Creek Staging Area.  From Orinda take Camino Pablo north towards San Pablo Dam Road.  Take a right on Bear Creek Road and go five miles to the Bear Creek Staging Area.  Drive into the park – staying to the right – and park in the large gravel lot at the end of the road.
Trailhead:   After you’ve parked then backtrack to the picnic area until you see the Bear Creek Trail sign (see picture).

Briones Regional Park is a huge, uncrowded park with 6,256 acres of parkland for recreation.  The land was originally part of Rancho Boca de la Canada del Pinole (rancho at the mouth of Pinole Canyon), popularly known as Rancho San Felipe and later Rancho Briones.  In 1829 Felipe Briones built a home near the Bear Creek entrance, cultivating the land and raising cattle.   Cattle grazing has been the major land use in the Bear Creek watershed ever since.

From the picnic area, the Bear Creek trail descends down to the creek.  This is a nice spot to pause for a few minutes.  You might wonder how the creek got its name.  The name came from a 1000-pound bear shot by Ramon Briones, near Bear Creek Falls, in 1897 (see photo).  This was the largest bear killed in Contra Costa County.   Bears used to inhabit this area, especially the foothills of Mt. Diablo.

Bear-Creek1000Bear

From the creek you will ascend into a forest of mostly California Bay Laurel trees – a cousin of the Mediterranean Bay tree whose leaves are used in cooking.  Bear Creek’s banks are also lined with coast live oak, willow, madrone, and big leaf maple.   The trail winds along the side of the hill, above the creek, heading east.

Bear-Creek-Trail

Bear Creek Trail winds through a bay forest…

Bear-Creek-Newt

California Newt

In the spring you might spot a California newt near the trail.  This tiny amphibian thrives in Briones around Bear Creek.  It spends most of its time living in burrows and holes. But once year, the newts make an epic migration (at least for them) to nearby ponds for mating season.  I happened to spot one in February (see photo).

After about a mile you will reach a group camping site called Homestead Valley.  This is a great spot to hang out and have a snack or lunch, especially with kids… or maybe a picnic dinner in the summer.

Homestead Valley group camping and picnic area

Homestead Valley group camping and picnic area

When you depart this clearing you will cross a little seasonal stream and reach the Seaborg Trail.  For a two-mile loop take a left and then another left at the three-way junction to head back to the staging area.

Map of 2 mile loop

Map of 2 mile loop

For a longer 5-mile loop, take a right on the Seaborg Trail.  After a little ways you will start climbing into the hills and will reach the Briones Crest Trail.  The Briones Crest Trail is the spine of the park and offers great views of Mt. Diablo, etc.  About a half mile later you will reach the Crescent Ridge Trail.  Take a left and descend back down into the valley. You will pass an archery range, which is a lot of fun with kids if you have access to some bows and arrows.  There is a course very much like a 9 hole golf course. After passing the archery range, you will reach a three-way junction with Seaborg Trail.  Stay right and you will end up back at the staging area.

Map of 5 mile loop

Map of 5 mile loop

Huckleberry Loop from Canyon

26 Feb

Length: 3.26 miles
Time:  80 minutes
Difficulty: Easy – Medium.  Fine for kids if they can handle the length.
Elevation Gain: 590 feet
Dogs:  Not allowed
EBMUD Permit:  Not required.
Calories: 500
Highlights:  Huckleberry Botanic Regional Preserve is one of the jewels of the East Bay Park system and this hike provides quick access via Pinehurst Road versus going all the way to the main entrance on Skyline Blvd.   This hike makes a nice loop through a unique array of native plants found only in a few areas along California’s coast and rare to the East Bay.  A great hike to impress an out-of-town guest.
Directions:  Drive to Moraga and then go south on Canyon Road, which ends at Pinehurst Road.  Go right on Pinehurst Road.   You will pass through the tiny town of Canyon.   It’s fun to remember that a train used to run through this canyon.  After a little over two miles you will reach a hairpin turn with a fire road gate.  Park there.
Trailhead:   You will see a gate with “Fire Trail 41-17” on it.
Special Notes:  A self-guided nature path brochure highlighting plants that may be seen along the path is available at the entrance off of Skyline Blvd and is also available online.  I’d recommend printing at home since you’ll be entering through the backside of the park.   Text side…   Map side…

Huckleberry Entrance SignThe 240-acre Huckleberry Botanic Regional Preserve is a unique park in the East Bay Park system.  It’s not just a protected open space—it’s an ecological marvel.  The native plant community here is found nowhere else in the East Bay.  The plants originated in the distant past along the southern coast of California when the climate was more moist and tempered by cool coastal fog.  The same plants can be found on the islands off the Santa Barbara coast!

The soil in parts of the preserve is rocky and lacks nutrition for all but the hardiest chaparral species, such as Manzanita.  One of the plants to look out for is the rare and endangered Alameda Manzanita.

Huckleberry entrance gate from Pinehurst Road in Canyon

Huckleberry entrance gate from Pinehurst Road in Canyon

Park on the side of the road and begin your hike by walking past the gate and adjacent to the San Leandro Creek.  After about a quarter mile, and a short climb, you will reach a junction.  Going right leads to Sibley Volcanic Preserve and going left takes you to Huckleberry.  In either direction you will be using the Bay Area Ridge Trail or Skyline National Trail.  The Skyline National Trail runs for 32 miles through the East Bay Hills and is part of the Bay Area Ridge Trail, which makes a 550+ mile continuous trail along the ridgelines overlooking San Francisco Bay.

After veering left, hike another tenth of a mile and you will reach the “lower trail” of the Huckleberry Loop.  The lower trail winds through a mature bay forest.  Take a left.

About a half mile of hiking will bring you to a junction with a “shortcut trail” that heads up the hill through the woods.  Continue straight.  When you reach the second junction, take a right.  This is the far end of the Huckleberry Loop.   You are now on the upper trail.  The upper trail is more diverse and has most of the native plant markers.  So, if you printed out the self-guided nature path, then keep a look out for markers.

You will pass the shortcut trail again, and then reach two paths that go off to the right.  They both go out to nice sunny viewpoints and are worth the short side trips.  Two views of Mt. Diablo below…

Huckleberry View of DiabloHuckleberry-Lookout2

After about a mile on the upper trail, you will reach a junction near the entrance to the park.  Take a right and descend back down to the lower trail via a few switchbacks.  You will reach the junction where you started.

Huckleberry trail map - notice dotted line from Pinehurst Road and the loop it reaches

Huckleberry trail map – notice dotted line from Pinehurst Road and the loop it reaches