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

Redwood Trail

29 Jan

Length: 3.1 miles
Time: 1 hour and 15 minutes
Total Climbing: 751 feet
Difficulty: Medium
EBMUD Permit Required:  Yes
Dogs: No
Calories: 350?
Highlights: This is the fastest access to redwood trees from the Lamorinda area and crosses two undisturbed streams.  After hiking from the Valley Vista staging area (south of Moraga) back into the Canyon, you hike up through a nice redwood forest until reaching East Ridge trail in Redwood Park where you turn around.
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 right.

Redwood Trail entry gate - sign in and take a right.

Redwood Trail entry gate – sign in and take a right.

Take a right on the foot path at this junction

Take a right on the foot path at this junction

Follow the dirt road to the right up a steep hill.  You will see a foot trail branch off to the right.  That is the way you want to go.   The fairly level trail winds along the side of the hill back into the canyon before dropping down into the redwood  trees.  You’ll cross Indian Creek, which is worth stopping for a minute to admire, before reaching a gate.

Cross the street to the gate on the south side of Pinehurst Road.  Now you’ll cross San Leandro Creek before winding steadily up through redwoods and ferns.  Stop for a second and realize that you’re hiking in a redwood forest within 20 minutes of your home!  We are incredibly lucky to live so near these majestic trees that can grow over 300 feet tall and live over 2000 years!  In fact, coastal redwoods are the tallest living species on Earth and the oldest recorded tree lived to more than 2200 years!

Redwood-Forest1Redwood-Forest2

This area was once a forest of ancient redwoods, but was completely logged between 1840-1860.  You may notice that the new redwood trees (only 150 years old) often grow in rough circles around where an ancient tree would have been.   That is because redwoods sprout from their stumps or roots.  When the original tree dies, the surrounding shoots may develop into mature trees in a circle around the parent. These groups are known as “fairy rings.”   Coast Redwoods like a lot of water and survive in the dry summers by capturing fog and mists that drift in from the ocean.

You should reach the top (East Ridge Trail) within 40 minutes or so.  You can extend your hike by going left or right a little ways on East Ridge trail or just turn around and head back.

The gate at the top of the hill with East Ridge Trail on the other side

The gate at the top of the hill with East Ridge Trail on the other side

Trail map from MayMyHike

Trail map from MayMyHike

Hunsaker Ridge Hike

25 Jan

Length: 4.7 miles (but you can turn around at any point)
Time: 2 hours
Difficulty: Challenging
Dogs: Yes
Calories: 800-1000
Highlights: The best hike leading out of the Burton Valley area.  After about 15 minutes of traversing over a hill, past a house, and up a fire road, you are rewarded with an outstanding, but challenging hike that winds along the ridge between Rossmoor and Hunsaker Canyon with fantastic views on both sides.  You’ll feel a world away even though you can see Rossmoor part of the time.  There is a great picnic table at the end for a snack or lunch before turning around.
Directions: Drive to Burton Valley.  Take Rohrer Drive off of St. Mary’s road and follow it past Burton Valley School, past Rancho Colorados Swim Club and up to Henson’s Equestrian Center (2750 Rohrer).  Park across the street from the Equestrian Center.
Trailhead: You will see a small sign that says Rohrer Trail.  This is the official name but I think the name should have “ridge” in it.
Special Notes: This is a narrow trail with some poison oak (not a lot) and it is recommended to wear long pants or be careful.

The trailhead - across from Henson's Equestrian Center

The trailhead – across from Henson’s Equestrian Center

This trail will get your heart pumping right away with a few switchbacks up a steep hill between two homes.  Enjoy the great views of Mt. Diablo!  Drop down the other side and continue until you end up on a driveway in front of a home.  Just continue past the home and you’ll see the beginning of a fire road on the opposite side.   There is some cool outdoor artwork to admire.

Rohrer3

The trail along the ridge veers off to the right before the second gate

Going up the fire road is another noticeable climb and you’ll be thinking “I hope this is worth it!.”  It will be.  You’ll pass by a gate on your way up.  Keep going up and over the hill.  On your way down on the other side you’ll see a second gate across the fire road and maybe 15 yards before it will be a little trail that veers off to the right.  It takes about 15 minutes to reach this junction and it is the beginning of the best part!  This narrow trail will wind along the ridge for about 45 minutes.

The trail is fun but a bit challenging.  It goes up and down, through lots of varied plant zones, over rocks, through gates, etc.  It has a little bit of everything and it’s all very scenic.  As you traverse the ridge you’ll see views of Roosmoor on one side and views of Hunsaker Canyon and Las Trampas Peak on the other side.

Rohrer6Rohrer7

You may notice tire tracks on the trail.  There is apparently at least one mountain biker who has the skills to come down this “single track” trail.  Very impressive!

Buddha statue

Buddha statue

There are some special things to look for along the way.  At one point on the hike you’ll go through a tiny little gullywith rock walls on both sides.   About 20 yards before you reach that there is a little trail off to the right with a Buddha statue – smiling in the sun (see picture).

There are three gates to go through along the way.  Soon after going through the first gate you’ll notice a little trail that heads down the hill to the right.  This goes down into Hunsaker Canyon, ending up near the barn.

After about 40 minutes of hiking you’ll reach a nice bench with a views out over Rossmoor with Mt. Diablo in the distance (see picture).  This is a nice spot to take a quick break or a good turnaround point if you don’t want to go all the way to the end.  You’ll see a little “TG 14” sign that must be a trail down into Rossmoor.  You’ll want to continue along the ridge.

After about an hour, and roughly 2.3 miles of hiking, the trail will split into two as it gradually climbs to the top of the final hill.  Going right will take you to a fire road that will lead you up to Las Trampas Peak if you take a right (1 – 1.5 miles?).  Staying left will lead to a nice picnic table for a well-deserved rest and is the turnaround spot (see picture).

Picnic table at the end of the trail

Picnic table at the end of the trail

Topographical map

Topographical map

Redwood Park Loop

13 Jan

Length: 5.77 miles
Time: About 2 hours
Difficulty: Medium.  One steep section for about 1/4 mile.
Dogs: Yes!
Calories: 400-500
Highlights: Redwood Regional Park is my favorite park in the East Bay and this loop offers the sun and outstanding views from the East Ridge Trail combined with the shady majesty of the redwood trees along Redwood Creek Trail.  A great combination!
Directions:  Redwood Park has a main entrance off of Redwood Road and also from Skyline Drive, but the closest access from Lamorinda is the “Pinehurst Gate.”  Drive to Moraga and then take Canyon Road south from the intersection of Moraga Road and Moraga Way.  When you reach Pinehurst Rd. take a left.  Follow the windy road to the top of the hill and look for a parking spot.  You will see the “Pinehurst Gate” sign.
Trailhead:  The trailhead has a sign, gate, kiosk, and maps of Redwood Park, if you don’t have one.
Map: Redwood Park map…

Pinehurst Gate

Pinehurst Gate

A little background…  Redwood Regional Park was once a virgin, old-growth redwood forest like Muir Woods, but was completely logged between 1840-1860.   So all of the redwood trees that you see now are “second growth” that have grown since 1860.   That is long enough that many of them have grown over 100 feet tall!  Left undisturbed these amazing trees can live over 1000 years and grow to be over 300 feet tall.

To start you hike head through the gate and up the first hill that you see in the photo.  You will be on East Ridge Trail that runs along the eastern ridge of the park.   It is a fire road that winds along the ridge, with lots of sun, and tremendous views.  You will hike about 2.5 miles or close to an hour until you reach Prince Trail.  Take a left.

Bench on East Ridge Trail

Bench on East Ridge Trail

Prince Trail descends down into the valley of the park.  When you reach the Stream Trail take a left.  The Stream Trail is the “spine” of the park.  It passes through groves of coast redwoods and goes alongside the Redwood Creek.

Stream Trail

Stream Trail

Redwood Creek has a special place in history.  The word-famous rainbow trout were first identified as a distinct species from fish caught in San Leandro Creek, of which Redwood Creek is a tributary.   The trout that spawn in Redwood Creek migrate from a downstream reservoir.  You will notice signs along the trail that give more information.

After a little over a half mile on Stream Trail, you will reach the “Trails End”, which is the end of the paved trail, and as far as bikes can go, from the other direction. After a while you will reach a picnic area and a sign for the Canyon Trail (see picture).  Canyon Trail will take you back up to East Ridge Trail.  Canyon Trail is steep but not that long.  Just take it at whatever pace you’re comfortable.

Sign for Canyon Trail

Sign for Canyon Trail

Once you reach the top, take a right and return to your car.

Aerial View of the Redwood Park Loop

Hunsaker Canyon Barn Walk

16 Dec

Length: 2.75 miles roundtrip from the beginning of Hunsaker Canyon Road.
Time: 45-60 minutes
Difficulty: Easy
Dogs: Yes!
Calories: Around 350
Highlights:  A very scenic stroll through Hunsaker Canyon with the first half being on a paved private road and the second half being a dirt road that used to lead to a ranch.  The land has been purchased and “land banked” by the East Bay Regional Park District but is not officially open to the public.  Enter at your own risk.
Directions:  Take Silverado Road south through Burton Valley.  Take a left on Bradbury and park where you see the green “Hunsaker Canyon Private Road” sign (see picture).
Trailhead:  Begin your hike by proceeding on Hunsaker Canyon Road by foot.
Special Notes:  Since this area has not been prepared for public use and various types of wildlife have been spotted – it is only appropriate for experienced hikers.

Hunsacker Canyon Road Sign

Park before this sign

Hunsaker Canyon Road is a private rural road that leads out of the south-eastern corner of Burton Valley.  It is most known as the route to Wildwood Acres Resort (for weddings and large parties) and the location of the 2005 murder of Pamela Vitale by troubled teen Scott Dyleski.  It should be known as the entry way to a great hiking area!  NOTE:  Since it is a private road it is only for residents and their guests and you aren’t supposed to park along it.  And make sure not to litter or use any cigarettes along this road.  It is an extreme fire danger area with no easy access to water.

Hike about 3/4ths of a mile down the road until you see a fire road gate on the left (see picture below).  This is the entry way to land owned by the East Bay Regional Park District.  Back in 2005, they purchased 1000 acres of land between Roosmoor, Burton Valley, and the Las Trampas Wilderness Area.  The area is protected and “land banked” but not officially open to the public.  It will expand the Las Trampas Wilderness Area to 5100 acres and protect the entire ridge line.

Entry gate to barn hike

Entry gate to barn hike

Climb over the gate to enter the open space.  A very scenic dirt road meanders through meadows and some trees, adjacent to Grizzly Creek for about 0.7 miles.  The road ends at a barn that’s no longer actively being used next to a huge IMG_1049beautiful oak tree.   It’s a very picturesque spot!  It would be perfect for a picnic, but there is no picnic table.  There are various old supplies and fencing laying around so keep an eye on kids.  Enjoy the peaceful setting, with no signs or sounds of suburbia, and then head back.

You may run into grazing cows in the vicinity of the barn and like most East Bay parks and wilderness areas there may be mountain lions and other wildlife in the area (coyotes, boars, snakes, etc.).  But I personally haven’t seen anything except birds and cows.

This is a nice hike with a family group with varying ages and abilities because it’s manageable for just about anyone.

Barn and oak tree at the end of the dirt road.

Barn and oak tree at the end of the dirt road.

Las Trampas Peak:

Right before the barn, there is a fire road that veers off to the right.  If you are really comfortable in the wilderness, you can take this fire road to Las Trampas Peak which is on the edge of the Las Trampas Regional Wilderness and 1827 feet high.  Stay left at the first junction.  Follow the fire road which has some pretty steep sections.  When you reach the ridge (Las Trampas Ridge Trail), take a right and you’ll arrive at Las Trampas Peak in another 10 minutes or so.    You will likely run into cows and maybe see other wildlife.  Best to do this hike with at least one other person.  It takes about an hour to reach the peak from the gate.