Tag Archives: Briones

Briones Spengler Loop

27 Apr

Length: 6.4 miles
Time: 2.5 hours
Difficulty: Medium
Dogs: Yes!
Calories: ~1000
Elevation Gain: ~1500 feet
Best Season: Winter and spring when the hills are green. Fall can be nice as well.
EMBUD Permit Required:  No
Highlights:  Blue Oak woodland and panoramic views from Briones Crest Trail & Briones Peak
Directions:  From Highway 24 take Pleasant Hill Road exit and head north.  Veer left on Taylor Blvd. Take a left on Withers Avenue. Right on Reliez Valley Road and then you’ll see the Reliez Valley Staging Area on your left.  OR plug “Reliez Valley Staging Area” or “Reliez Valley Trail Head” into your map application.
Trailhead:  At the west end of the small parking lot.

At 6,256 acres, Briones is certainly the largest regional park in the Lamorinda area with multiple points of entry and it’s fun to think that John Muir hiked these hills in the late 1800s.  This staging area and trailhead is especially convenient for anyone living in the Springhill neighborhood of Lafayette, but for others it’s only about a six minute drive from Highway 24 & Pleasant Hill Road (3.5 miles).

Reliez Valley Staging Area

To start the hike head through the gate to begin on the Blue Oak Trail. You’ll ascend through open grasslands with scattered oaks for about a mile until you reach a junction.

Blue Oak Trail (on left) as dusk approaches

You can reach the Spengler Trail either by taking a right on the Blue Oak, up a steep open hill, or continue straight to scramble up the Blue Oak Shortcut, which I prefer.

Blue Oak leaf

Either way, when you reach the Spengler Trail go right.  You’ll be walking through a Blue Oak woodland.  This is the only chance you’ll get to see Blue Oaks on this hike, which are more common the farther you go East. They are the most heat and drought tolerant of our native oaks, and the leaves develop a bluish cast as we progress into summer and fall.  You can identify them by looking closely at one or more of the leaves, which are deciduous, smooth edged, and shallowly lobed (see picture).

Blue Oak woodland at intersection of Spengler and Blue Oak Trail

Ivan Dickson Memorial Trail marker

Continue following the wooded Spengler Trail.  You’ll reach post/marker 49, marker 48, and then marker 46.  You’ll notice on marker 46 “Ivan Dickson Memorial Loop Trail.” This is an 11.7 mile grand loop of Briones Regional Park, in honor of Ivan Dickson.  The loop includes going out to Ivan Dickson Point (near Bear Creek Road) and seeing a special stone bench in his honor.  A passionate hiker and lifelong member of the Berkeley Hiking Club, he left $427K in 1993 for a special gift fund to support a volunteer trail maintenance program that will allow future generations to “take good care of the trails” in perpetuity.

After thanking Ivan, continue straight down the hill (not up the smaller unofficial trail to the left) and you’ll begin to drop into a more lush canyon with the Alhambra Creek (marker 37).  The creek starts in Briones and flows about six miles, through downtown Martinez, and into the Carquinez Strait.

Checking out some lupine near Alhambra Creek

Climb out of the canyon until you reach the Old Briones Road Trail (marker 24), where you’ll take a left.

This is in the vicinity of two vernal ponds, the Maricich Lagoons, which attracts some birds. We actually saw some cows chasing a great blue heron from their field, a sight we were sure we’d never see again.  A long time ago, it was thought that the lagoons represented a vast underground store of water – wishful thinking for sure.

As you climb up the hill you’ll begin to see excellent views north and north-east towards the Carquinez Strait.

When you reach the Briones Crest trail, take a left. After a little over a half of a mile you’ll see a little trail going up the hill to Briones Peak.  This is worth a little detour to stand at the peak (1483 feet) and enjoy panoramic views of the Delta, Mount Diablo, and even Mount Tamalpais.

View of Mt. Diablo from Briones Crest Trail

Once you continue on the Briones Crest trail, you’ll want to stay left and take a connector trail back down to the Spengler.  It’s easy to miss.  If you end up on the Table Top Trail then you missed the left turn.  But if you continue on the Table Top Trail you can add an additional couple of miles to the loop, making it an 8.6 mile loop.

Either way when you reach the Blue Oak Shortcut, take a right and head back the way you came.

Briones Regional Park Map

 

Oursan Trail in the Fall

19 Nov

I just hiked the Oursan Trail, on the north side of Briones Reservoir, last Saturday.  This is a really nice, up-lifting hike in the fall when it’s a little cool (60’s) and you want to be in the sun.  Just make sure the trail has had time to dry out from any recent rain and isn’t too muddy.  You’ll love all the views of Briones Reservoir shimmering in the sun!

EBMUD is considering opening up some of their trails, like Oursan, to mountain bikers.  Here’s a link to a recent article in the CC Times.

Click here for a full description of this hike.  Remember to bring your EBMUD pass.

Oursan-Nov15

Oursan-Nov15-2

Oursan-Map2-Text

This is going out about an hour ( 3.1 miles in this case) and turning around for a total of 6.2 miles.

Lafayette Ridge Feeder Loops

28 Feb

The Lafayette Ridge Trail is one of the most popular trails in Lamorinda due to the convenience of the Lafayette Ridge Staging Area on Pleasant Hill Road, across from Acalanes High School. But what many area residents may not know is that there are a number of Lafayette Ridge “feeder” trails, some named after famous residents, that can be used to create more unusual loops and routes.

I’ve created an overview map that shows the entire Lafayette Ridge Trail and all the feeder trails including (from East to West):

– Las Trampas to Briones Regional Trail (from Deer Hill Road)
– Petar Jakovina Trail (from downtown, 1st Street or Brown Street)
– John Kiefer Trail (from Springhill neighborhood)
– Springhill Trail (from end of Springhill Road)
– Buckeye Ranch Trail (from end of Springhill Road)
– Mariposa Trail (from end of Panorama Drive – across from Happy Valley Elementary)

Lafayette Ridge Feeder Map Med

Lafayette Ridge Feeder Trails

 

These feeder trails can be combined in different ways. A few combinations that I’ve tried:

John Kiefer Loop

Distance: 3.2 miles
Time: 1:15
Difficulty: Medium, a couple steep spots going up the Lafayette Ridge
Calories: 500
Dogs Allowed: Yes

John Kiefer Loop

John Kiefer Loop

Start at the Lafayette Ridge Staging Area off of Pleasant Hill Road. Follow the fire road up the hill following the signs for the Lafayette Ridge Trail. You’ll pass an old barn on the left and then reach a junction with the Las Trampas to Briones Regional Trail. Make sure to stay right and keep going up the hill. After a steep section you’ll reach a cow gate. Go through the gate and stay to the left on a single-track trail.   This scenic section of the trail runs just above a neighborhood and then brings you to a crest and junction with the Petar Jakovina Trail.   Turn to the right on the fire road that runs along the Ridge. Very soon you’ll see two large water tanks up on the hill followed by three large pine trees. Just past the pine trees there is a City of Lafayette trail marker (see picture). Take a right up the hill. If you’ve gone the right way you’ll quickly reach a fantastic bench and view spot under one of the pine trees.   This bench is your high point on the hike at about 1000 feet (parking lot is at 367 feet).

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After a break continue on the trail and right away you’ll reach another bench that looks out over the Springhill neighborhood and beyond (see picture). Follow the trail through a forest of oaks, maples, and bay laurel trees. After about 3/10ths of a mile you’ll reach Leslyn Lane. Take a left down the steep but scenic road. You’ll reach Goyak Drive and then Springhill Road. Luckily the City has recently added a walking path along Springhill Road from this point all the way down to Springhill Elementary School. If school is not in session you can cut through the school back to the Staging Area where you started.

The John Kiefer Trail was just named and dedicated to “Papa John” Kiefer on July 27, 2014. John is a local hero, best known for being Lafayette’s chicken expert and offering free chicken workshops every year, but prior to that he was a Parks, Trails & Recreation Commissioner from 1986 to 1994. During that time he supervised the construction of two Lafayette Ridge feeder trails, and also created the Volunteer Trails Maintenance Program in 1995.

View city brochure about the John Kiefer Trail

View article in the Lamorinda Weekly about the creation and dedication of the trail.

 

Petar Jakovina Loop (or the “Stairmaster Loop”)

Distance: 2.8 miles
Time: 1:15
Difficulty: Challenging. A steep approach to the trail on Sessions Road and then about 75 steps going up the Petar Jakovina Trail and another 75 steps coming down the Las Trampas to Briones Regional Trail.
Calories: 400-500
Dogs Allowed: Yes

The Petar Jakovina Loop combines the Petar Jakovina Trail and the Las Trampas to Briones Regional Trail into a three mile loop that starts near downtown Lafayette and can be done in either direction. I jokingly refer to this as the “Stairmaster Loop” because both feeder trails include about 75 steps. It’s easier to climb the Regional Trail (from Elizabeth Street), but can be a little sketchy to come down the Jakovina Trail if there are a lot of leaves.   If you go up the Jakovina then get ready for a scenic “Stairmaster” workout!!

Petar Jakovina Loop

Petar Jakovina Loop

Directions for going up the Peter Jakovina Trail:

I typically park on Brown Avenue under Highway 24. Cross Deer Hill Road to Miller Drive. Follow Miller Drive to Sierra Vista Way.   After about a quarter mile you’ll see a sign for private Sessions Road on the right.   Sorry, Sessions Road is steep, but after about 100 yards you’ll see a trailhead on the left. That is the beginning of the trail.   Soon after the trail begins you’ll reach a nice bench under an oak tree where you can enjoy the view out over Lafayette and recover from climbing Sessions Road!! The trail traverses a canyon with oaks, bay laurels and buckeye trees and like I mentioned before has about 75 steps. On the way up you’ll cross the upper end of Sessions Road and then continue on the other side. Near the top you’ll reach a fire road where you take a right and continue up to a junction with the Lafayette Ridge Trail.

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Make sure to take a right on the single-track trail that angles down behind a house. After a third of a mile or so you’ll reach a cow gate where the trail turns into a fire road.   At this point you can enjoy great views of Mt. Diablo in the distance! After descending down a steep rocky section you’ll reach a junction. Take a right on the Las Trampas to Briones Regional Trail that heads down the hill. You’ll know you’ve gone the right way when you reach the first of many series of steps. This surprisingly scenic trail descends down through the trees towards Highway 24. When you reach Deer Hill Road, follow the signs to continue along the street back to Brown Ave. where you started.

The trail was dedicated to Petar Jakovina in 1996 because he helped make land available for the trail. Petar is most famous in Lafayette for opening Petar’s Restaurant in 1959, calling it “a little bit of San Francisco in Lafayette.” In 1980 he moved the restaurant to Lafayette Circle where it stayed until 2013, and became a popular spot to listen to dance songs by “Diamond Dave.” The site is now occupied by the Cooperage.

View city brochure about the Peter Jakovina Trail

 

Other Ideas:

If you live in the Springhill neighborhood you could hike to downtown (for lunch?) by going up the John Kiefer Trail, take a left on the Ridge Trail, and then going down the Petar Jakovina Trail. Take a right on Sierra Vista Way, which will turn into 1st Street and take you by Whole Foods.

If there are any other good feeder loops that you’d recommend please comment on this post.

Revisiting the Russell Peak Loop

22 Feb

I just hiked the Russell Peak Loop yesterday for the umpteenth time and felt compelled to draw attention to it again.  This is an easily accessible hike that starts near Happy Valley Elementary School in Lafayette and winds up to Russell Peak (1357 feet) in Briones Regional Park.  The views from the top are incredible!  You can see the north Bay, Mt. Tamalpais, Briones Reservoir, Round Top at Sibley, Rocky Ridge, Mt. Diablo, and more.  This is a great hike to do from Feb-May while the hills are green.  I just added a few more details to the original post.

Russell-Peak-Map-Marked

 

Oursan Trail

14 Apr

Length: 1 – 10 miles (go as far as you want and turn around)
Time:  2 hours for a 5 mile hike
Difficulty: Easy to Moderate.
Elevation Gain:  Fairly flat trail with a few little hills
Dogs:  Yes, but must be kept on a leash at all times.  This is one of the few EBMUD trails that allows dogs.
Best Season: Spring!
EBMUD Permit:  Required
Calories: Around 900 calories for a two hour hike
Highlights:  The Oursan Trail skirts the northern shores of Briones Reservoir, through open fields and scattered oak trees and is one of the most serene hikes in the East Bay.  It is especially stunning in the spring when the meadows are green with wildflowers and the direct sun is welcome.
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.
Trailhead:  Once you have parked look for the gate and trailhead on the right/north side of the parking lot.  The Bear Creek Trail starts on the other side.

This is the best hike in Lamorinda for walking adjacent to a reservoir besides the Lafayette Reservoir, which is far more crowded.  You’ll see a few people on this trail on the weekend, but it is very lightly used.  The name “Oursan” is as lightly used as the trail.  It means “small bear” in French, but I’m not sure when or why it  was chosen.

Briones Dam was built in 1964 to supply growing central Contra Costa County with water (that’s us!).  The Reservoir is very deep and the largest of EBMUD’s reservoirs with a total capacity of 19.7 billion gallons of water.  EBMUD manages the reservoir and the watershed land that surrounds it.  Local runoff into all five reservoirs satisfies about 5% of the East Bay’s water needs.  The rest comes from the Pardee Reservoir in the Sierra.

To start the hike, go through the gate, sign in at the registration kiosk with your permit number, etc. and then proceed on the fire road.  The trail climbs steeply from the trailhead over a small hill, then opens up to a view of the reservoir.

Oursan-poppys

First view of the reservoir.

You will pass a giant oak on your left with large clumps of mistletoe.  We commonly think of mistletoe sprigs as something you hang at Christmas time to kiss under.   Mistletoe is actually a very large family of parasitic plants that attach to and penetrate the branches of a tree or shrub, through which they absorb water and nutrients.  For a long time, Mistletoe was limited to the foothills around the Central Valley but today it is commonly found throughout the Bay Area and seen in many mature Oak trees in the East Bay.

Besides the big oak tree you may be flanked by hundreds of California Poppies.   They flower from February through September, but spring is when they put on the best show.  This is the flower pictured on welcome signs when you enter California!  It was selected as the state flower in 1890, as its golden blooms were deemed a fitting symbol for the Golden State.  April 6th is California Poppy Day.  A few fun facts about the poppy:

  • The petals close at night or in cold, windy weather and open again the following morning.
  • Poppy leaves were used medicinally by Native Americans, and the pollen was used cosmetically.
  • It is drought-tolerant, self-seeding, and easy to grow in gardens.

Besides poppies, you are likely to see buttercups (small yellow flowers), lupine, and blue-eyed grass.

After passing by the lake’s edge, the trail will take an up-and-down course around two fingers of the lake, often under a canopy of oak trees.   You may notice a nest box for wood ducks.  In many areas, wood ducks have difficulty finding suitable natural nesting sites. These boxes provide a man-made alternative, where hens can nest in relative safety from predators.

Oursan-oaks

Red-winged Blackbird

Ducks are just one type of bird you might see.  In the open areas you may see red-tailed hawks, red-shouldered hawks, or turkey vultures flying high above.  In wooded areas you may see varied thrush, western scrub-jays, and band-tailed pigeons.  In the water look for ducks and grebes foraging near the shoreline. On a recent hike (April 2020), we kept seeing red-winged blackbirds along the edge of the lake on and around cattail (see picture).

After about a mile, the trail emerges from the trees and runs out in the open, along the water, for another mile or so.    You will have many excellent views of the shimmering blue water and may think it would be great for swimming or boating, but it is not open for recreational use.  There is one exception:  it is used by the Mills College, UC Berkeley and Saint Mary’s College rowing teams, which I’ve seen on one occasion.

Oursan-Reservoir-View

Keep track of your time and turn around when you have hiked half as long or half as far as you want to go.  I typically hike about an hour and then turn around.    At 5.4 miles you reach the Hampton Trail, which connects to the Hampton Staging Area.  The Oursan Trail actually continues for a lengthy 10.4 miles, ending at San Pablo Dam Road.  If you’re really up for a multi-hour adventure you can connect to the Bear Creek Trail and complete a 14 mile loop around the entire reservoir.

Selfie picture at turnaround point with friends Rick & Alicia!

Selfie picture at turnaround point with friends Rick & Alicia!

 

Oursan-Map

Springhill Sunrise Loop

7 Apr

Length: 4.5-5 miles
Time:  2 hours
Difficulty: Moderately Strenuous (similar to Reservoir Rim Trail)
Elevation Gain:  748 feet
Dogs:  Allowed
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.

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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!

Counterclockwise loop

Counterclockwise loop

 

 

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.