Tag Archives: creek

Old San Pablo Trail

2 Feb

Length: 3.5 miles or longer if you’d like
Time: 1.5 hours
Difficulty: Easy
Dogs: No
Calories: 500-600
Elevation Gain: 240 feet, fairly flat
Best Season: Any time of year, as long as not muddy
EMBUD Permit Required:  Yes
Highlights:  A surprisingly nice walk parallel to San Pablo Creek with nice views of the San Pablo Reservoir
Directions: Take Camino Pablo northwest from Orinda until you reach Bear Creek Road.  Take a right on Bear Creek and then you’ll see a parking area immediately to the left.  This is the Orinda Connector Staging Area.
Trailhead:  The EMBUD trailhead and sign-in is just past the beginning of the trail.
Map: EBMUD Trail Map

The Old San Pablo Trail runs adjacent to Old San Pablo Dam Road which used to be the main road through the San Pablo Valley before the modern San Pablo Dam Road was built.

Beginning of the hike

To start the hike, sign in at the EBMUD kiosk and then zig-zag down the rocky trail into the wooded riparian habitat of San Pablo Creek.

After about 2/10ths of a mile you’ll reach an intersection with the Oursan Trail.  I like to go out on the bridge and check out the creek before continuing.  The San Pablo Creek flows for 18.7 miles and drains one of the largest watersheds in the East Bay with 34 named tributaries.  The creek was dammed in 1919 forming the San Pablo Reservoir.  If you continue on Oursan Trail you’ll reach a meadow with large pine trees and a few scattered picnic tables, which would be a nice spot for a picnic lunch with kids.

But for the hike described here, we will continue on Old San Pablo Trail.

After a half mile you’ll reach EBMUD Watershed Headquarters.  This is a convenient spot to pick up a trail permit if you don’t already have one.

EBMUD Watershed Office

Before long, you’ll begin enjoying wonderful views of San Pablo Reservoir.  The Reservoir was built in 1919 by the East Bay Water Co., a predecessor of EBMUD.  The reservoir refused to fill up during the first ten years until they started piping water from the Pardee Reservoir in the Sierras.  Today it provides water for 20% of EBMUD’s customers.   You may notice ducks and geese who winter here and herons and egrets who raise their young along the shores.

View of San Pablo Reservoir

The trail winds through a combination of oak, Monterey pine, and California bay trees.

At 1.7 miles (and roughly 45 minutes) you’ll reach Old San Pablo Dam Road.  This is where I normally turn around.

If you cross the road, you’ll reach the intersection with Inspiration Trail.  If you’re looking for a more rigorous hike, you can take that trail to the left (which is mainly fire roads) for about 2 miles and you’ll climb up to Inspiration Point (1040 feet of elevation) or you can go right and continue on Old San Pablo Trail for almost four more miles, passing the marina, all the way to the dam and Kennedy Grove Regional Recreation Area.

Map showing first 1.7 miles on the Old San Pablo Trail starting from the Orinda Connector Staging Area.

 

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

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