Tag Archives: oak trees

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.

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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.
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, 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

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.

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

 

 

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