Tag Archives: oak trees

Carr Ranch Loop Trail

16 Jan

Length: 8.3 miles from parking lot
Time: 3.5-4 hours
Difficulty: Strenuous (see elevation map at bottom)
Dogs: Yes, on a leash
Calories:
1300
Elevation Gain: 2074 feet, lots of climbing
Best Season: Winter or Spring after a couple weeks without rain – to avoid mud
EMBUD Permit Required: Yes
To Bring Along: Plenty of water and a snack
Highlights:  Explore the newest open space around Lamorinda – Carr Ranch! 604 acres just opened on October 14th, 2017. Perfect if you’re looking to get away from it all and want a real workout.
Directions: Take Canyon Road south from Moraga. Take a left on Camino Pablo and take it all the way until you reach Rancho Laguna Park. Park in the parking lot just past Knoll Drive.
Trailhead: The EMBUD trailhead and sign-in is at the back of the park.

Carr Ranch was owned for over 100 years by the Carr Family. Muir Land Trust was able to purchase it in November 2016 with the help of $7 million in donations received from individuals, foundations, agencies, and businesses. The 604 acres of unspoiled ranch and wild lands is now permanently protected and open for us all to enjoy! The only prior inhabitants of Carr Ranch have been wildlife and cows grazing.

To start the hike, walk to the back of Rancho Laguna Park and you’ll see an EBMUD sign-in kiosk and gate. To access the Carr Ranch Loop Trail you need to take the EBMUD Rocky Ridge Trail for about 2 miles.  Official Carr Ranch Trail Map…

Beginning of Rocky Ridge Trail

After climbing a little hill you’ll take a right on the Rancho Laguna Trail and go about .4 miles to reach a sign for the Rocky Ridge Trail (heading East).

The trail runs adjacent to a creek and then ascends through a forest of coast live oak and bay laurel trees. You may notice many logs on the ground with bracket fungi growing on them (see picture).  Over 1000 varieties have been discovered!  These and other decomposer fungi are the first step in food chains that feed on decomposed plant material. Anyway, then you’ll emerge onto a high meadow and continue climbing to the top of the first hill at 1097 feet.

 

 

Hiking up through oak and bay laurel woodlands

Bracket fungi on fallen trees

After descending down the other side, and hiking about 2 miles or so, you’ll reach the year-round Buckhorn Creek, an untouched riparian habitat. It drains into the Upper San Leandro Reservoir and so all of this land is part of the huge watershed for the Reservoir. And as you cross the creek, imagine for a moment that you’re far under water. It could have been. At one point in the late 80’s EBMUD proposed to build a new reservoir in the Buckhorn Creek Valley, but fortunately it was opposed and finally shelved.

Standing next to Buckhorn Creek

After another tenth of a mile, you’ll reach the turn off to the Carr Ranch Loop Trail (see picture). Take a left, instead of zig-zagging up the hill, and soon you’ll reach the 3.5 mile loop. We went to the right, hiking the loop counter-clockwise.

Turn off to Carr Ranch Loop Trail – about two miles from the start and a tenth of a mile past Buckhorn Creek

During the first part of the loop you’ll hike through the trees, adjacent to Buckhorn Creek. We noticed many, many acorns on the ground, which were a staple for the Native Americans that lived in this area.

Beginning of the Carr Ranch Loop Trail

Tons of acorns!

Soon you’ll begin climbing and climbing, up, up, up to the ridge that surrounds the valley. At about 4.5 miles of hiking you’ll reach the high point of 1275 feet. There is a fire road heading off to the right that actually leads to the back of St. Mary’s College. But the Loop Trail continues straight. Enjoy the vistas of undeveloped land in all directions!

View of Carr Ranch – about half way through the hike

Approaching the summit of 1275 feet

After another mile and a half you’ll reach the junction where you started on the loop. Return the same way that you came.

During your hike you may notice a shrub that looks like this (picture) and somehow thrives on these dry hillsides. It’s called Coyote Brush. Like all native plants it has evolved to survive without water from May through October. We have shifted most of our yard to native plants and have a couple large Coyote Brush plants that seeded themselves and didn’t cost us a penny!

Coyote Brush

One other thing you might notice is that there is almost no noise of any kind on Carr Ranch, except for planes flying overhead. Unfortunately there is a bit of a highway overhead with planes heading East from SFO and Oakland. This is becoming a bigger and bigger issue. Save Our Skies is fighting to protect our skies in the East Bay.  Their motto is “Too many, too loud, too often”.

You may encounter cows on this trail. No worries. Just walk in a wide arc around them and make sure not to get between a mother and a new calf. EBMUD and the East Bay Regional Park District both lease some grassland areas for cattle grazing. This is to keep the grass height down, which lessens the fire hazard during the dry season.

Muir Land Trust has now protected over 3,000 acres in the East Bay, all dedicated to open space forever! Learn more at www.jmlt.org.

 

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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.

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