Tag Archives: picnic

McCosker Loop Trail

28 Dec

Length: 2.6 mile loop, starting at staging area
Time: About an hour
Difficulty: Medium
Dogs: Sorry, not allowed in this part of Sibley
Calories:
400-450
Elevation Gain: 581 feet. Starts at about 750 feet and climbs to about 1250 feet.
Best Season: Avoid after heavy rains (likely muddy) or very hot days.
EMBUD Permit Required: No
To Bring Along: Binoculars, plenty of birds and views
Highlights:  Check out a brand new staging area and hike that none of your friends know about! Reach many nice viewpoints with vistas of mostly undeveloped land, including the summit of the hike, about mid way through.
Directions:  Take Canyon Road south from Moraga. When you reach Pinehurst Road, take a right. Drive about one mile past the Canyon Elementary School and look for the new Wilcox Staging Area on your right. There are roughly 10 parking spots.
Trailhead: Just walk up the gravel road to reach the trailhead.

The Wilcox Station Staging Area and McCosker Loop Trail are brand new additions to the Sibley Volcanic Preserve. If you look at the Sibley map, you’ll now see them on the far right side.

A little quick history.. The 250+ acres that have been appended to Sibley were settled by the McCosker family in the 1870s, initially as a ranch, and later as a paving and quarry operation from the 1950s-70s. The land was part of 1300 acres that were purchased by the Wilder Development (245 home sites) and then donated to East Bay Regional Parks and EBMUD in 2011. A huge thanks is due to a group of Orinda citizens called Save Open Space and assistance from the Golden Gate Audubon Society. The story is covered in a recent Lamorinda Weekly article and Audubon Society blog post.

Wilcox Station Staging Area on Pinehurst Road (notice NO DOGS sign)

The Wilcox Station Staging Area, where you can park, is near the former Wilcox Station, part of the Sacramento Northern Railroad, an electric train that ran for 183 miles from Oakland all the way to Chico. Trains traveled through the one mile long “Redwood Peak Tunnel” from Shepherd Canyon on the Oakland side, before emerging in the canyon near the hairpin turn on Pinehurst Road.  A 1917 map shows the very first stop as Eastport Station (eastern portal) and the second stop as Wilcox Station.  The tiny town of Eastport still shows up in Wikipedia and on Google Maps!

Map of the McCosker Loop Trail

To begin the hike, just head up the gravel road. After a couple tenths of a mile you’ll reach a gate, where you take a sharp right. You’ll then pass a large metal barn that now houses EBRPD equipment. Just up the hill you’ll reach the beginning of the two-mile loop trail. You can hike in either direction, but our group went right.

Just follow the trail signs!

Hiking through woodlands (with my family on the day before Christmas)

During the beginning and end of the loop you’ll pass through oak/bay laurel woodlands and then as you reach higher elevations it will be mostly open grassy hills used for cow grazing. As far as trees go, you’ll mostly see Coast live oak and California bay laurel, but may also spot Pacific madrone, Coast redwood, Giant sequoia (planted), California buckeye, and some alders by the parking lot.

Coast live oak trees

After just a short while you’ll reach a picnic table (picture below) and then a little further you’ll pass a random patch of redwood trees on the right.

Unexpected picnic spot!

While hiking we had the amazing experience of seeing direct descendants of dinosaurs, that can fly, commonly known as birds. In just an hour we spotted swallows, crows, doves, scrub jays, anna’s hummingbirds, warblers, sparrows, and a red-tailed hawk. According to an EBRP study, this new addition to Sibley has the potential to support about 300 species of birds, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians, almost half of which are birds. Common birds of Northern CA…

Trail ascending towards summit

After a surprisingly steep climb and about 30-40 minutes of hiking you’ll reach a summit of about 1250 feet. The old ranch dirt road splits into two at the top. Stay to the right, and then you’ll begin to descend. The views at the top are fantastic!

Checking out view towards Sibley’s Round Top

To the north you’ll be able to see Sibley’s Round Top in the distance. In the future, the new McCosker portion of the park will be fully connected to the rest of Sibley Volcanic Preserve, The Wilder Development, and Orinda.

Pennyroyal in full bloom

On our hike we stumbled upon a couple of wild herbs that are fun to smell: pennyroyal and wild fennel.   Pennyroyal is a non-native perennial, which is a member of the mint family and quite common on the hike.

Soon the trail will reach the junction where the loop started, and then you return past the large metal barn the same way you came.

Note: 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.

McCosker area map with hiking loop shown in red

Elevation map

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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

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

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.

Russell Peak Loop

8 Nov

Length: 3.4 miles
Time: 1.5-2 hours
Difficulty: Medium
Dogs: Yes!
Calories: 280 (from MapMyFitness)
Highlights:  After a rather steep walk up a private road, you are rewarded with a great hike in the hills above Happy Valley, with outstanding views, and one of the best picnic spots around for lunch or dinner.  It takes about an hour to get to Russell Peak and about 30 minutes to get back down (shorter route).  I like to stop at Whole Foods, Diablo Foods, or Chow and pick up a picnic lunch and cold beverage and bring it along in a daypack.
Directions:  Take Happy Valley Road northwest from downtown Lafayette, until you get to Happy Valley Elementary School.  Take a right on Panorama Drive and park before the “END” sign that says “No parking beyond this point.”
Trailhead:  Head up Panorama Drive past the “END” sign.

Looking up Panorama Drive

This hike starts out with a rather steep walk up Panorama Drive, but don’t be deterred, it will be worth it.  You will reach a final house on the left and a gate across the road.  Continue hiking until you reach an unmarked fire road that heads off to the left.  This is part of the Mariposa Trail, but there is no sign.

Mariposa means butterfly in Spanish and this trail is named after the “clouds” of butterflys that used to be found along this loop a few decades ago.    Apparently they’ve moved on.

Take a left on Mariposa Trail (unmarked)

The Mariposa Trail winds west, along the side of the hill with great views out over Lafayette for about a mile or so.  When you reach a three-way junction you’ve arrived at the Russell Peak Trail.  Take a right and you’ll start climbing towards Russell Peak.

On your left you may notice the Leuschner Observatory, built in 1886 on the U.C. Berkeley Campus and moved to Lafayette in 1965.  It is located on the Russell Preserve or Russell Research Station, a 283 acre research facility of the University of California’s Center of Forestry.  Since 1961 is has provided a location for wild land and forestry research.   The University of California land is immediately to the west of the Russell Peak Trail.

Right after a really steep section you may notice a little trail on the right that goes out to a charming bench with a great view (see photo).  The bench is a memorial to a woman named Janet who apparently loved the view from this spot.  Continue until you reach another three-way junction.

This bench makes for a good pit stop on the way up…

Take a left and continue a couple tenths of a mile until you reach Russell Peak.  There is no sign for the little side trail to Russell Peak.  After climbing a pretty good hill, look for a little trail on the right that heads up to the top (see photo).   There is now one of those orange gas line markers right where the side trail goes to the peak.  If you’re on track, you’ll find a brand new, large picnic bench after about 40 yards or so.  If you reach the Lafayette Ridge trail then you’ve gone too far.

Russell Peak is at 1357 feet and is one heck of a spot!  You can see a complete Panorama from Mt. Diablo all the way across to Round Top at Sibley and more.  Time to relax for 20 or 30 minutes and take it in.

The side trail to Russell Peak

A brand new picnic table at the top!

The view!

A cold beverage is a nice touch!

On your way back down, you’ll return to the same three-way junction, but instead of taking a right and going back the way you came, just continue straight down Mariposa Trail.  This is a shorter way back.  You’ll reach a paved road where you take a right and will pass the fire road that you took before.

The route is in the shape of a triangle.  If you spend 30 minutes at the peak, the hike will take around two hours or so.  This hike is best in spring or fall, or summer days when it’s not too hot.     Enjoy and share your feedback by posting a comment.

Russell-Peak-Map-Marked