Tag Archives: Rocky Ridge

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 lichen growing on them (see picture). Lichen are largely unnoticed but amazing. There are 20,000 varieties and they cover 6% of the earth’s surface!  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

Lichen growing 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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Rocky Ridge Trail

3 Feb

Length: Up to 7.6 miles roundtrip, but you can turn around whenever you want.
Time: About 3 hours for the full roundtrip. This is an out-and-back so when you’ve hiked half as long as you want to go, then turn around.
Difficulty: Challenging. Two fairly steep climbs (500 and 600 feet) on the way towards Rocky Ridge. Just one 400 foot climb on the way back.
Dogs: No
Calories:
Around 1100 (for the full distance)
Elevation Gain: 1271 feet on the way out and 500-600 feet on the way back.
Best Season: Spring – when the wild flowers are blooming. Not recommended when it’s hot.
EMBUD Permit Required: Yes
Highlights:  The Rocky Ridge Trail takes you into one of the most unspoiled, remote areas in the East Bay, on a huge piece of EBMUD watershed land between Las Trampas Regional Wilderness and the Upper San Leandro Reservoir. This is your chance to see what the East Bay looked like before it was developed!
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.
Special Notes: This hike is challenging and mostly exposed to the sun, so bring sun protection, plenty of water, good hiking shoes/boots, and a snack.

 

About Rocky Ridge… Rocky Ridge is one of the highest points in the East Bay, at just over 2000 feet, and provides a commanding vantage point. It was actually a Nike missile site during the Cold War in the late 50’s. It is most often accessed from the staging area at the end of Bolinger Canyon Road (off of Crow Canyon) and then by heading up the paved Rocky Ridge View Trail. But the trail I’m going to describe approaches Rocky Ridge from EBMUD watershed land on the remote west side.

Rocky Ridge has an interesting geological history. For millions of years, this area was a shallow sea and erosion from adjacent highlands built up thick layers of sediment. About 3-4 million years ago, these rock layers were thrust up to create the high ridge that we now see. The west-facing slope exposes the edges of many rock layers that were originally sediment under water.

The full Rocky Ridge Trail begins at Valle Vista Staging Area and is 6.15 miles long one way, so I prefer to start at Rancho Laguna Park, making it 3.8 miles one way and 7.6 roundtrip (if you go to the end).

To start the hike, sign in with your EBMUD permit number and proceed through the gate. After climbing a little hill you’ll take a right on a fire road and go about .4 miles to reach a sign for Rocky Ridge Trail (heading East).

Rocky-Ridge-Start

Beginning of hike

The trail starts out fairly level, running adjacent to a creek on the right. Soon you’ll be climbing through a forest of oak and bay laurel trees. Then you’ll emerge onto a high meadow and continue climbing to the top of the first hill at 1097 feet. In the spring, the meadow and summit are littered with wildflowers and you might feel tempted to start singing “The hills are alive with…” from the Sound of Music. This first summit is a great spot to take in the view back towards Moraga and also to the east to see a terrific view of Rocky Ridge.

View of Rocky Ridge from top of first hill

View of Rocky Ridge from top of first hill

Beyond the crest, the trail descends down to the valley below. You’ll reach a fire road, where you take a left, and then right away see a sign for Rocky Ridge Trail pointing to the right.   You’ll soon reach Buckhorn Creek and an untouched riparian habitat.

Buckhorn Creek

Buckhorn Creek

Buckhorn Creek drains into the Upper San Leandro Reservoir (completed in 1926), that you may have seen if you’ve ever hiked the Kings Canyon Trail from the Valle Vista Staging Area. This is why all of this is EBMUD land–because it is part of the huge watershed for the reservoir. There was actually a fierce battle in the late 80’s over EBMUD’s plan to put a new reservoir in the Buckhorn Creek valley. The plan was finally shelved leaving the valley in its natural state.

The second climb

The second climb

Coyote-Brush

Coyote Brush

After admiring the creek, it’s time to begin climbing again. This time you’ll zig-zag up a grassy slope, with about 600 feet of elevation gain, until reaching an even higher crest of 1261 feet. On your way up you may notice a shrub (see the picture) that somehow colonizes and survives on these dry hillsides. It’s called Coyote Brush. I actually have some growing in my back yard and this lets me know that it really is native to the area and can survive with almost no water from May-October. All native plants have evolved to survive fine in this area without any assistance from us (e.g. irrigation) and thus are ideal for a maintenance free yard.

Once you reach the top of this second summit you’ll begin to be able to see the San Francisco Bay in the distance.

Views of the San Francisco Bay from the top of the second hill

Views of the San Francisco Bay from the top of the second hill

You’ll reach a cattle gate where the trail meets a dirt road. Stay left and in about 3/4ths of a mile you’ll reach the Rocky Ridge Loop Trail, which circles around Rocky Ridge. On this last stretch you will have great views of the west face of Rocky Ridge and may also notice a cool looking peak to the south. That’s Ramage Peak (see picture). I haven’t been there yet, but it’s supposed to be a really neat spot! It can be visited from the seldom used Ramage Peak Trail.

View of Ramage Peak through barbed wire fence - nearing the end of the trail

View of Ramage Peak through barbed wire fence – nearing the end of the trail

At the junction with Rocky Ridge Loop Trail, you’re about 3.8 miles from the start and it’s time to turn around, unless you decide to turn around sooner.

Return the way you came.

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.

Rocky-Ridge-Map

Rocky-Ridge-Topo