Tag Archives: San Pablo Dam

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.