Tag Archives: sibley

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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Eastport to Sibley Loop

7 Mar

Length: 3.5 miles
Time:  1 hour, 30 minutes
Difficulty: Medium
Elevation Gain:  636 feet
Dogs:  Allowed
EBMUD Permit:  Not Required
Calories: Around 800
Highlights:  This was my first favorite hike in the Lamorinda area and my kids used to call it the Ladybug hike since they found a bazillion ladybugs!  Start in Canyon at the former site of “Eastport” and hike up a scenic, wooded canyon to Sibley Volcanic Preserve (reaching 1600 feet), hike around Round Top, and descend back the way you came.    This is a great year-round hike – a manageable amount of mud in the winter and a good dose of shade in the summer.
Directions:  Drive to Moraga and then go south on Canyon Road, which ends at Pinehurst Road.  Go right on Pinehurst Road.   You will pass through the tiny town of Canyon.   It’s fun to remember that a train used to run through this canyon.  After a little over two miles you will reach a hairpin turn with a fire road gate.  Park there.
Trailhead:   You will see a fire road gate and a sign that says “Lower Pinehurst Trail.”
Special Notes:  Sibley allows dogs off leash away from the parking lot, so you’ll likely run into hikers with dogs on the Round Top loop.

A couple hundred yards before reaching the hairpin turn, you will pass the spot (on the left side) where the Sacramento Northern Railroad used to go through a tunnel between Canyon and Sheperd’s Canyon (on the Oakland side).  The Sacramento Northern Railroad was an electric train that ran 183 miles from Oakland all the way to Chico.  The first stop on the East side of the tunnel was called Eastport (the eastern portal).  Eastport still shows up in Wikipedia and on Google Maps!

Eastport-gateEastport-sign

After parking at the hairpin turn, begin your hike by walking past the gate.  After about a quarter mile, and a short climb, you will reach the Skyline National Recreation Trail, which runs for 32 miles through the East Bay Hills and is part of the Bay Area Ridge Trail.  Going left will take you to Huckleberry Preserve.  Going right will take you towards Sibley Volcanic Preserve.  Go right.

Right away you will cross the San Leandro Creek, which begins near Sibley and continues for an amazing 21.7 miles through San Leandro Reservoir, Lake Chabot and then out to the Bay near the Oakland Airport.    This is one of the few places in the Lamorinda area where you can hike next to a running creek.

Eastport-climb

Climbing up the ridge to Sibley.

After following the creek for a little ways, the trail will begin climbing up a ridge, and eventually reach a little, open grassy area with pine trees behind it (see picture).  This is a great spot to catch your breath, turn around, and enjoy an amazing view.  Continue through the grove of Monterey pine trees.

Eastport-viewEastport-pine-steve

After about 25 minutes of hiking and just a hair over one mile you will reach a junction with the Round Top Loop Trail.  This trail circles around Round Top, the central feature of Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve, and one of the highest peaks in the area at 1763 feet.  Take a right.   You will be following the Round Top Loop Trail for about a mile all the way around Round Top.

Junction with Round Top Loop Trail - take a right

Junction with Round Top Loop Trail – take a right

It’s pretty cool that we have a 10 million year old volcano in our back yard!  It features a complex volcanic center that was the source of most of the lavas that underlie the ridges from Inspiration Point in Tilden Regional Park to Moraga.  Tectonic forces on the Hayward and Moraga earthquake faults have uplifted the Berkeley hills and tilted the Round Top volcano complex on its side.  So, under the grassy cover, its guts are exposed, and a self-guided brochure is available highlighting visible geological features.

Eastport-Eucalyptus

Eucalyptus trees

In the next section of the hike there are many, many eucalyptus trees.  They have become such a familiar sight in California that many people probably don’t realize that they are really transplants from Australia. Almost all of the 600-plus species of Eucalyptus are native to Australia, where they are the dominant plants in a number of different habitats.  They are some of the tallest trees in the world and extremely drought tolerant.

After going through a cow gate, you will a junction, with a fire road heading off to the right.   For this hike you want to stay left.  Taking a right will lead you into a “land banked” area that is not open to the public yet.   Read more about this at the end of the article.

As you come down the hill you will see an overlook, where you can view the old quarry pit.   Looking down into the pit you’ll see a large labyrinth.  It was crafted in 1989 by Montclair sculptor and psychic Helena Mazzariello as “a gift to the world.”

Quarry pit with labyrinth

Quarry pit with labyrinth

Continue past the viewpoint and then take a left to stay on the Round Top Loop Trail.   After going through another cow gate, you’ll reach a junction, where you’ll see a small sign on your left that says “Geologic Marker #1.”    Hang a left at that point.  The Round Top Loop Trail continues across the paved road leading up the hill.

In a quarter mile or so you’ll cross over a road and reach the junction where you started on the Round Top Loop Trail.  Continue straight and descend back down the canyon the way you came.

View of San Leandro Creek on way back

View of San Leandro Creek on way back

Map of trail

Map of trail

Alternate Loop for the Adventurous

There is an alternate loop for those that are willing to climb fences and explore areas not open to the public.   Enter at your own risk!!  After going through the Eucalyptus zone and the cow gate, take a right at the next fire road where it says “Park Boundary 0.3 Miles.”

Eastport-Landbank-JunctionEastport-Ridge

Shortly you will reach a fire road gate that borders the land-banked area.   This land-banked area will eventually be developed and added to the Sibley Preserve.   If you continue on this fire road it will take you down a ridge with incredible views out towards Moraga and Mt. Diablo.  Stay right and you’ll eventually reach a junction with two large power line towers.  Take a right.    You’re now on the main road that led out of Eastport, off of Pinehurst Road.   As you near Pinehurst Road you’ll see old foundations and other remnants from the days when Eastport was an important train stop and small unincorporated town.   When you reach Pinehurst Road, take a right and walk along the side of the road back to your car.   You’ll walk right by the spot where the tunnel was!   Check out pictures of Eastport back in the 50’s.

Alternate Loop

Alternate Loop

Skyline to Sibley Trail

21 Oct

Length: 3.5 miles
Time:  1 hour and 20 minutes
Difficulty: Moderate.
Elevation Gain:  About 350 feet of gain from trailhead to Sibley Staging Area.
Dogs:  Yes!  Dogs are supposed to be leashed on the Skyline Trail until reaching the Sibley Staging Area and then can be off leash in Sibley, away from the parking lot.  You will typically see many happy dogs in the park!
EBMUD Permit:  Not Required
Calories: 600-700 calories
Highlights:  This is the fastest way to reach the 32-mile East Bay National Skyline Trail from Lamorinda, and an interesting and scenic way to access Sibley Volcanic Preserve.
Directions:  Take Highway 24 west towards Oakland.  Before going through the tunnel, exit on Fish Ranch Road.  At the stop sign, take a left across the highway and then take a right on Old Tunnel Road.  After about a quarter of a mile you’ll see a parking area.
Trailhead:  The new parking lot is at the bottom of Old Quarry Road, but you want to get on the Skyline Trail going south towards Sibley (look for sign shown below).  You can take it in the other direction to reach Tilden Regional Park.

The old Broadway Tunnel was 200 feet above the current Caldecott Tunnel

The old Broadway Tunnel was 200 feet above the current Caldecott Tunnel

When you first take a right on Old Tunnel Road, it’s fun to remember that this small road used to lead to the old tunnel that was 220 feet above the current Caldecott Tunnel.  It was called The Broadway Tunnel, Kennedy Tunnel, and Inter-County Tunnel.  After surviving protests from Lafayette residents that thought it would increase competition for land, the old tunnel opened in 1904.  It was 1.040 feet long, 17 feet wide and lined with timber.   Long, dark and narrow, the tunnel could only accommodate one-way traffic..   Wagon drivers lit up newspapers when entering as a signal to those at the other end to wait.  In 1915 the ceiling was raised three feet to accommodate cars and trucks.   In 1937, when the old tunnel was retired, it was handling 30,000 cars per week.  Today the Caldecott handles 160,000 cars daily!

After you park you’ll see the signs for the Skyline Trail.  The 32-mile East Bay Skyline National Recreation Trail goes through six different parks and preserves.  The trail begins at the entrance to Wildcat Canyon Regional Park in Richmond and leads through Tilden Regional Park, Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve, Huckleberry Botanic Regional Preserve, Redwood Regional Park and Anthony Chabot Regional Park.   It is part of the larger 550 mile Bay Area Ridge Trail that circles the entire Bay Area.

To start the hike, go through the gate (shown in picture) with signs pointing the way to Sibley Volcanic Preserve.   Right away you will see a sign explaining how the Caldecott Wildlife Corridor provides an important path for animals to move between parklands on the south and north sides of Highway 24.  They certainly don’t stand much chance trying to sprint across the highway!

Skyline Gate

The wooded trail leading to Sibley

The wooded trail leading to Sibley

You will begin a steady, gradual climb through the wooded canyon adjacent to Round Top Creek, which is dry in the summer.   Many of the trees are California Bay Laurel Trees.  After about 9/10ths of a mile you will reach the parking lot and visitor center for the Sibley Volcanic Preserve.  The park is named in honor of Robert Sibley, who helped found the East Bay Regional Park District and served for 10 years on its board of directors.

Sibley Volcanic Preserve Visitor Center - 9/10th of a mile from trailhead

Sibley Volcanic Preserve Visitor Center – 9/10th of a mile from trailhead

This is a good chance to use the bathrooms, get a drink, and check out the unstaffed outdoor visitor center that has interesting displays illustrating the preserve’s geology.

It’s pretty cool that we have a 10 million year old volcano in our back yard!  It features a complex volcanic center that was the source of most of the lavas that underlie the ridges from Inspiration Point in Tilden Regional Park to Moraga.  Since the volcano’s active days, tectonic forces on the Hayward and Moraga earthquake faults have uplifted the Berkeley hills and tilted the Round Top volcano complex on its side.  So, under the grassy cover, its guts are exposed, and a self-guided brochure is available highlighting visible geological features.

Backtrack to where the Skyline Trail continues into the trees, on the south side of the visitor center.   After about a quarter mile you’ll reach an intersection of trails.  Look across to the other side of the road and you’ll see a post showing where the Skyline Trail continues.   After another fifth of a mile, you’ll intersect the road that leads up to Round Top, one of the highest peaks in the area at 1763 feet.    Cross the road and then take the Round Top Trail to the left.  The Skyline Trail continues to Huckleberry Preserve and then Redwood Regional Park.

The Round Top Trail circles around the peak for about a mile.  When you reach a viewpoint of an old quarry pit, you are about half way around.    This pit was made by quarry operations that removed huge amounts of massive basalt lava, and it now exposes the interior of the Round Top volcano.  Looking down into the pit you’ll see a large labyrinth.  It was crafted in 1989 by Montclair sculptor and psychic Helena Mazzariello as “a gift to the world.”

Continue past the viewpoint and then take a left to stay on the Round Top Trail.   After going through a gate, you’ll reach the junction again.  Take the Scenic Overlook Trail on the right.   This will take you back to the visitor area, where you can rejoin the Skyline Trail and follow it back down to where you parked.

Skyline-to-Sibley-Map-Marked

Full Map of Sibley Volcanic Preserve – Trailhead for this hike is where it says “Old Tunnel Road Staging Area”