My original plan for this Bay Area Ridge Trail hike was to start at the Independent School in Castro Valley, hike about 5.4 miles round trip through Don Castro Regional Recreation Area and Five Canyons Open Space to the end of the segment described in the official Bay Area Ridge Trail guide (Jean Rusmore, Wilderness Press, 2008) , and then hike north from the school, exploring the next segment through a portion of Cull Canyon Regional Recreation Area. While doing my pre-hike research, I discovered that there was a new section of Bay Area Ridge Trail south of Five Canyons Open Space, through the recently designated North Garin Regional Park. I quickly modified my plan to incorporate the new section of trail, approximately 2.7 miles long. After completing the section south of Independent School, I hiked to the north end of the reservoir in Cull Canyon RRA and back to the school. Here is what the route looked like:
This section of trail is in an area with a special challenge: there are gaps in the greenbelt, due in part to spreading cities and in part to the need to cross I-580. While there are short distances next to regular roads and housing developments, these sections are as short as feasible. Because of the trail location at the edge of suburbia, however, there were a few places where the juxtaposition was especially stark.
At the beginning of my hike the temperature was 61 degrees with a fairly thick marine layer (aka fog) over the San Francisco Bay that I hoped would burn off as the day progressed. The Bay Area Ridge Trail follows the route of the Chabot to Garin Regional Trail along city streets from the Independent School trailhead for about 0.5 mile before crossing under I-580 and passing through the eastern end of Don Castro Regional Recreation Area and several crossings of the San Lorenzo Creek. In this moist canyon area I noticed the pungent fragrance of eucalyptus trees.
The trail then climbs past the edge of a housing subdivision and up a short, steep section of road before leaving the urban area behind and entering Five Canyons Open Space. In this picture I-580 curves through Castro Valley into the mist on its way to intersect I-80 and cross the Bay to San Francisco.
Turning to look in a different direction at virtually the same location, there were the golden eastern ridges of the East Bay hills.
About 2.8 miles from the trailhead is a gate that separates Five Canyons Open Space from North Garin Regional Park. The trail passes in and out of a couple of cattle grazing areas and eventually climbs about 600 feet to the highest point, at the south end of the Garin Regional Park.
Shortly before I reached the turnaround point I noticed a cow and her calf crossing the trail perhaps 100 yards ahead of me. The cow seemed to be keeping an eye on me as she guided her calf across the trail and to a safe distance.
The cattle seemed fairly placid. I wondered if they could appreciate the opportunity for wonderful views from 1200 feet above the Bay!
Shortly after turning around at the “end Ridge Trail segment” sign, I particularly noted a distinctive hill roughly northeast along the East Bay hills and across Castro Valley, perhaps in Anthony Chabot Regional Park. I will try to make an identification as I hike the Bay Area Ridge Trail closer to that area.
As I descended from the turnaround point, I passed through a shaded area where some of the cattle seem to like to congregate. On my return I encountered a group of 3 and, like the cow with her calf, they kept a close eye on me as I carefully and slowly came closer and passed where they stood just off the trail. I took several pictures, stopping for each one and then moving 5 yards or so to stop for another. And each time I pointed my camera at them, I noticed that they had turned their heads farther and continued to look right at me. For some reason this tickled my sense of humor.
After returning to the trailhead at Independent School I easily found the trail going the other way (roughly north) past the school grounds and over a little woodsy hill to Crow Canyon Road and another brief encounter with suburbia. In the woodsy area there was an area with numerous bright red-leaf plants which I presumed were poison oak getting ready for Fall. There was even a section of the trail about 10 feet long where the ground was carpeted with red leaves. After walking carefully through it, I made sure to decontaminate my boots and hiking poles when I got home!
After crossing Crow Canyon Road the trail goes past another school and down a small hill to Cull Canyon Reservoir. The hill overlooks the edge of a residential area.
After crossing Cull Canyon Road the trail enters Cull Canyon Regional Recreation Area. After passing alongside the reservoir, two parking areas, and several picnic areas, the trail continues north along Cull Creek. After a wrong turn and detour along another road, I documented my official turnaround at the second parking area and returned to my starting point, once again enjoying the cattail-rimmed reservoir on the way.
I had hoped to get to a parking area that I could use as either a trailhead or a turnaround point for a future hike. I also had hoped to get through the rest of the “greenbelt gap” area between Don Castro and Cull Canyon Regional Recreation Areas, if possible. Although I took a couple of wrong turns around picnic areas, I succeeded with both goals, and I think the remainder of the hike to Chabot Park will once again be in rural setting more typical of the Ridge Trail.