Mission Peak Regional Preserve

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Mission Peak is a popular destination for a day hike, with good reason: when the weather is clear, the views from the peak are simply fantastic.  I’ve hiked up the peak several times.  On this occasion I wanted to hike the segment of the Bay Area Ridge Trail that approaches Mission Peak, then swings around to the east side past Mount Allison toward Monument Peak.  This out-and-back hike was 13 miles long, with over 3000 feet of climbing (including the “mandatory” detour to the top of Mission Peak).  Except for a half-mile section at the beginning of the hike on the Ohlone College campus, the rest of the route was within Mission Peak Regional Preserve.

GPS track

GPS track

The Peak Trail climbs steadily, gaining 1500 feet in the first 2½ miles.  The rest of the route stays above 2000 feet elevation with somewhat lesser elevation gains and losses.

Elevation profile

Elevation profile

From these heights there are many wonderful views of major peaks and ranges in the South Bay area.  In fact, there were several interesting juxtapositions that I noticed along the way and captured in pictures (see below).

The Peak Trail climbs up and over a kind of saddle, then around to the northeast side of the ridge that leads up to Mission Peak.  Seeing the east side of Mission Peak was one of the things that interested me about this route.  Just over the saddle there is a small pond that nicely reflected the hill behind it.

image of hill reflected in a pond

Hill reflected in a pond

Continuing the climb along the back (east) side of the ridge, the trail passes through cattle grazing areas, which are fairly common along segments of the Ridge Trail.  Here I found one cow that was more interested in checking out its visitor (me) than the view of Mt Tamalpais.

picture of a cow ignoring the view of Mt Tamalpais in the background

This cow is ignoring the view of Mt Tamalpais in the background!

From the east side of the ridge there were many wonderful views of Mt Diablo.

photo of Mt Diablo

Mt Diablo

There is kind of a major trail intersection just below the steepest part of the Peak Trail, at about 2000 feet elevation and about 3 miles from the Ohlone trailhead.  Just below this junction there was a clear view of Mt Tamalpais, about 45 miles away, across the San Francisco Bay.

image of Mt Tamalpais across the San Francisco Bay

Mt Tamalpais across the San Francisco Bay

On my outbound hike I skipped the detour to the top of Mission Peak and continued along the Ridge Trail route on the east side of the ridge, following Eagle Trail and then Eagle Loop.  Along this section there is a backpack camp for hikers headed to/from the Sunol and Ohlone Regional Wildernesses.  About 4½ miles from the trailhead there was a section of trail from which Mission Peak and Mt Diablo were close enough together to fit into a single picture.

picture of Mission Peak and Mt Diablo from the Bay Area Ridge Trail

Mission Peak and Mt Diablo from the Bay Area Ridge Trail

The trail continues around the back (east) side of Mt Allison on the way to Monument Peak.  Of the three peaks, which are spaced about 1 mile apart, Mt Allison is the tallest at 2658 feet.  There are several radio and/or communication towers on these high areas.

photo of communication towers viewed approaching Monument Peak

Communication towers viewed approaching Monument Peak

Because this section of trail is behind the peaks, there is a sense of remoteness, even though the Bay and attendant Bay Area hustle and bustle are literally just a few miles away.  This view is looking roughly north from behind Mt Allison and shows Mt Diablo peeking between the hills.

image of Ridge Trail winding through the hills behind Mt Allison

Ridge Trail winding through the hills behind Mt Allison

Approaching Monument Peak there is another major trail junction, with a couple of alternate routes into Ed Levin County Park.  The Ridge Trail follows the Agua Caliente Trail, a bit closer to the Bay.  About ¼ mile past the junction is a wonderful vista point, which was the turnaround point for this hike, about 5.8 miles from the Ohlone trailhead.  From the vista point there is a pretty view of the south end of San Francisco Bay, showing sloughs and evaporation ponds, with Fremont and Milpitas in the foreground.

picture of South Bay from vista point

South Bay from vista point

There is also a great view of the Santa Cruz Mountains skyline, here including Loma Prieta near the left and Mt Umunhum near the right side, with the Santa Clara Valley in the foreground.

photo of Loma Prieta  and Mt Umunhum across the Santa Clara Valley

Loma Prieta and Mt Umunhum across the Santa Clara Valley

After enjoying the view from the vista point I started my return trip.  After about 1.5 miles I took a small detour, partly in order to see if I could manage an even better juxtaposition of Mission Peak and Mt Tamalpais.  This picture shows my view.  If you look closely you can see a hang glider just to the left of Mission Peak.

image of Mission Peak and Mt Tamalpais

Mission Peak and Mt Tamalpais

When I reached the junction with the Peak Trail, I took the detour to the top of Mission Peak.  I have hiked up Mission several times before, but this time I noticed a secondary peak just 100 yards or so south of the summit so popular with hikers.  In fact, I realized that this “secondary” peak is actually the higher peak, by 10 feet or so.  And there were only two other hikers enjoying the view.  From here I had a great view of the crowd on the first peak, with Mt Tamalpais in the background.  It is worth reiterating that Mt Tam is 45 miles away.

picture of crowded “lower” Mission Peak with Mt Tamalpais in the background

Crowded “lower” Mission Peak with Mt Tamalpais in the background

From my vantage point I also had a pretty view of the winter-green foothills below Mission Peak, with the very south end of the Bay in the background.

photo of Mission Peak’s green foothills

Mission Peak’s green foothills

With the sun getting lower in the sky, it was time to return to the trailhead.  As I approached the parking area at Ohlone College, the sun set behind the Santa Cruz Mountains across the Bay on the Peninsula.   This picture was taken just after the sun disappeared.  The Bay is barely visible near the bottom of the picture.

image of sunset from Ohlone College

Sunset from Ohlone College

This hike was filled with wonderful views of the San Francisco Bay and surrounding peaks and ranges.  By choosing to turn around at a vista point, I knew that I would have an opportunity to return at a later time, from Ed Levin County Park.  What a pleasant prospect!

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5 Responses to Mission Peak Regional Preserve

  1. Chris Smith says:

    What app do you use to track your hikes? I’ve been using RunKeeper but the GPS regularly fails. I’d like to find one that is more dependable in areas where GPS access might be sketchy.

    • trailhiker says:

      Chris, I carry a Garmin GPS rather than use an app. Any GPS device is dependent on being able to see the satellites. I occasionally get a goofy track, but I think the most likely culprits are excessive foliage cover or fading batteries. I always carry a spare set of batteries. I tend to think the GPS in today’s phones is not as good as a stand-alone GPS unit, but that could change over time. If you rely on having a good track — and I do — for now I’d stay with a stand-alone GPS unit.

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