Lynch Canyon Open Space

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In the summer, Lynch Canyon Open Space is a vision of rolling golden hills, some more mellow and others more rugged, punctuated by views across a surprising extent of the north Bay Area, from San Pablo and Suisun Bays to the mountains that separate the Sonoma, Valley of the Moon, and Napa Valleys.  The Bay Area Ridge Trail segment extends from the main entrance on McGary Rd just off I-80 in the American Canyon area of Solano County to the southwest park boundary, roughly in the shape of an arch.

GPS track

GPS track

From the main parking area, the Ridge Trail route climbs about 550 feet to 850 feet elevation.  Although not very steep, the trail is never really flat, either.  There’s no external access from the end of the trail, so an out-and-back hike is necessary.

Elevation profile

Elevation profile

It is worth noting that Lynch Canyon is currently open for public visitors only on weekends (Saturday, Sunday, and Monday).  There is an active program of special events throughout the year.

From the staging area, Lynch Rd goes along Lynch Creek, briefly passing through a grove of trees with welcome shade.  There are several bird houses that seem to welcome western bluebirds.  Almost immediately there is a nice view, looking back, at one of the distinctive hills that are visible from I-80.

image of distinctive hill in Lynch Canyon Open Space

Distinctive hill in Lynch Canyon Open Space

At Middle Valley Trail, the Ridge Trail route continues on Lynch Rd along the North Fork Lynch Creek.  About 0.4 mile from the staging area I was surprised to encounter an agave, or century plant, in flower.  I think this is an unusual sight, so I was lucky to be there at the right time.

picture of flowering agave (century plant)

Flowering agave (century plant)

About 0.7 mile from the staging area, I followed the Ridge trail signs to go left up Tower Trail.  From this trail there is a pretty view of Lynch Reservoir, one of several reminders that this Open Space was previously a working ranch.  Behind the reservoir there is a small herd of cattle grazing in the dry grassland.

photo of Lynch Reservoir

Lynch Reservoir

The route continues almost a mile and a half along North Ridge Trail, gradually climbing 150 feet.  From this section there is an intriguing view of two hilltops topped by trees.  It turns out that the trail goes there.

image of tree-covered hilltops

Tree-covered hilltops

At 2.6 miles from the staging area, the route turns left on Saddle Trail.  Shortly before this junction the trail goes over a high point at about 765 feet elevation, just before the dip in the elevation profile.  From the high point there are interesting views in several directions.  To the northwest there are several rows of hills, including the Sonoma Mountains that separate the Sonoma Valley and Valley of the Moon.  In the foreground is an agricultural area, including a vineyard just out of the picture on the right.

picture of view toward the Sonoma Mountains

View toward the Sonoma Mountains

In almost the opposite direction, Mt Diablo rises above northern Contra Costa County about 25 miles away, with Hiddenbrooke Open Space intervening.  In a slightly different direction the windmill farm near Birds Landing can be seen past Suisun and Grizzly Bays.

It is often windy in the area, and some of the trees have growth patterns that look as though the wind makes furrows in the foliage and causes the branches to grow downwind.  It’s an interesting effect!

photo of windswept tree

Windswept tree

At the end of Saddle Trail, which goes through the dip on the elevation profile, the route continues on Prairie Ridge Trail, climbing back up to 900 feet elevation.  As the trail crosses under some power lines at the next rise, I was surprised to find a couple of seats that were apparently formed as a result of the removal of trees (presumably due to natural causes).  Of course I took a short break to try out the seats.

image of seats fashioned from tree trunks

Seats fashioned from tree trunks

As the trail continues along the ridge top, it passes the trees I had noted earlier in my hike.  There are exposed rocks in the area, and it seems that the trees simply grow out of the rocks.

Near the south park boundary, the route follows Kestrel Trail for a quarter mile or so.  The very last part of the trail to the park boundary is not very well marked, so I really just explored the area a bit.  There is a small one-room building just past the fence, and I walked along the fence a little ways to get closer, and also to get a slightly better view of Mt Tamalpais across San Pablo Bay.  The darker lump in front of Tam is China Camp, and the bridge on CA-37 that crosses the Napa River is in the left foreground.

picture of Mt Tamalpais across San Pablo Bay

Mt Tamalpais across San Pablo Bay

From the end of the trail I could also look back at the last part of the ridge, with the trees clinging to the rocks.

photo of ridge top with trees growing out of rocks

Ridge top with trees growing out of rocks

After enjoying the views at the end of the trail, I returned to the trail head.  As it turned out, there was an interesting aspect of time for my return trip.  The signage at the staging area stated that the gate would be closed promptly at 5pm, and any vehicles left inside the gate would be locked in overnight.  I wanted to make sure I got back in time, so I pretty much didn’t stop during the return trip.  I arrived back at my car with about 10 minutes to spare, so I didn’t even change out of my hiking boots until after I had exited the staging area gate!  Other than the excitement of whether I would make it back to my car in time, it was a very enjoyable hike.

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