Los Vaqueros Watershed is relatively new, having opened to recreational use in 1999, and is owned and managed by the Contra Costa Water District. The open space is about 20,000 acres surrounding Los Vaqueros Reservoir. The terrain is open grassland on rolling hills. In the summer months it can be quite hot, but it was perfect for a winter hike during a very dry winter season. When planning the hike I started with a description in the book 60 Hikes within 60 Miles San Francisco and then modified the route to make it a little longer. The hike was a 6-mile semi-loop or balloon configuration, rather than the 4.2-mile loop described in the book. It was my first time hiking in the watershed, and it was a nice introduction to this open space.
The starting point was the County Line staging area just off Vasco Rd north of Livermore, literally at the Contra Costa County line. There is an iron ranger next to the parking area, where one can deposit the required hiker use fee.
I met up with a friend for this hike. At first we were both a little surprised at how breezy it was, but then realized that the breeze was why we’d seen windmills on the drive up Vasco Rd. And as soon as we’d gone ¼ mile or so on the trail, we could see more windmills. I think these windmills are on Los Vaqueros Watershed land rather than being part of the Altamont Pass wind farm complex.
The Black Hills Trail heads up a hill from the staging area, which is the lowest elevation on the hike. Since the reservoir elevation is about 470 feet, the views of it later in the hike were all from several hundred feet higher than the water level. The trails were generally like dirt roads, i.e., not single-track. And the grade was reasonable, mostly under 10%.
This open space does not have heavy foot traffic, so there is an immediate sense of remoteness from the normal bustle of the Bay Area. About 0.6 mile from the trailhead we turned left on the Valley View Trail, which makes a small dip before continuing to climb.
Because of the winter season’s odd weather pattern, the air quality was very poor, even out in the Livermore Valley where there aren’t many pollution sources. Here is one view that shows a distinct low-lying haze layer.
After about 1.6 miles on the Valley View Trail there was an unmarked side trail. We decided to follow it, since it appeared to go to a summit, from which we hoped to have distant views. As we neared the apparent summit, however, the trail continued to an even higher point. Since our hiking time was limited that day, we simply picked a flat spot to pause and enjoy the views. Even through the haze, we could see that the rolling hills were beautiful, and we imagined how green they would normally look at this time of year.
Turning to the northwest, we could see Mt Diablo across the intervening hills.
We returned to Valley View Trail and continued around the loop, taking the Black Hills Trail to the Homestead Trail. Along the way we enjoyed more views of the rolling hills side-lit by the afternoon sun.
The Homestead Trail has a gentle slope and takes a swing to the north. From this section of trail we had many nice views of Los Vaqueros Reservoir. In this picture the reservoir surface is over 800 feet lower in elevation, and the return portion of the Homestead Trail is visible in the foreground.
After completing the loop we headed back down the Black Hills Trail to the staging area trailhead. This was, by design, a relatively short hike. There are many additional trails, especially in the northern part of the watershed. Adjacent open spaces include Morgan Territory Regional Preserve and Round Valley Regional Preserve, and Morgan Territory connects directly to Mt Diablo State Park. So there are many options for exploration in this area.