Lime Ridge Open Space is tucked in the hills between Concord, Walnut Creek, and Clayton in Contra Costa County. In some ways it’s like a neighborhood park for the residents of those nearby communities – indeed, it’s jointly owned and operated by Walnut Creek and Concord, and trails fan out from the heart of the park to numerous neighborhood access points. This hike was in the southern section, south of Ygnacio Valley Rd, and felt more remote than it actually is: the trailhead is right across the street from a golf course. The park is about 1200 acres, or just under 2 square miles, with 25 miles of trails, many of which are multi-use (hiking, biking, and equestrian use).
My hike was a 3.3-mile balloon configuration with two added excursions, one planned and one not. The unplanned excursion resulted from a misinterpretation of the signage compared to a description of the hike in a book of local hikes. But sometimes such excursions are just part of the experience! In the GPS track the trailhead is at the lower left, and I went around the loop clockwise. The extra track at the upper left is my unplanned excursion and the extension at the lower right is my planned excursion.
The hike is rated as moderate, and I neglected to bring hiking poles. It turns out that the average grade for the entire hike is 10%, and if I had my poles I certainly would have used them. The steepest climb has a grade of nearly 17%; it’s only about ½ mile long, but that’s a pretty stiff grade.
There were several highlights in the hike, most of them unexpected since it was my first visit to this Open Space. First, I was pleasantly surprised and delighted to notice new grass beginning to appear along the fire road trails as well as on the surrounding hillsides. Though there had been some nice rain less than a week prior to my hike, the entire Bay Area has been extremely dry for a full year. It was great to see that the rain was helping the plants.
Also, I didn’t realize that I would have splendid views in many directions, from different locations around the loop. These are described below.
The trailhead is on Valley Vista Dr. The day was warm and sunny: 66 degrees at the start and 70 degrees at the finish of my hike. The trail is mostly exposed, so undoubtedly gets hot during the warmer months. As I started up the trail I encountered someone carrying a golf club and a bag of obviously collected golf balls. I was surprised to see him in the Open Space and made an inquiring remark. It turns out that, about ½ mile later, the trail passes behind the driving range, and evidently quite a few people are able to hit their balls beyond the back fence into the periphery of the Open Space!
I noticed another consequence of the recent rains in the general vicinity of the trailhead: the soil had obviously been wet recently, and there were numerous hoof-prints visible. Most were made by horses, but there were some others made by either cattle or deer. (I’m sure it’s easy to tell the difference; I just don’t know how.)
The Ohlone Trail climbs from the trailhead, turning left at the junction with the Paraiso Trail at about 0.3 mile. After passing behind the driving range, about 0.9 mile from the trailhead there is a junction that I found to be confusing. Ignoring a single-track trail that goes straight ahead it’s a Tee intersection, and the intended loop follows the Manzanita Trail to the right and steeply uphill. My confusion was because the description didn’t mention the single-track trail, so I thought I was somewhere else. Anyway, I explored around this area a bit. The single-track trail headed toward a quarry, formerly the Cowell Lime and Cement Company. The trail basically dead-ends at the base of the quarry.
After my exploration and figuring out that I really did want to climb up the steep Manzanita Trail without hiking poles, I began to climb. When I got to the short flat area just under 800 feet elevation (see elevation profile), I paused to enjoy the view to the northwest. Running across the center of this picture is Suisun Bay, and the Benicia-Martinez Bridge is a bit beyond the left side. The morning had been very foggy, and a remnant of the fog is peeking between the southern Solano County hills in the background.
Less than 0.1 mile later the Buckeye Trail arrives on the left. Perhaps 0.2 mile after that is another, more complex, junction at a saddle, and there is a bench. From here, at 960 feet elevation, there are great views in several directions. Roughly to the northeast is a pretty view across the valley connecting Concord and Clayton. Kirker Pass Rd goes over these hills to Pittsburg, on one of the many sloughs in the Sacramento River delta. The hill at the left is Mulligan Hill.
Almost exactly in the opposite direction there is a great view of the back side of the East Bay Hills, looking across Walnut Creek. The distinctive asymmetrical rounded peak a little left of center is Round Top, an extinct volcano about 13 miles away, just outside the Oakland city limits. It turns out that, if you draw a straight line between the bench and Round Top and extend the line about 15 more miles, it passes through Twin Peaks in San Francisco. In fact, when I hiked Twin Peaks several months previously, I noticed Round Top but hadn’t yet made the identification.
As I climbed up Manzanita Trail I’d been wondering when, or whether, I would be able to see Mt Diablo. There was a first glimpse from the bench, but unobstructed views were coming up soon. This higher section of trail goes along the Lime Ridge, named for the underlying limestone. From the bench intersection I followed Lime Ridge Trail, first along more fire road, then along a single-track trail to the left, steeply down a series of steps and shortly back up again. At the second 950-foot peak on the elevation profile there was a stunning view of Mt Diablo “up close and personal,” less than 5 miles away, with Mt Zion, Black Pt, Mitchell Rock, and Eagle Peak in the mid-range perhaps 3 miles away.
The trail begins to descend and roll, and Lime Ridge Trail and Manzanita Trail weave in and out with each other. At one of these junctions I followed the Manzanita Trail, specifically because I could see that it climbed another small hill and I wanted to see the view from the top. I was not disappointed! Here is a lovely view of rolling grassland hills, slightly tinged with new green growth. Though it’s hard to see in the picture, the trees near the middle are beginning to sprout new leaves at the very ends of the branches.
At the junction of Manzanita and Paraiso Trails, I decided to take a detour, continuing straight on Paraiso Trail toward the park boundary and up yet another small hill. On the way I was particularly aware of meadowlarks in the grasslands, singing their beautiful songs and flying away if I got too close to them. I always feel like I’m far from the everyday city bustle when I hear meadowlarks, so they are a welcome treat.
From the gate at end of the trail I was treated to another view back toward the Carquinez Strait, a bit to the west of the Suisun Bay view I’d had earlier in the hike. In fact, in this view one of the towers of the Carquinez Bridge is just barely peeking up over the curved edge of the Carquinez Strait Regional Shoreline and Port Costa at the left of the picture. And some of the oil storage tanks in Martinez are visible just to the right of center.
From the far end of this detour it was, literally, all downhill for the last mile back to the trailhead, following the Paraiso and Ohlone Trails. Periodically I checked Mt Diablo over my shoulder. Almost halfway down there was a final pretty view across the rolling grassland hills.
When I reached the junction with Ohlone Trail I continued downhill to the trailhead.
This hike was filled with wonderful surprises. It was just a sampling of the 25 miles of trails in the Open Space, and it will be nice to return some other time.