Morgan Territory Regional Preserve, in southern Contra Costa County, has the feel of being remote from the main population and activities of the Bay Area. The park entrance is located on Morgan Territory Road, which is a single-lane paved road for most of its 15-mile length. Some of the on-line mapping software doesn’t even seem to recognize it as a road! The preserve is partially surrounded by Round Valley Regional Preserve, Los Vaqueros Watershed, and Mt Diablo State Park, which connect to other open spaces that comprise a wonderful green belt in the hills east of the San Ramon Valley population corridor.
For this hike I started with a description of a 4.2-mile loop, studied a park map, and expanded the loop by adding lobes and going a little farther this way on one trail, and a little farther that way on another. Since this was my first visit to Morgan Territory, I was guessing about what trails might be interesting. Well, I found some marvelous trails and am blissfully ignorant of the parts of the original loop that I skipped!
I started at the Morgan Territory Road Staging Area, which seems to be the main access point to the preserve. On my GPS track it’s at the bottom. I went around the loop clockwise, covering 8.2 miles with nearly 1800 feet of elevation gain and loss.
The staging area was nearly at the highest elevation of the entire hike, at just over 2000 feet. The steepest part of the hike was the initial descent along the Coyote Trail, which loses 500 feet of elevation in the first mile, prior to a junction with Mollok Trail.
This section of trail is single-track through fairly dense forest, and it passes over quite a few tree roots and such. I had decided that I would prefer to go down rather than up this section (and therefore went around the loop clockwise rather than counterclockwise). It’s not a section to hurry through.
I found some early-season new-growth poison oak along the side of the trail.
About 0.4 mile past Mollok Trail, Coyote Trail emerges from the forested area into open hillsides. The day of my hike was beautiful, with temperatures in the mid-60’s. I expect that the open areas are very hot in the warmer months, but the weather was just perfect for my visit. The hillsides are dotted with oak trees, like this one.
There was a particular characteristic of the hillsides that, at first, I had trouble identifying. Eventually I figured out that the trees seemed to be surrounded by a carpet of short green grass. The grass looked more like what you would find on someone’s lawn than the typical California oat grass. Perhaps this was because there had been no rain until recently. However, I didn’t see any evidence of long grass from the prior season. In any case, it was an interesting visual effect.
About 1.7 miles from the trailhead I came to Stone Corral Trail. Instead of turning right (northeast) on the original loop, I turned left (southwest) and then, about 0.5 mile later, right on Highland Ridge Trail for a 400-foot climb up the ridge. There were peek-a-boo views of Mt Diablo (more to come later) and views of other trails snaking across the hills. I think this is Eagle Trail approaching from the west.
When I reached Eagle Trail I turned right and continued for about 0.4 mile to the Volvon Loop Trail. Along the way the trail passed through a gate in a fence separating cattle grazing areas. The fence made a pretty picture flowing down the hillside.
The Volvon Loop Trail passes along the west and north sides of Bob Walker Ridge and connects to Valley View Trail and then to Manzanita Trail. The section running generally southeast from the north end of Volvon Loop Trail provided some fantastic views off-and-on for nearly 2½ miles. This was especially delightful since I had no idea what I was going to see. Valley View Trail is certainly aptly named! With barely a row or two of foothills, the terrain quickly drops to the Sacramento River Delta and the Central Valley. I even imagined that I could see a bit of snow-capped Sierras below the line of clouds, but that might have been wishful thinking. A few days earlier, while driving east on I-80 approaching Sacramento, I’d seen the trio of Job’s Peak, Job’s Sister, and Freel Peak in the South Tahoe area 100 miles away, but looking so clear I almost thought I could reach out and touch them. The day of this hike was slightly less clear.
Almost due north (actually, slightly northwest) is the large Shiloh windmill farm in southern Solano County. The row of brownish hills in the foreground is in Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve, where I hiked recently.
To the east there were beautiful views of Los Vaqueros Reservoir, with more windmills on the eastern hillsides. I also hiked in the Watershed recently. From some places I could see farther to the southeast past the reservoir to a couple of peaks that I think are near where Alameda, San Joaquin, Stanislaus, and Santa Clara Counties meet.
About 4.9 miles from the trailhead I reached Manzanita Trail and turned left, still making my loop bigger than the original one. This trail descends about 300 feet and climbs halfway back up. Not surprisingly, there were many beautiful manzanitas along this trail. Some were very large and stately.
Volvon Loop, Valley View, and Manzanita Trails pass in and out of forested areas. In one of the shady spots I found some miner’s lettuce.
Manzanita Trail tees at Miwok Trail, about 6.1 miles from the trailhead. Here I turned right to return toward the parking area. There were still a few final views of the Central Valley, windmill farm, and Marsh Creek Road crossing a final hill on its way to Brentwood. After ¾ mile on Miwok Trail I turned left on Blue Oak Trail. Just as I was wondering whether I would have a relatively unobstructed view of Mt Diablo, it began to emerge from behind the previously intervening ridge.
From one location I could see the profile of some North Bay peaks in the distance. During the last mile of my hike there were many wonderful views of Mt Diablo. Just a few tenths of a mile from the parking area there is a popular vista point, marked with a section of fence adorned with a sign advising “please stay on trail” – I’m not sure if park visitors would otherwise just strike off cross-country to get closer!
The Blue Oak Trail connects to the Volvon Trail, which goes back to the trailhead. While coming down a gentle hill next to an open grassy area with scattered rocks, I noticed numerous active ground squirrels. There was obviously a whole network of burrows underground with access points that were sometimes reached with amazing speed.
There are many more trails in the preserve that I did not have time to explore. In addition there are several regional trails that pass through the preserve: for example, Bob Walker Regional Trail and Diablo Regional Trail were indicated on some of the signage. I’ll look forward to a return visit another time.