This was the second time I’d hiked in Briones Regional Park and it was my first hike from the Bear Creek Staging Area. My first hike had been staged at the Lafayette Ridge Staging Area at the southeast corner of the park. This time I started at Bear Creek in order to hike a loop in the heart of the park, and I was planning to include both Briones and Mott Peaks. There are quite a few alternative trails, and I was planning an abbreviated version of the 12-mile Ivan Dickson Loop. As it turns out, only about 1.5 miles of my route actually overlapped the Ivan Dickson Loop and less than 0.2 mile overlapped my previous hike. There’s a lot to experience in this park!
The orange dot on the GPS track shows my start/end point, and I hiked counterclockwise around the loop. There was trail construction near one junction, and I hiked a 1-mile out-and-back detour (clearly visible at the lower right of the loop) in the process of determining that I was not on the intended trail.
Briones Regional Park is in the East Bay Hills between Lafayette, Pleasant Hill, Martinez, Hercules, and Orinda, with lovey hills punctuated by canyons and seasonal streams. Almost all of the trails have distinctive climbs and descents. For this hike the elevation gain was about 1800 feet, with equal elevation loss, so the average grade was around 8%. As it happened, one of my hiking poles did a semi-collapse early in the hike, and there were a few steep places where I wished I had two functioning poles, not one.
At the beginning of the hike the weather was mostly overcast, accentuating the golden-to-brown seasonal color of the hills prior to winter rains. Later in the afternoon the clouds blew east, leaving clearer views of the hills. Here is a view from the parking area, taken at the end of my hike.
I observed a few wildflowers on the hike, as October is kind of the off-season for most wildflowers. However, I did see a few purple thistle and yellow star thistle, well past their prime, and these lupines. There are at least two types of lupine that are common in the East Bay hills; these are what I call short lupine, as the entire plant is less than 12 inches tall.
I started out following signage for the Ivan Dickson Loop, which follows several named trails around the park. About 0.6 mile from the trail head I left the loop and turned left on the Crescent Ridge Trail, which passes the Archery Range and then climbs more steeply. About 0.6 mile later there is a junction with Yerba Buena Trail; I continued straight to stay on Crescent Ridge. Where the trail bends to the right, near one of the red carats on the GPS track, there was a nice view down a canyon near where I’d just climbed up. The area in this view is more heavily forested than most of the rest of the park.
This section of the park was one of several locations where I had nice views of the East Bay Hills that follow the San Francisco Bay shoreline.
About 0.2 mile past the bend, Crescent Ridge Trail tees at Briones Crest Trail, and I turned left to continue around my loop counterclockwise. Near this junction a hiker came by accompanied by six dogs. The dogs were well-behaved, but I imagine they could become a handful at times.
Just 0.1 mile after the tee junction I encountered some trail construction and – partly because I did not consult my map again so soon after the previous junction – I got confused. I presumed that the trail I wanted went straight ahead, and did not realize that Briones Crest actually turned left there. As a result, I hiked downhill on Sunrise Trail for a ways before I convinced myself that it was not the trail I intended to be hiking and turned around to go back (see dip in elevation profile around 3 miles).
While I was hiking down Sunrise Trail I took note of a trail ahead and to my right. This trail seems to go right along the ridge top. I think it’s the Lafayette Ridge Trail, which I hiked on my first visit to Briones.
When I returned to the junction I found the continuation of Briones Crest Trail where it emerges from the construction. About ¼ mile after that I was planning to take Table Top Trail, which roughly parallels Briones Crest Trail but I think at higher elevation, toward Briones Peak. Table Top Trail is entirely above 1300 feet in elevation and the views of Mt Diablo were essentially non-stop. Mt Diablo is about 12 miles away, with Walnut Creek in the valley below. There was a smaller cloud floating below the general cloud cover, making the top of the peak look cut off.
Where Table Top Trail feeds back into Briones Crest Trail there is a bench with nice views, and about 0.2 miles past the junction is a short spur trail up to Briones Peak. As usual, I climbed up to see the views from the peak, nominally at 1483 feet elevation, where there is a geodetic marker. Here is a nice view across the heart of Briones Regional Park, with Mott Peak at the right.
When I came down the spur trail I noticed an interesting pattern in the sand of Briones Crest Trail. I have no idea what it is, but it seems to have been drawn intentionally.
About 0.6 mile past the spur trail there is a junction with Old Briones Road Trail, which comes up from the Bear Creek staging area and continues north to the edge of the park and the Park Office on Alhambra Valley Rd. I continued on Briones Crest Trail, with pretty views roughly north to Suisun Bay and the Carquinez Strait, including the Shiloh wind power plant in Solano County. Shortly after the junction, as I was coming around a curve, I could see a small group of cows that seemed to be resting right in the middle of the trail. As I approached, I was a bit surprised that they did not get up and move. It turned out that there were two cows and two calves, one of the calves appearing to be very young. The calf that is standing in my picture is the older one.
I decided that the best thing was not to approach too closely, and – fortunately – there was a cattle trail that basically formed a detour past the place where the cows were resting. So I took the little detour and continued on my way.
About 0.5 mile farther, the Mott Peak Trail takes off to the left. Since I was hoping to hike up Mott Peak, I turned on Mott Peak Trail. Only 0.1 mile later is the spur trail up to the peak. Mott Peak is completely exposed, so the views are actually better (i.e., more unobstructed) than from Briones Peak, and it’s only about 60 feet lower in elevation. Here is the view back along Briones Crest Trail, with Briones Peak in the background.
Mt Diablo was again visible and dramatic with a large cloud clipping its top.
Almost straight down was one of the Sindicich Lagoons, not quite devoid of standing water so providing enough moisture for some grass to grow.
To the north is Carquinez Strait and Suisun Bay, with the I-680 Benicia-Martinez Bridge at the left, the last remains of the mothball fleet in the bay, and Solano County behind.
Finally, there was a great view of Las Tampas Regional Wilderness peeking over the intervening ridgeline (I think the lower portion of Lafayette Ridge).
After enjoying the spectacular views from Mott Peak, I returned to the Mott Peak Trail and headed back to the Bear Creek staging area via Black Oak Trail and Old Briones Road Trail. Black Oak Trail goes along a ridgeline for about ½ mile before dropping down into a little canyon for the remainder of the descent. There were more petty views all the way down to the staging area.
This hike explored the central portion of Briones Regional Park. There are more trails to the north, as well as the Ivan Dickson Loop, which I would look forward to explore another time.