Brushy Peak Regional Preserve

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Brushy Peak Regional Preserve is a relatively small (1800 acres, or about 3 square miles) open space just a few miles north of Livermore, CA. Because it is so close to town, it is popular with local residents. On the day of my visit there was pretty constant traffic in the staging area, mostly walkers with dogs, but several mountain bikers as well.

According to the park web site, the area is centrally located within a network of former trading routes that connected several Native Californian tribelets, including the SSaoam tribelet of the Ohlone, the Volvon tribelet of the Bay Miwok, and the Tamcan tribelet of the Northern Valley Yokuts. The Brushy Peak area was likely a center for economic, social, and ceremonial events. The peak itself is in a Resource Conservation area and can only be visited by special arrangement with a guide.

Driving to the preserve along CA-84 as it goes up and over a ridge between I-680 and Livermore, Brushy Peak rises impressively from the floor of the Livermore Valley. Although I had never been to the park before, I was sure I had identified Brushy Peak as soon as I crested the hill on CA-84 it came into view. So my level of anticipation was pleasantly high when I arrived at the Laughlin Rd staging area.

From the staging area I hiked kind of an outer loop, on the Laughlin Ranch Loop, Tamcan Trail, Brushy Peak Loop Trail, and West Side Loop Trail. The GPS track shows my route, with the orange dot denoting the staging area. At the end of the Laughlin Ranch Loop I took a short detour nearly back to the staging area before continuing on the Tamcan Trail, so my overall route looks somewhat like a two-lobed loop.

GPS track

GPS track

The base elevation is about 600 feet, and the trails wind around among the rolling hills. The highest elevation on the hike was about 1550 feet, with modest (comfortable) grades throughout. The Brushy Peak Loop Trail was a bit steeper and more technical than the rest of the hike, with signage reminding trail users of the proper etiquette: bikers yield to hikers, who yield to equestrians.

Elevation profile

Elevation profile

The day of my hike was mostly cloudy, so the lighting was somewhat flat. This open space is essentially completely exposed, though, so the clouds and moderately cool temperatures made for a comfortable hike. This hike would be quite hot during the summer. I also noted that many of the hillsides seemed bare: the brown color in my pictures denotes soil, rather than the more typical golden brown native grasses of the dry season. But the starkness had a beauty about it.

Brushy Peak was visible during much of the hike. Here is a view from the staging area.

photo of Brushy Peak viewed from the staging area

Brushy Peak viewed from the staging area

About 0.7 mile from the staging area, along the Laughlin Ranch Loop, the Dyer Ranch Trail enters from the right. This trail facilitates access from the nearby neighborhood, without the need for residents to drive – or walk along the narrow road – to the staging area. Shortly past the junction there was a nice view to the south across the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and toward the Ohlone Regional Wilderness. This view would have been quite different for the original native residents of the region!

picture of view south toward Ohlone Regional Wilderness

View south toward Ohlone Regional Wilderness

I should note that the day was fairly breezy. The weather forecast that morning had predicted 20-25 mph breezes in the hills of the East Bay. In addition, Brushy Peak is within a few miles of the Altamont Pass, which is known for its characteristically windy conditions. So I was not surprised to notice, as soon as I rounded the curve at the south end of the Laughlin Ranch Loop, a row of windmills on the ridge ahead of me. I did not realize yet, though, just how many windmills I would see. These were clearly an older style, and they were not turning at all. I presume they have all been decommissioned.

image of windmills on the ridge east of the preserve

Windmills on the ridge east of the preserve

The trail descends as gently as it ascended, reaching a junction with the Tamcan Trail about 1.7 miles from the staging area. At this junction I turned left and hiked back toward the staging area, just to explore a bit, and then returned to the junction to continue on the Tamcan Trail. At this point the trail is climbing again. About 0.3 mile along the Tamcan Trail there is a pretty view down a little valley where there is an intermittent stream that flows down to the Altamont Creek. Below, at the base of the rolling hills, there is a small seasonal lake or pond. Due to the dry weather, the lake was dry.

photo of view of hills and dry seasonal lake

View of hills and dry seasonal lake

After hiking 0.9 miles on the Tamcan Trail there is a T junction with the Brushy Peak Trail, where I turned right to continue around the big loop. From this junction it’s all uphill to Brushy Peak. After a big, gentle switchback the terrain starts to change. There are exposed rocks, as well as some scattered beautiful oak trees.

picture of oak tree near Brushy Peak Trail

Oak tree near Brushy Peak Trail

In this area I also saw two different types of wildflower: except for the oaks, they seemed to be the only living plants in view. As it happens, both flowers were yellow, and in both cases the blossoms were on very long stems. Since I wasn’t expecting fall wildflowers, I was pleasantly surprised by them.

image of yellow fall wildflowers

Yellow fall wildflowers

The upper part of Brushy Peak had more exposed rock, and some of the trees were growing among the rocks. Coming around the corner from north to west, at the northeast part of the Brushy Peak Loop Trail, the trail is close to 1300 feet elevation, higher than most of the surrounding area. I realized that, if I looked to the southeast, I was looking down on the windmills I had previously been looking up at. In fact, there was a virtual forest of windmills across the Altamont Pass area. The higher hills in the background of this picture are in the far southeast corner of Alameda County, perhaps near Mt Boardman, at the intersection of Alameda, San Joaquin, Stanislaus, and Santa Clara Counties.

photo of numerous windmills in the Altamont Pass area

Numerous windmills in the Altamont Pass area

Shortly after this wonderful view there was a use path that went to the right, toward the top of Brushy Peak. Actually, there were several use paths on the upper hillside. I decided to go up to see what I could see. After about 200 feet of climbing I reached the fence at the north end of the accessible area; beyond the fence is a Resource Protection Area. It was easy to imagine why the local native people considered this peak to be a special place.

Just after I returned to the main trail I noticed a rough circle of stones, actually shaped more like an arrowhead, obviously deliberately placed. The arrowhead seemed to be pointing directly at the top of Brushy Peak, though this was difficult to verify since the peak top is rounded and there is more extensive tree cover.

picture of stone circle on Brushy Peak

Stone circle on Brushy Peak

The view from nearby, down the Altamont Creek canyon, was quite pretty.

image of view down the Altamont Creek canyon

View down the Altamont Creek canyon

There is a slight final climb before the trail starts downhill. From this side of Brushy Peak there are nice views to the northwest, across the Black Hills and Morgan Territory Regional Preserve and generally toward Mt Diablo, which barely peeks over the Black Hills.

photo of view northwest from Brushy Peak

View northwest from Brushy Peak

At the bottom end of Brushy Peak Loop Trail there is a T junction with the West Side Loop Trail. I decided to go right, with a steeper 200-foot climb. As the trail descends there are nice views of the nearby hills, with the staging area below.

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3 Responses to Brushy Peak Regional Preserve

  1. Craig Rieser says:

    Thank you for your description and photos. Very clear and helpful. I’m looking forward to exploring. Was the rock circle ancient or something that somebody did more recently? Did you see any indications of native Californians? I understand that Brushy Peak was a site for trade among the various tribes.

    • trailhiker says:

      I couldn’t tell if the rock circle was recent. There was no signage or fencing around it, though, so I’m inclined to think it’s recent. The main area that is considered sacred to the ancient/native people is at the top of the peak, and that is off-limits except by docent-led visits. Happy exploring!

  2. Pingback: Pleasanton Ridge Regional Park: Loop to Bernal Park | trailhiker

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