Ohlone Wilderness Trail part 1: Stanford Ave to SF Water District land

stats box

This hike was the first stage in a new adventure: hiking the Ohlone Wilderness Trail, a regional trail connecting Mission Peak Regional Preserve, Sunol Regional Wilderness, Ohlone Regional Wilderness, and Del Valle Regional Park. All of these parks are in the East Bay Regional Park District system. The idea of the EBRPD regional trails is that they are longer trails that connect important regional parks, sometimes crossing non-park areas. In this case the non-park areas are on San Francisco Water District land.

The Ohlone Wilderness Trail is 28 miles long and the middle sections especially are typically accessed via a backpacking through hike. A permit is required and is available at two of the trailheads as well as through the EBRPD office. It includes a detailed map, elevation information, and a description of the trail and highlighted landmarks. It’s good for one year and only costs $2.

I am attempting to hike the trail as day hikes, since I choose not to backpack. Trailheads are at the Stanford Ave trailhead for Mission Peak Regional Preserve, in Sunol Regional Wilderness, and at Del Valle Regional Park. It is about 8.5 miles between the Mission Peak and Sunol trailheads and nearly 20 miles between Sunol and Del Valle. The location of the trailheads means that there is a 20-mile section of trail with no intermediate access. In order to experience the entire trail, I will need to do a 20-mile hike with a pre-arranged car shuttle. Or I could do two 20-mile out-and-back hikes.

For this first section, I started at the Stanford Ave trailhead and followed the trail all the way through Mission Peak Regional Preserve and about 1 mile into the adjacent San Francisco Water District land, covering 4.6 miles of the Ohlone Wilderness Trail. On my outbound hike I skipped going to the top of Mission Peak, and on the return trip I hiked Peak Trail up-and-over Mission Peak: something I’ve wanted to do since I “discovered” that there is actually a trail down the southeast side of Mission Peak. On the GPS track, the orange dot at the left indicates my parking spot about ¼ mile from the Stanford Ave trailhead. That was the nearest available parking spot on a weekday – on weekends, parking fills up early and stays full all day long.

GPS track

GPS track

The elevation profile emphasizes that the hike from Stanford Ave to the top of Mission Peak entails a climb of slightly over 2000 vertical feet in about 3 miles.

Elevation profile

Elevation profile

I have hiked up Mission Peak numerous times previously, including one hike that was a segment hike of the Bay Area Ridge Trail. However, this was the first time that I have hiked out of Mission Peak Regional Preserve along the Ohlone Wilderness Trail. So about 1.5 miles of trail were new for me. All the rest of the Ohlone Wilderness Trail will be new for me.

It was evident as I drove to the trailhead that the East Bay hills are green this year. Though we are still in a longer-term drought, we have had a normal amount of rainfall for the season to date. It was great to see the hills in the brilliant green that is supposed to be normal for this time of year!

picture of green foothills of Mission Peak

Green foothills of Mission Peak

The preserve has areas that are leased for cattle grazing. Though the grazing herd seemed modest, I did encounter a cow and calf preparing to cross the trail ahead of me. The calf was slightly delayed negotiating a small gully and literally scampered across the trail to catch up with its mom.

In several places I noticed clumps of a low-growing plant with pretty, variegated leaves. I’ve been thinking of it as a nettle but I’m not sure of this identification.  (Update: it’s milk thistle (Silybum marianum), considered to be an invasive weed.)

image of milk thistle with variegated leaves

Milk thistle with variegated leaves

As I climbed I had a couple of early views of Mt Tamalpais in Marin County: an early indication of other long-distance views to come later on. There were also bluebirds that occasionally paused on rocks or posts in between feeding runs.

About 1.4 miles from the trailhead I paused to look at the view, which was primarily behind me. I had climbed about 1000 feet at that point. The trail’s winding route up the hill was clearly visible, with the south end of San Francisco Bay in the background.

photo of Hidden Valley Trail on Mission Peak, with San Francisco Bay in the background

Hidden Valley Trail on Mission Peak, with San Francisco Bay in the background

The trail that actually goes to the top of Mission Peak is called Peak Trail. The upper portion, above 2000 feet elevation, traditionally used to reach the peak, has recently been rerouted; the traditional route is blocked off to facilitate trail rehabilitation. Signage is good, and a portion of this part of the trail has been “paved” in crushed gravel. By comparison to the other trails, it rather resembles a multi-lane highway, with corresponding foot traffic on weekend days. Past the well-marked junction the trail is much less populated. In fact, the only hiker I encountered had made a wrong turn, and I was able to quickly give him the directions he needed.

For my outbound hike I bypassed the trip to the top of Mission Peak and continued on the Ohlone Wilderness Trail; the route is indicated at trail intersections with red disc markers like the one in the stats box for this post. This part of the route is on the Eagle Trail, and I consider it to be the back side of Mission Peak, with the Bay on the front side. Immediately there is a feeling of being in the back country, and there are nice views of Mt Diablo. As I hiked I could hear meadowlarks singing. I noticed a pair of birds on the trail in front of me: they looked somewhat similar to meadowlarks but weren’t, and they behaved differently. Meadowlarks would have flown away long before I got close to them. These ran up the trail as I approached, but did eventually fly away. I later identified them as horned larks (Eremophila alpestris).

picture of horned lark on Eagle Trail

Horned lark on Eagle Trail

About 3.1 miles from the trailhead the Ohlone Wilderness Trail goes left to follow Laurel Canyon Trail and begins a descent; ¼ mile later you take the right fork on Laurel Loop Trail. From this section of trail there are beautiful views of a ridgeline, probably Apperson Ridge or Wauhab Ridge, with the trail in the foreground.

image of ridge-line, with Ohlone Regional Trail in the foreground

Ridge-line, with Ohlone Regional Trail in the foreground

From the same area, more to the north, there is another beautiful view of Mt Diablo with what looks like two parallel ridges in the foreground. I think they are Sunol and Pleasanton Ridges.

photo of Mt Diablo and Sunol and Pleasanton Ridges

Mt Diablo and Sunol and Pleasanton Ridges

About 3.7 miles from the trailhead is the boundary of Mission Peak Regional Preserve, where there is a sign-in kiosk where the Ohlone Wilderness Trail enters Water District land. From the ledger I could see that only two or three other hikers had passed through in the previous 2 weeks. The cattle that were grazing on the San Francisco Water District land seemed a bit unaccustomed to people passing by.

The trail descends gently and winds through the hills, passing a couple of streams where there is a higher density of trees, mainly oak.

picture of Ohlone Wilderness Trail on a hillside in San Francisco Water District land

Ohlone Wilderness Trail on a hillside in San Francisco Water District land

I was planning to continue about 1 mile into the Water District land before turning around, so I started to look for a good landmark to use as a turnaround point. Luckily, there was a side trail, not open to hikers, just about 0.9 mile past the sign-in kiosk and 4.6 miles from the trailhead, so that’s where I turned around. From here my path would be almost completely uphill until I reached the top of Mission Peak. On the way up there were more nice views of Mt Diablo, I think with Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve nearby.

When I reached the junction at the top of Laurel Canyon Trail I turned left on Eagle Trail to approach Mission Peak from the southeast. Shortly the trail passes Eagle Springs Backpack Camp, which is available by reservation, and then reaches Peak Trail. From the junction with Peak Trail there is a great view of Mission Peak, with the summit only about 200 feet higher.

image of Mission Peak not far ahead

Mission Peak not far ahead

There is also a nice view to the northeast, with several rows of ridge lines visible and a bit of white on the horizon. I believe the white denotes the Sierras in the general area of Ebbetts Pass, nearly 150 miles away.

photo of view northeast toward the Sierras

View northeast toward the Sierras

From this junction the climb to the top of Mission Peak is only about 0.3 mile. It is worth noting that the actual peak – the highest point, with a geodetic marker – is perhaps 100 meters southeast of the small tower that hikers like to pose with. Here is the view – a rarity on such a pretty day to have only 4 people in view – of the tower from the real (south) peak. Mt Tamalpais is clearly visible in the background, some 45 miles away to the northwest. Both Mission Peak and Mt Tamalpais are above the level of most of the day’s haze.

picture of Mission Peak and Mt Tamalpais

Mission Peak and Mt Tamalpais

The views of San Francisco Bay were impressive. Across the Bay, Loma Prieta and Mt Umunhum highlight the skyline. It is no wonder that Mission Peak has become even more popular recently as a local hiking destination.

image of San Francisco Bay from Mission Peak

San Francisco Bay from Mission Peak

As I descended from the main peak to continue on Peak Trail back to the Ohlone Wilderness Trail, a small group of young adults reached the tower area and posed for a picture via their selfie stick.

Basically I just enjoyed the hike downhill with continuous views of the hills, Bay, and Coastal Range. I paused on the lower part of the trail to enjoy the oxalis (Oxalis pes-caprae) flowers that were in bloom.

photo of oxalis, a type of wood sorrel

Oxalis, a type of wood sorrel

This was an auspicious beginning to my Ohlone Wilderness Trail adventure: a beautiful hike on a great hiking day. Next I will hike from the Sunol Regional Wilderness trailhead to today’s turnaround point.

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6 Responses to Ohlone Wilderness Trail part 1: Stanford Ave to SF Water District land

  1. readersguide says:

    What a great hike! Nice picture of the horned lark, and i think the nettle-like plant is a milk thistle. (Whatever that is.) This makes me want to get out there!

  2. trailhiker says:

    Thanks for the feedback and the plant ID; someone else ID’d it as milk thistle also and said it’s a non-native, invasive weed. Oh well. I didn’t recognize it as a thistle without a purple flower. By all means, come on out and enjoy the trails, especially while the weather is so hike-worthy!

  3. CL says:

    I have hiked to Rose Peak from both the Sunol trailhead and Del Valle trailhead. It’s about 20 miles in-and-out from either. It takes a strong hiker 8-9 hours to complete. From Del Valle, the going is a little tougher but still totally worth it. Enjoy the wilderness!

  4. Pingback: Hidden Villa wildflower hike | trailhiker

  5. Pingback: Ohlone Wilderness Trail part 3: Del Valle Regional Park to Sunol Regional Park | trailhiker

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