The East Bay Regional Park District has, over its 81-year history, assembled an impressive variety of parks and trails in Alameda and Contra Costa Counties, including some 65 regional parks and 29 regional inter-park trails. This was my first visit to the Iron Horse Regional Trail, which includes a continuous 24¼ mile long paved multi-use stretch of trail within Contra Costa County between the Alameda County line and Concord. When the trail is complete it will be over 50 miles long.
The section I covered is the northern 4 miles, as an 8-mile out-and-back hike – although, since the trail is paved, I would call my outing a fitness walk rather than a hike. I started at an access point at Monument Blvd in Pleasant Hill and walked the northern section of the trail to Marsh Dr, a frontage road to CA-4. This part of the trail follows Walnut Creek as it flows toward Pacheco Slough and then into Suisun Bay. The GPS track shows the route, with the orange dot denoting my start/finish near the Monument Blvd trail access point. The elevation gain was only about 100 feet, and that included something like 3 road under-crossings in both the outbound and return directions.
In some ways the Iron Horse Trail reminds me of the Alameda Creek Trail: the trail runs closely parallel to a canal-like waterway that carries surface runoff water to the Bay, and the trail and its immediate environs are a green strip within a Bay Area urban environment. The trail itself is both a recreational trail and a connector between neighborhoods, commercial areas, and even nearby communities. I encountered lunchtime walkers, joggers, commuters, and other users while on the trail.
Although there was not a lot of water in Walnut Creek, near the access point there was enough water to make pretty reflections of the colorful trees nearby.
I should note that, on the other side of the creek, there is a second paved multi-use trail, with signage naming it the Monument Corridor Trail. Shortly after starting out along the Iron Horse Trail I noticed a few items that had apparently been picked up from the trail and inserted into the wire fence between the trail and the creek. Among these items was a buckeye that had fallen from a nearby tree.
I noticed a cat, either a neighborhood cat on the prowl or a stray cat, in the grass near the creek. A bit farther along there was an American egret on the far side of the creek, evidently feeding.
While I was watching the egret a great blue heron flew in and landed nearby. And as I continued to observe, I noticed a dark form emerge from the water and start moving in the grass. I suppose it is a river otter rather than a sea otter, but the coat is darker than many pictures of river otters.
There was also a small flock of Canada geese, and I noted pigeons roosting on some telephone wires. The trail passes behind numerous businesses, and I passed several people out for a walk, perhaps on their lunch breaks.
About 1.8 miles from the trail access point, between Willow Pass Rd and Concord Ave, the trail passes Waterworld, denoted by several rides easily visible across Walnut Creek.
At Concord Ave the trail crosses to the east side of the creek on a long bridge, apparently to locate the trail on the opposite side of the creek from Buchanan Field Airport. Although most of the nearby vegetation seemed ready for winter, there was some bright California fuchsia (Epilobium canum) next to the trail. I hadn’t realized before that California fuchsia is a relatively late bloomer, with a primary blooming period of August through October.
Buchanan Field Airport was busy: small aircraft were taking off, landing, and taxiing around the runways and peripheral traffic lanes. I could see numerous planes parked between rows of hangars. The hills on the other side of the airport were dotted with colorful trees.
As I approached the north end of the airport I noticed, among a few other trail users, a runner apparently doing a long series of sprints. I first noticed him jogging northbound, then moments later sprinting southbound, stopping to check stats on his wrist, and repeating. He was still at it after I turned around and started my return trip. In the background of the picture a few hills of southern Solano County are visible behind a busy CA-4 overpass.
The trail surface is marked with mileage markers similar to this one at the current north end of the trail at Marsh Dr, which is kind of a frontage road to CA-4 in this area. These markers make it easy to keep track of mileage or simply location. The markers also remind users that the current stretch of continuous paved multi-use trail is 24.25 miles.
On the return trip most of the scenery was similar to what I’d seen on the outbound trip. One difference was the “distant” scenery on the east side of the trail. Off and on, mainly between – or above – commercial buildings in Concord, I had glimpses of Mt Diablo to the southeast, about 10 miles away. This iconic Bay Area landmark is an imposing sight, as it rises to its 3800-foot summit from a baseline nearly at sea level.
This was a pleasant trail within a sizable urban area. Some of the other East Bay Regional Park District regional trails connect open spaces, in some cases by passing through the corridor of communities along I-680. I look forward to explore more of these regional trails when opportunities arise.