Recently a new segment of Bay Area Ridge Trail opened in the East Bay Hills above the Union City – Hayward area of Alameda County. The new trail extends the Chabot-to-Garin Regional Trail from its previous ending point at the south end of North Garin Regional Park along Walpert Ridge to the eastern edge of the adjacent Dry Creek Pioneer and Garin Regional Parks.
Because the newly dedicated section of the Bay Area Ridge Trail does not directly connect to a trailhead, it is necessary to hike to it from one end or the other. I had previously hiked the adjacent section of Bay Area Ridge Trail to the south end of North Garin Regional Park, and the nearest trailhead in that directon (in Don Castro Regional Recreation Area) is about 5 miles from the northwest end of the new section. The trailhead closest to the southeast end of the new section is the main trailhead in Garin Regional Park, where I have also hiked, and it is 3.1 miles to the beginning of the new section. I decided to begin my out-and-back hike at the main Garin Regional Park trailhead, denoted by the orange dot on my GPS track. The new section of trail is 3.4 miles long, according to my GPS mileage.
From the Visitor Center at the Garin Ave entrance to Garin Regional Park, the shortest path to the new Ridge Trail section is directly up High Ridge Loop Trail. As soon as you pass through the gate near the picnic area, you see the trail winding its way up the open, grassy hills. Due to good early season rains, the hills were already turning green.
The grade up the hill is reasonable, though certainly noticeable: the trail climbs about 650 feet in 1.25 miles (10% grade). After that the grade lessens a bit, but continues upward. On the elevation profile the new section of Bay Area Ridge Trail begins where the trail gets to 1400 feet elevation, with nearly the next 3 miles running along Walpert Ridge.
About 1.7 miles from the trailhead there is a well-marked junction with a new Dry Creek Pioneer Regional Park trail, Whipsnake Trail. This is signed as an access trail to the Bay Area Ridge Trail, since it can also be reached by hiking from the other end of the High Ridge Loop Trail, at the entrance to Dry Creek Pioneer Regional Park. (These trails are not marked in my GPS software, but they are on the park maps. Well, the Whipsnake Trail is so new it’s not yet on the printed park maps, but I’m sure it soon will be!)
Along Whipsnake Trail I noticed a few cage-like structures, like this one. I wondered if they are intended for trapping coyotes, as the opening is much too small for the seasonally grazing cattle. Later in the afternoon (see below) I did see a coyote in this area.
After about 1.4 miles on Whipsnake Trail there is a modest sign marking the continuation of Whipsnake Trail. This almost-invisible junction marks where it is hoped that the Bay Area Ridge Trail will continue, generally toward Vargas Plateau. About 0.5 mile later, at another gate near two water tanks, the trail enters a different parcel of Garin Regional Park and the signage changes to the Chabot-to-Garin Regional Trail.
For the next 1.3 miles the trail passes nearly seamlessly in and out of the park and the Stonebrae Country Club. An indication that you are near the golf course property is the appearance of a golf cart path; the trail itself becomes paved, and there may even be golf carts. These golf carts seemed to have a wonderful view of the San Francisco Bay – or at least their drivers and passengers did!
Just a little bit farther along, there is a nice view of Mt Diablo, about 15 miles away due north, as well as the distinctive skyline of Las Trampas Regional Wilderness.
After passing the Stonebrae clubhouse signage directs Bay Area Ridge Trail users to a section of the golf cart path. I have walked on many different types of shared multi-use trail surfaces on the Bay Area Ridge Trail and elsewhere, but I think this is the first golf cart path. I did note a pair of black-tailed deer on a fairway to the left; after checking me out, they quickly bounded across the path and off to a wooded area to my right.
In this area I noticed a few flowering shrubs and what I think may be one of several types of golden aster (Heterotheca sessiliflora). Note that there are relatively few wildflowers and shrubs that bloom at this time of year, even in the relatively temperate Bay Area.
About 4.9 miles from the trailhead the Bay Area Ridge Trail leaves the golf cart path and climbs a nearby hill that is topped with a communication tower complex, where the trail goes around the east side of a fenced enclosure. This is the highest point along the section of Bay Area Ridge Trail. From the hilltop there are pretty views of nearby hills, including Sunol Ridge just a few miles to the east. I noted with interest the piles of rocks seen in the foreground. They seemed too regular to be of natural origin, and I wondered if they were a result of clearing off the hilltop for the communication tower complex.
There was also a nice, albeit hazy, view of downtown San Francisco, 20 miles away and almost due west across San Leandro, Alameda, and the San Francisco Bay.
The views in one direction into parkland open spaces and in another direction across cities were occasionally punctuated by airplanes flying overhead on approach to Oakland International Airport. Farther along Walpert Ridge, a look behind, again toward Sunol Ridge, showed one of several small buildings I noticed during my hike. I don’t know what they are, but they seem positioned to be fire lookouts – other than being too close together.
After the communication tower complex the trail descends about 300 feet with an 8% grade and, 6.5 miles from the trailhead, reaches the gate that was the southeastern end point of my previous Ridge Trail hike. I continued past the gate for about 0.2 mile, looking for a place to sit down and take a break. Eventually I decided to stop here, where there were suitable rocks for sitting. In this view the communication tower is visible in the right background. As I took a short break I enjoyed another view of the Bay and downtown San Francisco. I even could – barely – make out Mt Tamalpais to the right of the city skyline, but it was too hazy to show in any of my photos.
After my break I started back to the trailhead. As I approached the golf course clubhouse I was somewhat amused to note quite a bit of Saturday afternoon activity at the driving range.
As I approached the southeastern end of this new section of Bay Area Ridge Trail, once again on the Whipsnake Trail, I noticed that the sun was reflecting brightly off the surface of the Bay. The feeling was that of late afternoon, even though it was only 2pm!
Near the bottom end of Whipsnake Trail, as I approached a small rise I noticed an animal in the trail ahead of me: a coyote, checking me out as carefully as I checked it out. After what seemed like a long stare-down it moved into the grassland to my left.
Of course I kept an eye on it as I cautiously continued forward. It circled into the grassland, climbing a small rock pile and stopping to once again check me out. Once we were well past each other, it continued its arc and again crossed the trail into the grassland.
About 1 mile further, again on High Ridge Loop Trail in Dry Creek Pioneer Regional Park, I noted a pretty, white wildflower. I’m pretty sure it is hayfield tarweed (Hemizonia congesta), still in bloom several weeks after its normal blooming season ends in October. I’m noting it here partly because it is always a delight to discover wildflowers blooming in what I consider to be the off-season.
Finally, after crossing back into Garin Regional Park, I noticed a western scrub jay (Aphelocoma californica) perched in some brush and nicely illuminated by the sun.
Although the air was a bit hazy for some of the distant views that can be seen from Walpert Ridge, both the weather and the hike were very good. I find it exhilarating to hike along ridge-tops with beautiful views in all directions. It is also notable that the dedication of this new section of Bay Area Ridge Trail means that the East Bay hosts a continuous section some 45 miles long beginning at Kennedy Grove Regional Recreation Area in El Sobrante. This is the second longest continuous section of the Bay Area Ridge Trail, and I look forward to its future further extension.