Sunol Regional Wilderness: Maguire Peaks Loop

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This was a pleasant exploratory hike on a trail I’d not previously hiked – the Maguire Peaks Loop Trail – in a park where I have hiked before – Sunol Regional Wilderness, part of the extensive network of parks in the East Bay Regional Park District.  I did the hike on the day after Thanksgiving, more or less regardless of the weather, as my way of participating in REI’s #OptOutside promotion.  I happen to think that spending a day outside hiking in a park is a great way to spend a day, and I often make a point to observe this type of broadly publicized day by going on a hike.

The hike featured a 3.1-mile loop around Maguire Peaks, which are located in a kind of northern extension of Sunol Regional Wilderness that is nearly surrounded by San Francisco Water District land.  The Wilderness is located in Alameda County.

From the loop trail itself it’s mostly difficult to see the peaks, but there was an especially nice view of the east peak, framed by tree branches, from a spur trail that follows the South Fork Apperson Creek to the northern boundary of the park.

picture of Maguire Peak

Maguire Peak

The access point to the Maguire Peaks Loop Trail is on a narrow, little-used road, Welch Creek Rd, that traverses the northern part of the Wilderness.  There are relatively few places to safely park a car along the road, and so it is necessary either to get a parking permit at the main park headquarters or to have – and display on the car dashboard – a Regional Parks Foundation membership card.  Due to other trail closures and the necessity of finding a safe place to park, I ended up parking at the end of Upper Maguire Peaks Trail, where the trail post labeled SO5 is located.  This point is denoted by the orange dot on the GPS track image.

GPS track

GPS track

From the trailhead it is about 1.4 miles to the junction with the Maguire Peaks Loop Trail.  There is a short (approximately 0.2 mile) spur trail to the west peak, where there are impressive views.  In addition, I decided to explore the longer (approximately 0.7 mile long) spur trail leading to the north boundary of the park.  After exploring the spur trail I completed the loop and then returned to the trailhead.  The total length of the hike was 7.7 miles with just over 1700 feet of elevation gain and loss.  About 1/3 of the vertical gain was on the two spur trails.  The steepest part of the hike was the 1/4 mile approaching the spur trail to the peak and the spur trail itself; the grade in this section was about 23%.  As long as the trail isn’t slippery due to muddy conditions, this is not an especially technical section, though I should mention that I always carry hiking poles – and I use them when conditions warrant, such as this steeper section.

Elevation profile

Elevation profile

There is a write-up of the Maguire Peaks Loop hike, not including the spur trail to the northern park boundary, in a book of East Bay hikes.  The description in the book follows the loop in a counterclockwise direction, while I hiked in the clockwise direction.  Obviously, there is the same amount of elevation gain and loss either way!

From the post marked SO5 the Upper Maguire Peaks Trail immediately crosses Welch Creek and begins to climb.  The first 0.6 mile or so is a single-track trail that traverses a moderately steep, grass- and tree-covered hillside and descends slightly before arriving at a T junction at marker SO7 with a ranch road that is Maguire Peak Trail.  Along the way, as the trail climbs there are views of hills ahead.  If I remember correctly the direction I took the photo, these are the two Maguire Peaks.

picture of view of Maguire Peaks from the Upper Maguire Peaks Trail

View of Maguire Peaks from the Upper Maguire Peaks Trail

After a right turn at the T junction the Maguire Peak Trail goes over a small rise and descends about 200 feet before arriving at marker SO8 on the Maguire Peaks Loop Trail, 1.4 miles from the trailhead.  I turned left to go around the loop clockwise.  The first mile and a half of the loop trail rolls gently up and down with very pleasant walking.  Given the season (late November) I was quite surprised to find any wildflowers blooming.  However, I did see some yellow star thistle (Centaurea solstitialis), an introduced species that some consider to be invasive.

picture of star thistle along the Maguire Peaks Loop Trail

Star thistle along the Maguire Peaks Loop Trail

I also found quite a bit of a wild mustard that I believe to be Mediterranean hoary mustard (Hirschfeldia incana).  I’ve probably seen it many times before, but this time I decided to see if I could make an identification, since it was so unusual to see wildflowers in bloom in November!

picture of Mediterranean hoary mustard

Mediterranean hoary mustard

About 1 mile after turning onto the loop trail I came across several cows grazing peacefully, seemingly oblivious to the beautiful hills all around.  On the GPS track map this is where the trail almost reaches the western park boundary, so the cows were likely on San Francisco Water District land.  Far to the northwest I could barely see the top of Mt Tamalpais in Marin County, some 45 miles away.

picture of cows grazing in the hills

Cows grazing in the hills

A bit farther along I was startled to find a single California poppy (Eschscholzia californica) in bloom.  In fact, the blossom was surprisingly open given the overcast weather of the day.  Usually these blossoms stay tightly closed up unless there is nearly full sun.  Also, although the California poppy has quite a long blooming season, November is one of the few months when it normally does not bloom.  I wondered if the recent rains and relatively warm weather had fooled at least this one plant into thinking it was spring!

picture of California poppy

California poppy

After about 1 1/2 miles on the loop trail the grade begins to get steeper and is a steady climb.  After about 1/4 mile there is a bench on the right.  This bench marks the beginning of the 0.2-mile spur trail to the top of Maguire Peak.  From the bench there are terrific views to the north, including this one of Mt Diablo peeking over the top of a dark-topped ridge line that might be the Black Hills.

picture of Mt Diablo

Mt Diablo

I climbed up the narrower use trail to Maguire Peak, passing some silvery-leaved bush lupine and, higher up, a solitary white mushroom about 3 inches in diameter.  From the peak there are splendid nearly 360-degree views.  Here is an example, showing several ponds that are probably associated with Alameda or Sinbad Creek.

picture of splendid view from Maguire Peak

Splendid view from Maguire Peak

In other directions I could see San Antonio Reservoir, nearby Apperson Ridge, Mt Diablo, San Francisco Bay, and Mt Tamalpais.  It was impossible not to stop for a pleasant lunch break with such beautiful views.  Occasionally airplanes flew overhead, mostly on their way to Oakland International Airport, an audible and visible reminder that, even in this remote corner of a locally designated wilderness, a large population center was not far away.

There were also a few hawks soaring in the area, I believe red-tailed hawks (Buteo jamaicensis) as they are the most common.  This one’s tail feathers were very spread out, and the large feathers at the wing tips resembled spread-out fingers.

picture of red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

Another discovery on Maguire Peak was what appears to be a sunflower (Eriophyllum sp.).  The species identification was complicated by the observation on the CalFlora web site that there aren’t supposed to be any sunflowers in bloom in November!

picture of sunflower on Maguire Peak

Sunflower on Maguire Peak

After enjoying the views and a break I descended back to the bench and continued around the Maguire Peaks Loop Trail.  On the north side of the peaks the ground seemed moister, and I passed a section of hillside where there were some pretty, lush ferns.  This picture shows a small cluster of them, and they seemed to be a type I had not previously seen.

picture of ferns on a moist hillside

Ferns on a moist hillside

About 0.7 mile past the Maguire Peak spur trail the loop trail makes a turn toward the south, and there is a short flat section.  Around here there was a nice view to the southeast across a small canyon containing the South Fork Apperson Creek, with Apperson Ridge on the other side of the canyon.  Colorful trees seemed to be cascading down small gullies on the side of the ridge.

picture of Apperson Ridge

Apperson Ridge

When I looked back in the direction of Maguire Peak I could see the east peak behind a steep hillside dotted with valley oaks.  If you look closely at the picture there are two small specks on Maguire Peak: two hikers who were arriving at the peak just as I started down the spur trail.  Evidently they were enjoying their exploration of the peaks.

picture of Maguire Peak: east peak

Maguire Peak: east peak

In this area the Maguire Peaks Loop Trail, which is basically a ranch road rather than a single-track trail, looks like a lush grassy track cutting across the hillside.

picgture of Maguire Peaks Loop Trail cutting across a hillside

Maguire Peaks Loop Trail cutting across a hillside

When I came to the spur trail at marker SO9, about 1.1 miles past the Maguire Peak spur trail, I decided to explore it.  The unnamed spur trail descends to the South Fork Apperson Creek and follows the creek to a gate at the northern boundary of the park, the lowest elevation of the hike.  Sections of the trail bordered on being muddy: there were areas that had been well-trodden by cows, and in some places separate, distinct hoof prints were visible.  Near the gate there was an especially impressive tree with great limbs growing across the ground; perhaps the tree had fallen without dying.  From the leaf shape I think it is a California sycamore (Platanus racemosa).

picture of California sycamore, I think

California sycamore, I think

From the gate I climbed back up to the loop trail and in another 0.3 miles completed the loop.  Then I retraced my outbound path back to the trailhead.  Although the day of my hike turned out to be mostly cloudy, it was a pretty hike and I would enjoy returning on a sunnier day, perhaps in the spring when there would be more wildflowers.

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