Secret Summer Hikes
Cool coastlines, rolling hills, and secret forests are all around us, so why not explore them? We hit the trails and found a perfect hike for every fitness level.
Do you know where to find an ancient volcano in the East Bay? Lamorinda’s most enchanting fern gully? Take a hike: All of these adventures are hidden in our backyard, just a hop, skip, and jump (and the occasional very steep hill) away. Diablo’s editors checked in with eight expert hikers—park rangers, outdoor adventure writers, and open space preservationists—who gave us tips and tours of their favorite undiscovered treks through the local landscape. There’s something for everyone—easy, moderate, and tough hikes to every corner of the East Bay.
• Save Mount Diablo, savemountdiablo.org.
Ann Marie Brown
• Outdoors writer, annmariebrown.com.
• East Bay Regional Park District volunteer and renowned wheelchair hiker, ebparks.org.
• East Bay Regional Park District volunteer, ebparks.org.
• Open space ranger for John Muir Land Trust, muirheritagelandtrust.org.
• Host of OpenRoad.TV with Doug McConnell on NBC Bay Area, openroad.tv.
• Blogger for The Undiscovered Hikes of Lamorinda, lamorindahikes.com.
Jake Van Akkeren
• Hike leader for Mount Diablo Interpretive Association, mdia.org.
1. Fernandez Ranch Windmill Trail
Martinez / Miles: 2.5 Difficulty: moderate
Why go: This massive open space park is an underused gem with grassy meadows, challenging hills, and rare wildlife.
Starting point: Follow Christie Road, a minor exit off eastbound Highway 4, a little less than a mile to the Fernandez Ranch Staging Area’s parking lot, then walk across the bridge to the Windmill Trail marker.
What to see: The meadows and rolling hills of Fernandez Ranch make up an East Bay Eden. Throughout the park, you might see the hard-to-find Mount Diablo sunflower and rare creatures such as the California red-legged frog and the Alameda whipsnake. As you follow the trail, you’ll pass the remnants of a 1950s dairy farm and a windmill. You’ll soon enter woods of oak trees, which provide shade as the trail ascends to a hilltop with a knockout view of the San Pablo Bay.
Expand the hike: From the top of the hill, head east to the Bay Area Ridge Trail, which offers views from Mount Diablo to Mount Tamalpais.
High-tech hiking: Download the POINT mobile app from the website for trail maps, wildlife guides, and history lessons of the surrounding area.
muirheritagelandtrust.org. —Peter Crooks
2. Mary Bowerman Loop Trail
Danville / Miles: .7 Difficulty: easy
Why go: The easiest hike in this guide offers jaw-dropping, 360-degree views of the Bay Area and Central California.
Starting point: Drive almost to the summit of Mt. Diablo State Park (admission is $10 per vehicle), and park just below the upper lot by the picnic tables, about 200 feet shy of the 3,849-foot summit. The Mary Bowerman Loop Trail has two entrances: The entrance on the left (as you face the summit) offers a short, paved section of trail and a viewing area with comfortable benches.
What to see: It’s all about the view—which is off-the-charts awesome. On a clear day, you’ll see the Golden Gate Bridge and Farallon Islands to the west, and the crest of the Sierra Nevada mountain range to the east. While you’re there, visit the renovated visitor center at the summit, which has interactive exhibits about Mount Diablo. And bathrooms.
High-tech hiking: Go to audiblemountdiablo.com to download the guided audio tour, which focuses on Mount Diablo’s geological highlights. (It rocks!) mdia.org. —Peter Crooks
3. Flag Hill Trail
Sunol / Miles: 2.5 Difficulty: tough
Why go: Get your heart pumping on this Sunol Regional Wilderness trail, which quickly climbs more than 900 feet and offers a payoff view at the top.
Starting point: Drive Sunol’s winding Geary Road to the Sunol Regional Wilderness visitor center. (Admission is $5 per vehicle on weekends.) Grab a map, and head to the north side of the lot to the Shady Glen Trail. Take a left onto the trail, cross the footbridge over Alameda Creek, and you’ll quickly meet the Flag Hill Trail.
What to see: The hike starts in shady woodlands, but the trees recede and the grade increases quickly once you reach Flag Hill Trail, which alternates between quick inclines and more gradual increases in elevation. Along the trail, keep an eye out for birds of prey and the occasional bobcat. At the top—where a flag was planted by a group of youngsters on the Fourth of July in 1903—you can climb across fossilized sandstone pushed up by the Calaveras Fault. You’ll get panoramic views of the valley, including the Alameda Creek Watershed, Calaveras Reservoir, and Mission Peak. ebparks.org/parks/sunol. —Kristen Haney
4. George Miller Regional Trail
Martinez / Miles: 1.7 Difficulty: easy
Why go: Think Iron Horse Trail—flat, paved, and easy—but with better views and Bay breezes.
Starting point: Take Alhambra Avenue (which becomes Buckley Street) in Martinez, until you reach the Nejedly Staging Area and the start of the George Miller Trail.
What to see: This spectacular section of the San Francisco Bay Trail opened as a hiking and biking path in late 2014, and now connects Martinez, Port Costa, and Crockett. You’ll see incredible views of the Carquinez Strait and charming Benicia across the water. ebparks.org/parks/carquinez. —Peter Crooks
5. Carquinez Overlook Loop Trail to Port Costa
Crockett / Miles: 3.6 Difficulty: moderate
Why go: The trail offers panoramic views of the Carquinez Strait, plus the chance to drink a beer next to a polar bear at the halfway point.
Starting point: Park at the Bull Valley Staging Area on Carquinez Scenic Drive, just north of the town of Crockett. Enter the hiking trail through the gate, and follow the trail toward the water, where you will see the Carquinez Overlook Loop Trail.
What to see: You’re likely to see hawks above, as you follow the trail through tall eucalyptus trees then descend the steep section of the trail to a gate, on the edge of the park. Go through the gate, and follow the fire trail into Port Costa, a time portal back to Contra Costa’s Wild West days, before looping back to your car.
Bonus: Weekend hikers should stop for coffee (and pound cake) at the Honey House Cafe or plan a leisurely Sunday brunch at the Bull Valley Roadhouse. Don’t skip the Warehouse Café, a 50-year-old bar packed with quirky decor (you can’t miss the 16-foot-tall stuffed polar bear) and colorful regulars. ebparks.org/parks/carquinez. —Peter Crooks
6. Springhill Sunrise Loop
Lafayette / Miles: 5 Difficulty: tough
Why go: Start your day with a good workout that features sweeping views of Lafayette and Mount Diablo.
Starting point: Drive to the end of Springhill Road in Lafayette, and park. Pass through the gate, and go right onto Buckeye Ranch Trail, the first leg of the loop.
What to see: The first portion of the hike runs along a creek and is shaded by oak trees. After a half-mile, go through a gate, and hang a sharp right onto Sunrise Trail, which climbs into the hills. Turn around every once in a while for breathtaking views—especially spectacular at sunrise—of Mount Diablo. At the top of the hill, take a left at Briones Crest Trail. Walk another mile until you hit the Lafayette Ridge Trail, which goes up and down like the humps of a camel. You’ll reach a gorgeous vista of the Oakland hills and Lafayette Reservoir. Go left at Springhill Trail, and follow it back down to the staging area. lamorindahikes.com. —Stacey Kennelly
7. Madrone Trail
Alamo / Miles: 3.6 Difficulty: moderate
Why go: A tranquil, historic madrone grove is the perfect turnaround spot in this hike through the hills above Alamo and Danville.
Starting point: Drive to the end of Hemme Avenue, off Danville Boulevard, where you’ll find the Ringtail Cat Staging Area.
What to see: You’ll start to climb relatively early, giving you views of the valley below. Stay on Ringtail Cat Trail for 1.3 miles until you reach Madrone Trail. Expect to see plenty of cows and mighty, old oak trees before you reach the madrone grove. Before heading back, see if you can find the mossy rock decorated with a plaque recognizing Mary Rogers Smith for “her effort in preserving these hills and woods.”
Expand the hike: Make a big loop by taking the Las Trampas Ridge Trail and the Corduroy Hills Trail. Or go right when you hit the Madrone Trail to venture to the Eugene O’Neill National Historic Site. eastbaytrails.com. —Stacey Kennelly
8. Huckleberry Loop
Canyon / Miles: 3.8 Difficulty: moderate
Why go: Take a fairy tale stroll through the lush Huckleberry Botanic Regional Preserve.
Starting point: Take Canyon Road from Moraga to Pinehurst Road, until you pass through Canyon. Park at the Fire Trail 41-17 gate, then walk through into the preserve. Follow alongside San Leandro Creek, then take a left at the To Huckleberry junction for the lower trail.
What to see: Huckleberry Botanic Regional Preserve is packed with ferns and native plants that can’t be seen anywhere else in the area. The loop is easy to follow, but the distance—and some drop-offs close to the trail—are challenging for young hikers. lamorindahikes.com. —Rachelle Cihonski
9. Martin Canyon Creek to Donlon Loop Trail
Dublin / Miles: 4.5 Difficulty: moderate
Why go: A tranquil canyon path follows a creek, before heading into rolling hills.
Starting point: Drive down Dublin’s Silvergate Drive, and park next to the large oak tree where it meets Bay Laurel Street. There’s a sign that announces the trailhead for the Martin Canyon Creek Trail.
What to see: The first mile is mostly exposed and flat, before you reach a narrow path that winds along the canyon, with feathery ferns and other foliage lining the way to your left. As you climb, you’ll hear birds and the trickle of a shallow creek. The solitude of the shaded path creates the illusion of distance from civilization. The trail emerges from the trees into grassy hills. Veer left at the trail marker, and hike a short way up the first peak of the Donlon Loop Trail for a breathtaking view, before returning to your car via the two-mile canyon route trail.
Bonus: The Dublin Heritage Park and Museums are just a mile from the trailhead, and feature a cemetery, a schoolhouse, and a historic home that is open for tours. dublin.ca.gov. —Rachelle Cihonski
10. Blue Oak Trail
Livermore / Miles: 2 Difficulty: easy
Why go: A lazy stroll through Morgan Territory Regional Preserve showcases the Tri-Valley’s natural beauty.
Starting point: After driving along a winding road up a hill, about 10 miles east of I-580’s North Livermore Avenue exit, park in the staging area, and take the Volvon Trail, a wide dirt path that ascends slightly as you enter Morgan Territory’s open space. Follow this path until it intersects with Blue Oak Trail.
What to see: Set your hiking speed to cruise control, and stroll along the trail dotted with large oak trees and lined by grassy open spaces. Keep your eyes out for wildlife: You might see a coyote or even a golden eagle making rounds from her nest at the Los Vaqueros Reservoir. When you reach the highest point of the Blue Oak Trail, you’ve found a bird-watcher’s paradise: Look for woodpeckers, hummingbirds, and black-shouldered kites as you connect to a short stretch of the Hummingbird Trail, before making a left onto the Volvon Trail, which leads back to the parking lot. ebparks.org/parks/morgan. —Rachelle Cihonski
11. Skyline to Sibley
Orinda / Miles: 1.7 Difficulty: moderate
Why go: Ten million years ago, there was a giant volcano in the East Bay. Here’s how to find it.
Starting point: Heading west on Highway 24, exit at Fish Ranch Road. Take a left over the highway, and go right at Old Tunnel Road. Drive one-quarter of a mile and park, and look for the gate with a sign pointing toward Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve.
What to see: Begin a gradual climb on Skyline Trail, with California bay laurel trees shading the path. After nearly one mile, you’ll reach the Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve. Make sure to check out the Round Top Trail, which circles the preserve and offers stunning views of the former volcano’s geological features.
Bonus: While circling the Round Top Trail, check out the large labyrinth in the quarry pit below. It was crafted in 1989 by a Montclair sculptor. lamorindahikes.com. —Stacey Kennelly