National Hiking Day is just around the corner, on November 17, and what better way to celebrate than by exploring the beautiful hiking trails that the East Bay has to offer? Autumn is a magical time for hiking, with crisp air, vibrant foliage, and an opportunity to spend quality time with people you love in the great outdoors. As the Thanksgiving weekend approaches, you can also participate in the #OptOutside movement, choosing nature over the hustle and bustle of shopping. Outdoor time also helps support your mental health with improved mood, reduced stress, enhanced memory, physical activity, and social interaction.
In this article, we'll explore some popular East Bay hiking places that are perfect for family adventures, exercise, recreation, and observing the changing leaf colors and wildlife. Let's take a peak at some terrific hiking spots in the East Bay and make the most of this incredible season.
Before embarking on your adventure, remember to pack essential items for a safe and enjoyable hiking experience. Bring plenty of water, snacks, a hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, and a fully charged cell phone. Additionally, it's a good practice to carry a basic first aid kit and a map of the trail you'll be hiking. Dress in layers as temperatures are quite cool in the early mornings and evenings, yet warm up substantial by midday. Check each trail's specific requirements and regulations regarding dogs, bicycles, as well as whether trail passes or parking fees are applicable. This map provides an overview of the regional, municipal, and state parks in Contra Costa County.
Here is a closer look at some of the county’s notable parks and recreation areas.
BRIONES REGIONAL PARK
Briones Regional Park is 6,255 acres of rolling hills situated between Martinez, Lafayette, Pleasant Hill, Concord, and Walnut Creek. On a clear day, Briones Peak and the higher trails offer expansive views of Mount Diablo, the Sacramento River, Mount Tamalpais, and Las Trampas Regional Wilderness from the top of the peak. This park is home to many animals and birds that forage on the grasslands or find shelter among the oaks and bays. You may see black-tailed deer, coyotes, squirrels, red-tailed hawks, turkey vultures, and other creatures. There are several staging areas for accessing the park:
- Alhambra Creek Staging Area: 273-181 Brookwood Dr, Martinez, CA
- Lafayette Ridge staging area (across Pleasant Hill Rd. from Acalanes High School)
- Bear Creek Staging Area: 1611 Bear Creek Road, Lafayette, CA
- Reliez Valley Staging Area: 1956 Reliez Valley Road, Lafayette, CA
West of Briones Regional Park is the Briones Reservoir. It covers 725 acres and is part of the EBMUD northern watershed. There is a hiking trail around the perimeter of the reservoir and trails also link Briones and San Pablo Reservoirs. The EBMUD Bear Creek Staging Area is off Bear Creek Road. Before you go, you will need to obtain an EBMUD trail use permit (purchase on EBMUD website). $3/day or $10/year for a person and their family and 3 guests.
Photo: Wayne Hsieh
Mount Diablo State Park is 20,000 acres situated between Walnut Creek, Concord, Clayton, Alamo, Danville, and San Ramon. The challenging and rewarding Mount Diablo Summit Trail offers stunning panoramic views. On a clear day from the 3,849 foot peak, it is possible to view parts of 40 California counties, spread over 8,539 square miles. The best viewing is often the day after a winter storm.
You can also drive up to the summit from the north or south gates and then walk the moderate level 0.8-mile Mary Bowerman Loop around the summit.
Rock City is located off South Gate Road approximately one mile north of South Gate Kiosk. Features include the Wind Caves, Elephant Rock, Sentinel Rock, Artist Point and Fossil Ridge. Native American grinding rocks are located near Grotto. It is a great place for a picnic.
On the east side, starting at the Mitchell Canyon Staging area, the trail along Mitchell Creek is a moderate level of difficulty. Hikers can discover a variety of birds and native plants.
Another east side trail is the popular Donner Canyon, Middle Trail and Falls Trail that is 5.3 miles long with an elevation gain of 1,171 ft. Alltrails has profiles for most of the 92 Mt Diablo trails, including distance, elevation gain, and level of difficulty.
Mt Diablo park can be accessed from numerous staging areas, including the following:
- Macedo Ranch Staging Area
Location: 3756 Green Valley Road, Alamo (no vehicle access to the Summit)
- Mitchell Canyon Staging Area
Location: 96 Mitchell Canyon Road, Clayton (no vehicle access to the Summit)
- North Gate Road Entrance
Location: 1300 North Gate Road, Walnut Creek
- South Gate Road Entrance
Location: 2675 Mt. Diablo Scenic Boulevard, Blackhawk
According to the non-profit Save Mount Diablo, there are now more than 120,000 acres of various types of protected lands on and around Mount Diablo. These include 50 preserves, such as nearby city open spaces, regional parks, and watersheds that are buffered in some areas with private lands that have been protected by conservation easements.
Las Trampas is 5,778 acres in San Ramon. Hikers can experience two of the Bay Area’s major fault lines as they explore the park’s fascinating geological formations. This large peaceful preserve provides an escape from the urban hustle and bustle. Carry plenty of drinking water for yourself and your animals. The park's water supply is inconsistent, and water may be unavailable at any time of year. The Bollinger Staging Area is adjacent to Bollinger Canyon Road.
LIME RIDGE OPEN SPACE
Photo: Liza Kirby
Lime Ridge spans 1,226 acres and boasts 25 miles of trails. It is located near Walnut Creek, Concord, and Clayton, along the eastern portion of Ygnacio Valley Road. Named after the limestone found nearby, this park is home to some of Walnut Creek’s last chaparral, among other local foliage and wildlife. The cooler fall temperatures make for an enjoyable autumn hike in this wide-open space. This is a popular spot among plein air painters and photographers capturing the sweeping views of the surrounding landscape from both the foothills as well as the higher elevations.
BIG BREAK REGIONAL SHORELINE
Big Break Regional Shoreline is located in Oakley and is a part of the great 1150-square-mile Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. This “Inland Coast” creates the largest estuarine (fresh and salty water mixture) environment on the Pacific coast and is home to 70 species of birds as well as several species of mammals. It's an excellent place for a peaceful, waterside hike or kayaking.
The Big Break Regional Trail, which runs along the southern edge of Big Break, provides access for hikers and bicyclists. The trail can be accessed from Oakley, Brentwood, Antioch, Pittsburg, and Bay Point.
Looking for more adventures? Check out Antioch’s Black Diamond Mine Regional Preserve, Oakland’s Sibley and Redwood Parks, Walnut Creek’s Shell Ridge Open Space and Castle Rock Regional Recreation Area (EBRPD), Point Pinole Shoreline, Lafayette Reservoir as well as the Carquinez Strait Regional Shoreline in Martinez.
East Bay offers a plethora of hiking spots to explore this autumn. From tranquil open spaces, serene waterways, and trails to the majestic views from Mount Diablo and Briones Peak, the East Bay offers something for hikers of all levels. So, lace up your hiking boots, grab your family, and head outdoors to celebrate the season's colors and the beauty of nature. Whether you're enjoying a leisurely stroll or tackling a challenging hike, these East Bay destinations promise unforgettable family adventures in the great outdoors. Remember that any walking or biking instead of driving has a big influence on reducing your carbon emissions. Choose to opt outside this Thanksgiving weekend and make the most of the incredible East Bay hiking opportunities.
Share your favorite East Bay hikes in the comments below.