San Francisco Bay Park-to-park trails expand access, but not acreage
by Tom Stienstra
Thursday, September 4, 2008
A trail that links three parks on the Peninsula shows how Bay Area opportunities for hiking, biking, horseback riding - and perhaps even backpacking - can be expanded without buying and developing new parkland.
The continuous nine-mile route from the Palo Alto foothills to near Skyline Ridge connects Pearson-Arastradero Preserve, Foothills Park and Los Trancos Creek Open Space Preserve.
The Bay Area has roughly 150 major parks for recreation and myriad federal, state, regional, county and city administrations that manage them. In some cases, parks are already linked. One of the best examples is the East Bay National Skyline Trail, a 31-mile route that connects six parks.
Elsewhere, linking trails are only a dream, such as on the north Peninsula from Sweeney Ridge, which could be a stellar jump-off point for a cross-ridge hike to the ocean.
Region by region, here are some of the better routes where parks are linked, proposals that are in the works and a wish list where spectacular trips could be created with small links between parks on watershed lands:
Bay-to-Ridge Trail: The dream is a 16-mile trail from the Palo Alto Baylands that extends west on city streets, across Stanford land and through three parks to Skyline. The latest link, between Pearson-Arastradero Preserve and Foothills Park, is a key linchpin. Through-hikers starting at Arastradero can gain access to Foothills Park for the first time; it's been off-limits for 40 years to non-Palo Alto residents. Needed: Access through Stanford land. Info: Foothills Park, (650) 329-2423 or city.palo-alto.ca.us - type "Pearson-Arastradero" in search box.
Redwood matrix: A trail between Portola Redwoods State Park and Big Basin Redwoods provides a link for redwoods parks in the Santa Cruz Mountains south of La Honda. For years, trails connected three parks: Portola Redwoods State Park and Memorial and Pescadero Creek county parks. Now it gets far better. At Portola Redwoods, you hike two miles in forest to a little-known trail camp, Slate Creek (elevation 1,000 feet, above a creek, below a subpeak). The trail is now linked to the remote boundary of Big Basin Redwoods and beyond. Info: parks.ca.gov or (650) 948-9098; reserve camp at (831) 338-8861.
Skyline bliss: A series of open-space reserves are virtually connected on Skyline: Alpine Ridge and Skyline Ridge at Alpine Road/Skyline, and to the south, Long Ridge and Saratoga Gap. Long Ridge is my favorite, with a beautiful view to the west across coastal foothills, Butano rim and the ocean. Needed: a campground. Info: Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District, (650) 691-1200, http://openspace.org.
Skyline-to-the-sea: The 34-mile trek, best in winter and spring when the waterfalls are roaring, is a rite of passage for backpackers. The trip starts at Castle Rock State Park, sails downhill into Big Basin Redwoods, then on to the coast at Rancho del Oso. Reserve campsites at (831) 338-8861. Info: http://santacruzstateparks.org or (831) 338-8860.
Dream trip: The route is complete, just blocked by locked gates. You start in San Bruno, hike to Sweeney Ridge and continue to the locked gate at the Crystal Springs Watershed. If it were unlocked, you could continue south to Fifield Ridge for the breathtaking view of the wilderness east flank of Montara Mountain. You then turn right on the service road, hike to the Montara Mountain summit (1,898 feet) and then breeze down the other side to the ocean at Montara State Beach. Right now, this hike is illegal. Info: (415) 561-4700 or http://nps.gov/goga.
Bay Ridge Trail: The good news - three sections of trail and four bridges completed in 2005 link 50 miles of the Bay Ridge Trail in Marin. One signed route connects from the Golden Gate Bridge north past Lucas Valley Road to Big Rock Ridge, with many access points. The Bay Ridge Trail has had success in Marin because of cooperation among all the different agencies, a far different scenario than on the Peninsula.
Cross-Marin Trail: A lesser-known route is 10.7 miles long from Samuel P. Taylor State Park east across county land to a staging area along Sir Francis Drake. It climbs to San Geronimo Ridge and beyond to White Hill for many sweeping views.
Info for each: Bay Area Ridge Trail Council, (415) 561-2595 or http://ridgetrail.org.
East Bay Skyline National Trail: From the southern end of Chabot Regional Park near Castro Valley, the trail heads north 31 miles through six parks and ends in the Richmond hills at Wildcat Regional Park. But water is available at only four spots. To make it a good weekend trip, this trail also needs a campground somewhere near the middle, roughly at the upper end of Redwood Regional Park or the lower end of Huckleberry Preserve.
Alameda Creek Regional Trail: 11 miles, from Niles Community Park, Shinn Pond, Quarry Lakes to Coyote Hills Regional Park. An outstanding family bike ride.
Ohlone Wilderness Trail: 28 miles, Del Valle into the Ohlone Wilderness and then through Sunol Regional Wilderness and Mission Peak Regional Preserve. This is a great trek, challenging, with good campsites and side trips available to 200-foot Murietta Falls (only runs when the hills are saturated from rain) and 3,817-foot Rose Peak.
Iron Horse Regional Trail: This is a former railroad line that runs 25 miles from Dublin BART to Marsh Drive near Highway 4. Though contiguous, you cross many roads, and the longest section without a road crossing is 3.75 miles (pretty clever how they bypassed some major roads), from Marsh Road to Monument Boulevard in Concord.
Briones-to-Mount Diablo Regional Trail: This 11.78-mile trek has become a favorite for mountain biking. It starts out paved off the Contra Costa Canal Trail near Heather Farms (a local park) in Walnut Creek and then turns to dirt. It goes through Shell Ridge Open Space (city of Walnut Creek) and then on to Diablo Foothills Regional Park (East Bay Regional Parks) and Mount Diablo (state park).
Diablo dream: I have flown the entire route of the proposed Diablo Trail at low altitude. What a fantastic vision: The route would run 30 to 45 miles from Mount Diablo roughly along a ridge south to Morgan Territory, Round Valley and through the Los Vaqueros watershed, with the chance to expand it on each end. No new trail construction is required, just sign-offs from government entities involved. East Bay parks and state parks are already in. The biggest holdout is the Contra Costa Water District.
Info: East Bay Regional Parks, (888) 327-2757 or http://ebpark.org; Mount Diablo State Park, (925) 837-2525 or parks.ca.gov; Mount Diablo Interpretive Association and park information, http://mdia.org.
Los Gatos Creek Trail: This pretty, paved bike trail extends 14 miles from Lexington Reservoir downstream along Las Gatos Creek past Lake Vasona and the Campbell Percolation Ponds to San Jose. Info: Vasona/Lexington regional parks, (408) 356-2729, (408) 355-2201, or http://parkhere.org.
Coyote Creek Parkway: This is a great one-way ride (arrange a shuttle). It spans 15 miles, running along Coyote Creek from the staging area in Coyote south of San Jose and then runs north to Hellyer Park in San Jose. Info: Hellyer Park, (408) 225-0225 or http://parkhere.org.