4.3 mile loop on fire roads that wander grassy hills north of Lafayette.
Distance, category, and difficulty:
This 4.3 mile partial loop hike is easy. Trailhead elevation
is about 735 feet. The featured hike climbs to about 1370 feet, then descends
back to the trailhead. There is one short steep downhill section. Total
elevation change is about 830 feet.
Mostly exposed, with some shade.
Dirt fire roads and trails.
Too hot in summer. Best in late winter and early spring.
From CA 24 in Contra Costa County, exit Moraga/Orinda (exit 9). Drive
north on Camino Pablo Road for about 2 miles, then turn right onto Bear
Creek Road. Drive on Bear Creek about 4.4 miles, to the park entrance
on the right side of the road. After passing the entrance kiosk, continue
straight to the parking lot.
Get driving or public transit directions from Transit and Trails:
GPS Coordinates for Trailhead:
Longitude 122° 9'21.01"W
(* based on Google
Earth data, shown as degrees, minutes, seconds)
Gas, food, and lodging:
Pay phone, stores, gas, and restaurants back near CA 24 in Orinda. No
individual camp sites in the park, although there is a group camp. Nearest
campgrounds are in Mount Diablo State Park.
Parking fee of $5 charged when entrance kiosk is staffed. $2 dog fee.
Lots of parking. Pit toilets on site, but no drinking water. Maps available
at the information signboard near the start of the trail. There is no
direct public transportation to this trailhead, but you can walk (or cycle)
into the park from BART: visit 511.org for details. There are no designated handicapped parking
spots at this parking lot, but the initial stretch of Old Briones Road
is wheelchair accessible.
Most trails are multi-use. A few are open to equestrians and hikers only,
and one trail is designated hiking only. Dogs are permitted. Park is open
from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.
The Official Story:
Park headquarters 510-562-PARK
is described and mapped in 60 Hikes within 60 Miles: San Francisco,
by Jane Huber (yup, that's me, the creator of this website). Order
this book from Amazon.com.
A Rambler's Guide to the Trails of the East Bay Hills, Northern
Section, published by The Olmsted &. Bros. Map Co. (order
this map from Amazon.com).
Afoot and Afield: San Francisco Bay Area, by David Weintraub
this book from Amazon.com) has a great map and descriptions of a Briones
The East Bay Out, by Malcolm Margolin, has a good map and
park descriptions (order
this book from Amazon.com).
East Bay Trails, by David Weintraub, has a good map and
descriptions of Briones hikes (order
this book from Amazon.com).
Briones in a nutshell --
a printable, text-only guide to the featured hike.
View 79 photos
from the featured hike.
Go to Bay Area Hiker Home page
is a great place throughout the year, but in the spring
the park really shines. Or maybe I should say blooms. Wildflowers, lots
of 'em, thrive on the high slopes of the grassy hills here. Great patches
of California buttercups, filaree, California poppies, lupines, fiddlenecks,
and creamcups stand out against the lush green grass. Although cows graze
here (making the trails wet, muddy, and rutted in the winter, and dry,
dusty, and rutted in the summer) as in many hilly parks, flowers blooming
near the crests are largely unmunched.
Even when the wildflowers aren't in full
splendor, Briones has a lot to offer. Five staging areas (including Lafayette
Ridge Staging Area) provide ample parking, and some trailheads feature
picnic facilities and reservable youth campsites. With a rough circular
shape and over 5,000acres,
there are a plethora of loop options. Most include a hike up to Briones
Crest, which is near the center of the park. The highest elevation at
Briones is under 1500 feet, so there are no strenuous climbs, although
some trails do wander up and down a bit. Nearly all the trails here are
open to cyclists and equestrians as well as hikers, so do expect to share
the trails with a vengeance at times.
For the featured hike, walk through the
gate on the paved road at the edge of the parking lot. Old Briones
Road starts out as a flat paved path, angling through coyote brush and
small coast live oak and elderberry trees. You will probably see cattle
right away, and more throughout the valley. At 0.13 mile, Homestead Valley
Trail splits off from Old Briones Road at a signed junction. (Homestead
Valley Trail is sometimes closed because of storm damage, but
when the trail is open it makes a fine option for the climb up to Briones'
lagoon area; just take Homestead Valley to Briones Crest Trail and resume
the feature hike at the junction of Briones Crest and Old Briones Road.)
Continue straight on Old Briones Road.
The broad dirt multi-use trail crosses
through a cattle gate and enters grassland. In spring, your first course
of flowers may be presented off the left side of the trail: poppies lightly
sprinkled over the upper slopes of green hills. Briefly, Old Briones
Road seeks shelter beneath some California bay, coast live, valley, and
black oaks. California buttercups brighten the understory in spring.
When the fire road emerges back into grassland, Black Oak Trail sets off
from a signed junction at 0.61 mile. Keep going straight on Old Briones
After another flat stretch through a pastoral
setting, Old Briones Road crosses a creek near a corral, then meets Valley
Trail at a signed junction at 0.96 mile.(Valley Trail is another option to extend your hike a bit. The hiking,
biking, and equestrian trail continues at a flat grade, then climbs to
a junction with Briones Crest Trail. Take a left on Briones Crest Trail,
pass the park's high spot, Briones Peak, and then rejoin the featured
hike at the junction of Briones Crest Trail and Old Briones Road.) Bear
left to stay on Old Briones Road, and begin the ascent to the crest.
In spring, your hike uphill will probably
be enlivened by a variety of flowers. California buttercups cover
entire hillsides with blasts of yellow. Delicate white woodland stars,
blue dicks, various lupines, and yellow fiddlenecks all may be on display
on the sides of the trail. In the hills' damp creases buckeye, California
bay, and elderberry trees grow, with poison oak a frequent companion.
If you happen to visiting the park at
"poppy peak," you may notice hilltops at the crest flushed with
orange from blooming California poppies. Purple lupines accompany California
sagebrush in the dry rocky patches on the right side of the path. The
views back down and across the valley seem to become more lovely with
each step. After a moderate climb, Old Briones Road reaches the crest
and a signed junction at 1.59 miles. But before you cross through the
fence and reach that junction, look for a slight path to the left, leading
along the fence uphill to a bench. Turn left and walk toward the bench.
It's just a few steps off the trail, and
when you reach the bench, look down the slope to the left for a truly
spectacular display of wildflowers in the spring. Substantial swaths
of California poppy, creamcups, clover, and lupine sprawl down the hill.
Even if it's not spring, the bench makes a nice rest spot, with tremendous
views of the west part of the park. It's also a fantastic place for bird
nest in boxes attached to the fence, so they are commonly spotted, as
are kestrel, hawks, and lots of smaller birds. Just over the other side
of the fence to the east the Maricich Lagoons can be glimpsed (unfortunately,
so can the industrial riffraff near Martinez). When you're ready to continue,
walk back to Old Briones Road, pass through the gate, then turn left.
After just a few steps, at 1.76 miles, the trails split at a signed junction.
Bear left on Briones Crest Trail.
The wide multi-use trail winds along the
crest through grassland. A view back over your shoulder on a clear day
could include Mount Diablo. Some coast live oaks line the trail on the
right side in sections, but the left remains soft rolling grassy hills.
Buttercups seem to favor area in spring. A small fenced pond comes into
view on the left edge of the Briones Crest Trail. This part of Briones
has been designated the John Muir Nature Area, and steps are taken to
keep cows (and humans
presumably) from harming the park's natural features. Lagoon Trail departs
from the left side of the trail at a signed junction opposite the pond
(or perhaps this one is a lagoon; I can't tell the difference) at 2.02
miles. (Lagoon is another good option for extending this hike a little
over 2 miles. Take Lagoon to Briones Crest, turn left, and then turn right
when you get to Mott Peak Trail.) Continue straight on Briones Crest
A lagoon is visible to the right as the trail
climbs slightly in a nearly straight section. At 2.32 miles, at a signed
junction Mott Peak Trail begins on the left side of the trail. From here,
all trails start to descend and leave the crest area. Turn left on
Mott Peak Trail.
Mott Peak Trail, another broad multi-use
fire road, climbs for a few yards, then crests, crosses through a gate,
and starts a descent. Off the left side of the trail, on one spring hike
I was stopped in my tracks by a display of orange poppies sweeping uphill
past an oak, like a freeze frame of a small brush fire. Yellow fiddlenecks
were the prevalent wildflower
along the trail on an April hike, but you might also see more poppy, filarees,
and lupine. At 2.69 miles, Mott Peak Trail meets Black Oak Trail at a
signed junction. (Mott Peak continues downhill until it ends at Abrigo
Trail, which is an optional route. Turn left on Abrigo and then at the
parking lot, turn left and walk along the road back to the trailhead.)
Bear left onto Black Oak Trail.
The trail, open to cyclists and equestrians as
well as hikers, dips, rises again, then levels out along a ridge. From
a bench on the left side of the path, vistas to the east include Mount
Diablo, and Briones Crest. To the north more rolling hills stretch to
Suisun Bay. Black Oak Trail's drop back into the valley is also visible.
As the trail descends, another bench sits off the trail, near an oak-studded
hillside. Then Black Oak Trail turns and shoots steeply downhill. In the
spring, there may be many flowers in bloom. I've seen redmaids, woodland
star, blue-eyed grass, and California buttercup in early April. Off to
the left, a few buckeyes and California bays thrive near the creekbed.
The trail sweeps right, crosses through the valley, then ends at the previously
encountered junction with Old Briones Road at 3.65 miles. Turn right
here and retrace your steps to the trailhead.
Total distance: 4.29 miles
Last hiked: Wednesday, April