Bear Creek Staging Area, Briones Regional Park,
East Bay Regional Park District,
Contra Costa County

In brief:
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.

Exposure:
Mostly exposed, with some shade.

Trail traffic
:
Moderate.

Trail surfaces
:
Dirt fire roads and trails.

Hiking time
:
2 hours.

Season
:
Too hot in summer. Best in late winter and early spring.

Getting there:
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:
http://transitandtrails.org/trailheads/2749

GPS Coordinates for Trailhead:
Latitude 3755'37.65"N
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.

Trailhead details:
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.

Rules:
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:
EBRPD's Briones page
Park headquarters 510-562-PARK

Map/Book Choices:
This hike 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.
Map from EBRPD
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 (order this book from Amazon.com) has a great map and descriptions of a Briones hike.
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

Briones is a great place throughout the year, but in the spring the park really shines. TrailheadOr 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. Old Briones RoadWith 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.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 Road.
     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.Wildflowers near 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.Bench at the crest
    
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 watching. Bluebirds 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.Poppies tint a hillside with an orange glow
     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 Trail. Black Oak Trail
     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. 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 10, 2002