Lafayette Reservoir Recreation Area,
East Bay Municipal Utility District,
Contra Costa County
In brief:
Nearly 5 mile loop hike up and down and around reservoir.

Distance, category, and difficulty
:
This 4.7 mile loop hike is moderate, with a total elevation change of about 700 feet. There are two trails at the reservoir. Lakeside is paved, nearly level, and easy. Rim is a dirt fire road with dramatic elevation changes.

Exposure
:
Almost totally exposed.

Trail traffic:
Moderate.

Trail surfaces:
Dirt fire roads.

Hiking time:
2 1/2 hours.

Season:
Hot in summer. Best on a cool spring day.

Getting there
:
From CA 24 in Contra Costa County, exit Mount Diablo Boulevard/Acalanes Road/Upper Happy Valley Road (exit 11). Drive east on Mount Diablo Boulevard about 1 mile, then turn right at the Lafayette Reservoir sign. Stay to the right, drive uphill on the one way street, then bear left, toward day use parking.

Get driving or public transit directions from Transit and Trails:
http://transitandtrails.org/trailheads/528

GPS Coordinates* for Trailhead:
Latitude 3753'6.91"N
Longitude
122 8'26.38"W
(* based on Google Earth data, shown as degrees, minutes, seconds)

Gas, food, and lodging:
Gas, stores, and restaurants back on Mount Diablo Boulevard. No camping.

Trailhead details:
You can park in metered spaces for up to 2 hours, or pay $7 and park all day in the lot. Bring exact change for the automated entrance kiosk to the lot, which is only staffed weekends and holidays. (Should you arrive without appropriate funds, you can walk to the Visitor Center where staff will change larger bills.) If you plan on walking the Lakeside Trail, you should be able to make the circuit in less than 2 hours (so save yourself some money and park in the metered spaces), but if you're aiming for the Rim Trail loop, you might want to park in the lot. (To avoid the park fees all together, enter the park from the surrounding neighborhood. From downtown Lafayette, take Moraga Road south. Turn right on Campolindo Drive. At the end of Campolindo, make a right onto Paseo Grande. There's side of the road parking at Paseo Grande's cul de sac.) There are designated handicapped spots, and Lakeside Trail is paved and wheelchair accessible. Wheelchair-accessible vault toilets at the edge of the parking lot, more vault toilets around Lakeside Trail. Drinking fountains near the parking lot and at several other locations along the trails. Pay phone at west end of parking lot. There is no direct public transportation to the reservoir, and nearby BART and bus stops are probably too far from the reservoir for hikers. Cyclists should have no problem riding from the Lafayette BART station.

Rules:
Recreation area is open from 6:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (later in summer and autumn). No horses. Dogs permitted on leash. Bicycles permitted on the paved Lakeside Trail (specific hours only on Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday, not permitted other days and hours), but not allowed on Rim Trail.

The Official Story:
Park information: 925-284-9669
EBMUD's East Bay Recreation Area's page

Map Choices:
• Use AAA's San Francisco Bay Region map to get there.
Lafayette Reservoir Recreation Area Map
• Trails of the Easy Bay Hills (Northern Section), by Gerald Olmsted (order this map from Amazon.com) is a useful guide to the recreation area.
• East Bay Trails, by David Weintraub (order this book from Amazon.com) has a good map and a description of the Rim Trail hike.

Lafayette Reservoir in a nutshell -- a printable, text-only guide to the featured hike.

View photos from this hike.




Go to Bay Area Hiker Home page


Should EBMUD ever decide to transform their Lafayette Reservoir into a theme park, they need only to slap down some tracks on Rim Trail and turn the roller coaster carts loose. Trailhead Rim Trail is a bucking bronco of a fire road, constantly rising and falling as it runs along a ridge around Lafayette Reservoir. The loop is less than 5 miles, and isn't really hard, but it can be a somewhat tedious trek. Around the 4th mile I felt like screaming, "enough already with these hills!"
     The fluctuating altitude makes Rim Trail a favorite with local runners. It is a humbling experience to watch experts fly up a grade that is a challenge for some of us to comfortably ascend at a walking pace. If you live nearby and are searching for a good exercise circuit, Lafayette Reservoir might fit the bill. In addition to Rim Trail, there are a few other fire roads radiating in from the ridge, and a second loop, Lakeside Trail. Paved Lakeside is a nearly flat 2.7 mile circuit,perfect for gentle walks. Combine Lakeside, Rim, and the handful of remaining trails for a variety of loops.Rim Trail
     The manicured lawns, picnic tables, and ornamental trees on the sides of Lakeside Trail make great picnic destinations. Some group areas are reservable, and boats are available for rent. Fishing is permitted, but no swimming is allowed. Maybe when I visited it was the breeze blowing off the water that made the temperature feel a good 10 degrees cooler at the trailhead than on the sunbaked ridge, but regardless, expect to sweat on Rim Trail in the summer. There are some black and valley oaks to admire in autumn, but I would elect to visit in spring, when the east bay temperatures are more hospitable to outdoor activities.
     Start the Rim Trail loop at the west edge of the parking lot (if you're standing facing the reservoir, west is to the right). Just in front of a flight of steps, look for a sign "West Rim Trail Access." Walk up the stairs, and pass (or go through) a small playground. Tall pines give the area an alpine feel. On the far side, all casual paths converge as Rim Trail heads uphill. Climbing on Rim TrailA fire road feeds in from the right after about 435 feet. The hiking-only fire road starts a moderate climb through valley and coast live oak, with yellow star thistle, coyote brush, and poison oak in the understory. CA 24 is audible and occasionally visible to the right. Look back over your shoulder for increasingly broad views of Mount Diablo. Rim Trail levels out, and grassy slopes drift downhill to the left, revealing the reservoir. Soon enough the easy hiking is over, and the trail takes the first of many sharp drops, followed by an equally steep ascent. At 0.79 mile, Westview Trail begins to the left at a signed junction. Continue straight on Rim Trail.
      As Rim Trail continues a pattern of rising and falling along the ridge, the fire road draws near to the reservoir boundary. Houses are occasionally visible on the right, and sounds of domestic life (as well as traffic) filter over to the trail. At 1.33 miles, an unsigned fire road breaks off the left at the crest of a hill. Continue straight on Rim Trail.Rim Trail
     A nasty bit of steep up and down hiking ensues. A few fruit trees can be seen mixed through black and other oaks. Diminutive shrubs of bush lupine grows close to the ground on the sides of the trail. At 1.65 miles, Canyon Trail sets off to the left (you can shortcut the steepest sections of Rim Trail by taking Canyon to Rheem Trail, which ends back on Rim Trail). Continue straight on Rim Trail.
      The trail temporarily settles on a steady and moderate grade, climbing along the ridge. Take a few moments to admire the reservoir, and further to the east, Mount Diablo. The hills of Briones are also visible to the north. A few buckeyes cling to the hillside on the left, along with some shrubby creambush. You might see quail on the sides of the trail. Rim Trail approaches Rheem Reservoir at 2.40 miles. Steepest section of Rim TrailStay to the right, then to the left as a service road heads downhill toward Rheem Boulevard. (Thirsty hikers, note that there's a drinking fountain on the east side of the water tank.) Walk uphill on a short paved stretch which soon switches back to dirt. A reasonable climb through a treeless stretch of grassland will bring you to an unsigned split at 2.50 miles. Either fork is fine; they soon rejoin. Ignore a well-worn shortcut heading downhill to the left. From the hike's high point at about 1038 feet, you'll have sweeping views south to Las Trampas, as well as Mount Diablo to the east. Suddenly, Rim Trail plummets downhill. The Olmsted Brothers map shows this stretch as a hogback, and it is certainly a challenge to hikers with tender knees and/or hips. The descent ends at an unsigned junction at 2.71 miles. A path heads right out of the preserve to Campolindo Drive, while a fire road sets out to the left. Continue straight on Rim Trail.Level stretch near junction with Big Oak Trail
     The fire road heads uphill again. Look for a large California coffeeberry shrub on the right. At 2.93 miles, Campolindo Trail begins on the left at a signed junction. Continue straight on Rim Trail.
    A reasonable downhill section is a welcome respite. There is very little shade as coast live oaks and an occasional blue elderberry tree linger well off the sides of the trail. At 3.37 miles, Big Oak Trail offers a last chance to divert your hike from Rim Trail, as Big Oak Trail heads downhill to Lakeside Trail from a signed junction. (The mileage is about the same regardless of your choice, but there is less elevation wobble if you take Big Oak.) Continue straight on Rim Trail.
     A few tall eucalyptus, pines, and oaks line the trail, which placates hikers with a level stretch. Narrow Lafayette Reservoir Trail heads out of the park at 3.67 miles, on the way to Moraga Road from a signed junction. Continue straight on Rim Trail.Lafayette Reservoir, from Rim Trail
     Rim Trail persists, rolling up and down at a moderate pace. Ignore an unsigned fire road to the right at 4.17 miles. There are nice views to the left of the reservoir. Finally, at 4.29 miles, Rim Trail runs out of steam (and hills), and you'll reach a signed junction with Sunset Trail. Turn left to stay on Rim Trail.
     The fire road descends evenly through oaks and California bay. At about 4.56 miles, Rim Trail ends at Lakeside Trail. Turn right. Although you will never have been far from civilization, the lush grass and park atmosphere might be a bit disconcerting. Paved Lakeside, open to hikers and cyclists (hiking only Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday) drifts easily downhill along the reservoir, ending at 4.69 miles at the east end of the parking lot. On the way out of the recreation area, be sure to admire the grove of mature pear trees on the right side of the road.

Total distance: 4.69 miles
Last hiked: Friday, August 3, 2001