3.6 mile loop on bluffs overlooking San Pablo Bay.
Distance, category, and difficulty:
The featured hike is an easy 3.6 mile loop hike, with about
75 feet in elevation change. There are a few gentle hills, but the trails
are nearly flat.
Mostly exposed, with a few pockets of shade.
Gravel and dirt fire roads and dirt trails.
1 1/2 hours.
Usually very pleasant and breezy in summer. Otherwise nice all year round.
From Interstate 80 in Contra Costa County, exit Richmond Parkway (exit 20).
Drive west about 2 miles, then exit at Giant. At the foot of the exit ramp,
turn right. Follow the brown parks signs the rest of the way to the park
entrance on the left side of Giant, about 1 mile from Richmond Parkway.
Get driving or public transit directions from Transit and Trails:
GPS Coordinates* for Trailhead:
(* based on Google Earth
data, shown as degrees, minutes, seconds)
Gas, food, and lodging:
Gas, stores, and restaurants back near 80. No camping.
Parking fee of $5 charged when entrance kiosk is staffed. $2 dog fee. Large
paved parking lot, with 3 designated handicapped spots. Pay phone, pit toilets,
and a drinking fountain located at the edge of the parking lot, and also
at several other locations in the park. Maps available at the information
signboard. AC Transit bus #71 serves the park: visit the Transit
Info website for more details.
All trails are multi-use. Dogs are permitted. Park is open from dawn to
The Official Story:
Point Pinole page.
Park office 510-237-6896
AAA's West Contra Costa Communities is a good road map.
David Weintraub's East Bay Trails has a useful map which includes
most of the park's trails (order
this book from Amazon.com).
101 Great Hikes of the San Francisco Bay Area, by
Ann Marie Brown (order
this book from Amazon.com), has a simple map and featured hike.
from Bay Trail website (less detail than the EBRPD map, but you can
take a virtual tour of the park here)
Pinole in a nutshell -- a printable, text-only guide to the featured
View 36 photos from
the featured hike
Go to Bay Area Hiker Home page
Pinole, like a few other spectacular open spaces in the bay
area, exists in spite of years of abuse to the land. In a similar fashion
to Mount Tamalpais (the top of which was shaved off by the Air Force)
and Almaden Quicksilver (contaminated by toxic mercury mining), when the
abusers were finished with the land, conservationists were able to snatch
up the property, clean it up, prevent development, and preserve it as
open space. Point Pinole, an over 2000 acre parcel perched at the edge
of San Pablo Bay in Contra Costa County, was home to 4 explosives manufacturers
from 1880 to 1960. After that the land was purchased by Bethlehem Steel,
but their plant never was built, and the East Bay Regional Park District
bought their first piece of Point Pinole in 1971. Interpretive displays
throughout the park help visitors to relive the days of dynamite
manufacturing (including a photo of a TNT-hauling sad-looking donkey). Not
much remains in the way of buildings, but if your interest is piqued,
be sure to visit the ruins of the dynamite blast and burning bunker, and
the black powder press.
For hikers, there are many short trails to be
explored (although you'll share them all with cyclists and equestrians).
A shuttle runs from the parking lot to the fishing pier and back, so if
you're visiting with kids or older folks, it's possible to share a no-effort
nature experience. Almost all the trails are perfectly flat, so Point
Pinole is a good choice for beginning hikers.
For the featured hike, start at the parking
lot and walk north on paved Point Pinole Road. The road runs along
train tracks (used by Amtrak and freight trains), then crosses
the tracks and approaches a cluster of well-groomed picnic areas. At 0.19
mile, look to the left for the signed Bay View Trail. Turn left onto
Bay View Trail, which descends gently toward the bay through a grove
of eucalyptus and some toyon.
The trees thin as the trail approaches the marshy
edge of San Pablo Bay, and other than occasional clumps of coyote brush
and poison oak, unobscured views of the water, and distant Mount Tamalpais
dominate the landscape (or should I say waterscape?). At 0.26 mile, stay
to the right as a dead end spur heads east near a garbage can.
A few paths (some marked, some not) offer access
to the shoreline, and along Bay View Trail there are many unmarked
(some marked) junctions with spur trails that connect to Woods Trail.
The entire length (about 1.6 miles) of the Bay View Trail is consistently
signed, but even if you wander off course here, it's tough to get lost,
with the bay, on the left, comprising the west edge of the park. At 0.44 mile, Cook's Point
Trail heads north at a signed junction. As you stand near the tangle of
paths, you are virtually on top of the Hayward Fault, which runs northwest
through this park. Continue to the left on Bay View Trail.
Occasional benches perched facing west
are excellent bird watching spots. You will most definitely see gulls,
probably glimpse red tailed hawks and vultures, and may even spy an osprey
hunting for fish over the water. The broad multi-use fire road ascends
at a barely noticeable grade, until it reaches a rerouting at 0.91 mile.
A signed path heads downhill to "beach access," but remain
on Bay View Trail, which climbs into a eucalyptus grove. At 0.98 mile,
you'll reach a T junction.Turn left to remain on Bay View Trail.
Thick stands of non-native eucalyptus lining the
path were were planted by the Atlas Safety Powder Company as a safety
measure from 1921-22. You'll run through a quick succession of junctions
with Bianni, Nitro, Angel Buggy, one unsigned path, and Packhouse Trails,
from 0.99 mile to 1.24 miles. Continue straight at each junction, on
Bay View Trail.
A solitary buckeye stands downslope on the
left, just before a small bluff covered with poison oak and sagebrush.
At 1.44 miles, a hiking only path heads down toward the shoreline, and
a few steps later paths departs to the left and right. Either fork is
an option, as both reconnect, but the signed junction is to the right.
At 1.49 miles, bear left and continue on Bay View Trail.
Gradually you'll re-enter grassland, and as you
approach the point, views open up to the northeast and northwest. At 1.72
miles, Bay View Trail turns east at an unmarked junction. You can stay
to the right on Bay View, but the hiking only path is prettier; both trails
terminate near the pier. Continue straight.
A fence protects hikers from a steep drop
off on the left. The narrow path descends through grass and eucalyptus,
curves right at a bench, then drops to the paved road at 1.92 miles. The
remains of an old wooden pier jut up from the water, providing perches
for herons, egrets, and other shoreline birds. Interpretive displays
about the history of the wharf area and fish you might catch (you don't
need a license to fish from the pier) are installed just before the pier,
to the left. Built in 1977, the pier (which is closed to dogs) features
benches where you might rest and enjoy the views to the north, east, and
west. This is a quiet place, especially on a weekday. When you're ready
to resume hiking, begin walking back down the paved road. The shuttle
stops at a roundabout, and the adjacent area has pit toilets, another
information signboard, and some picnic tables. Continue on the paved
road past the shuttle stop to the signed junction with Owl Alley (shown
as Marsh Trail on some maps) at 2.05 miles. Turn left onto the wide
Owl Alley, a somewhat plain trail with
a charming name, sweeps levelly southeast, eventually drifting
away from the boggy ground to the north. At 2.28 miles, Owl Alley crosses
another path (go left if you wish to visit the dynamite blast and
burning bunker); continue straight.
There's a small fresh water pond just off the
trail to the right before a signed junction at 2.52 miles.(To
extend this hike, and visit the black powder press, turn left onto
Marsh Trail.) Continue straight on Owl Alley.
The eucalyptus-lined dirt road reminds me of
a backcountry stroll through Tuscany (although of course, cypress trees
need to be mentally substituted for the eucalyptus). At 2.84 miles, an
unattractive maintenance yard comes into view on the left, and then Owl
Alley ends at a signed junction with Cook's Point Trail. Turn right
onto Cook's Point Trail.
Another of Point Pinole's wide dirt roads,
multi-use Cook's Point Trail runs along the eastern border of the park,
so expect some noise from local industry and train tracks to
infiltrate the bucolic grassland. A wide meadow on the right side of the
trail seems a sure bet for springtime flowers in this cow-free east bay
park. At 3.01 miles a closed trail breaks off on the left. Continue
straight on Cook's Point Trail.
In summer blue chicory blooms in the
dry grass along the trail. At 3.05 miles a signed trail veers off to the
left -- this is an optional route that ends just before the railroad bridge.
Continue straight on Cook's Point Trail.
After a few feet, at 3.07 miles, Cook's Point
Trail sweeps left, and another trail, a spur to Point Pinole Road, shoots
off to the right. Bear left to remain on Cook's Point Trail.
In summer 2002 the right side of the trail was
burned, so spring 2003 may feature a good wildflower display. Some scorched
toyon and coyote brush remain. Cook's Point Trail crosses Point Pinole
Road at 3.24 miles. Turn left onto Point Pinole Road.
As you walk south, the lawn area unfolds, replete
with a children's play area, volleyball net, horseshoe pit, picnic tables,
and some massive eucalyptus. At 3.44 miles, you'll reach a previously
encountered junction with Bay View Trail. Continue straight on Point
Pinole Road, and retrace your steps back to the parking lot.
Total distance: 3.64 miles
Last hiked: Monday, August 12,