6.3 mile loop in a popular park, traveling through woods and grassland.
Hosts a Bay Area Ridge Trail segment.
Distance, category, and difficulty:
This 6.3 mile loop hike is on the moderate side of easy, with
about 1000 feet elevation change. Trailhead elevation is about 1010 feet.
The featured hike descends to about 500 feet, then climbs to a high point
of 1211 before returning on a mostly level grade to the trailhead.
Beginning and end exposed, middle section mostly shaded.
Dirt trails and fire roads as well as paved fire roads.
Nice all year, best in spring or autumn.
From Interstate 580 in Alameda County, exit CA 24 (exit 19b). Drive northeast
and exit Claremont (exit 3). At the foot of the exit ramp, turn left, and
drive about 1.5 miles on Claremont to the junction with Ashby. Continue
straight on Claremont, to the junction with Grizzly Peak Boulevard, about
2 miles. Turn left and drive north about 1.4 miles to the junction with
South Park Drive. Turn right and drive about 1.5 miles to the junction with
Wildcat Canyon Road. Turn right and drive about 1.2 mile, to the Inspiration
Point Trailhead on the left side of the road. Note: South Park Drive is
closed during the salamander migration season, approximately October-April.
If it's closed, continue on Grizzly Peak, turn right on Shasta, then turn
right on Wildcat Canyon Road.
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, restaurants, and stores are plentiful around Claremont and College.
Tilden has group and equestrian campsites only -- no individual sites. The
nearest campground is in Anthony Chabot Park.
No parking or entrance fees. Forty parking spots in a paved lot, with 2
designated handicapped parking spaces. Nimitz Way is suitable to wheelchairs.
Maps available at the information kiosk. Portable toilets just inside the
Nimitz Gate. There's a water fountain at the junction lower end of Meadows
Canyon Trail. Public transportation info from EBRPD: "On weekends and
holidays, take AC Transit #67 from the Berkeley BART station into the park
at Canon Drive, along Central Park Drive and Wildcat Canyon Road, and exit
the park at Shasta Road. The route provides access to the Environmental
Education Center and the Little Farm in Tilden Nature Area, the Pony Ride,
the Merry-Go-Round, Lake Anza (a short walk), the Brazil Building, the Botanic
Garden, and several trailheads. Buses run every 30 minutes. On weekdays
#67 operates only to the Canon Drive and Shasta Road entrances." More
from Transit Info website.
Park is open from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. Some trails are multi-use, others are
open to hikers and horses only, and the trails in the nature area are hiking
only. Dogs are permitted in Tilden, but not in the nature area, which the
hike described below passes through, so if you're bringing your dogs along,
consult the park map and pick an alternate route.
The Official Story:
EBRPD headquarters 510-562-PARK
I highly recommend AAA's Oakland/Berkeley map, which is most
helpful in getting to the park.
from EBRPD (Tilden north)
Tilden (Nature Area) map (pdf)
A Rambler's Guide to the Trails of the East Bay Hills: Northern
Section, published by The Olmsted & Bros. Map Co., is very good,
particularly if you're interested in seeing how all the east bay parks along
San Pablo Ridge string together (order
this map from Amazon.com).
of 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).
this book 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 Tilden
David Weintraub's East Bay Trails has a good map and 2 featured
this book from Amazon.com).
The Bay Area Ridge Trail, by Jean Rusmore (order
this book from Amazon.com) has a good map and descriptions of Tilden's
segment of the Ridge Trail.
Park in a nutshell -- a printable, text-only guide to the featured hike.
photos from this hike.
Regional Park is probably the bay area's most comprehensive
and well-rounded recreation area. The East Bay Regional Park District
had the foresight in 1936 to create, in addition to a network of hiking,
cycling, and horseback riding trails, a preserve for the whole family.
Seasoned hikers might be disappointed by the timidity of the place, but
consider Tilden's assets: a public golf course, botanic garden, extensive
picnic and group camping, environmental education center, swimming lake,
pony ride, little farm, and my favorite, the steam trains. The park sometimes
feels like a wealthy friend's estate, particularly the southwestern areas
around Berkeley and Kensington's residential streets. These portions of
Tilden are very popular with dogwalkers, and get a lot of traffic. However,
dogs are not allowed on the trails at Tilden's Nature Area (which abuts
Wildcat Canyon Park), and the trails there are the park's loneliest. Up
on San Pablo Ridge, you'll
find more quiet, but all-in-all this is a heavily used park, so expect
to share the trails.
There are many loop possibilities, as well
as out-and-back jaunts on the Bay Area Ridge Trail and the Skyline National
Trail, both of which run along San Pablo Ridge. If you have an East Bay
MUD trail permit, you can extend a hike out of Tilden to the shores of
San Pablo Reservoir. One of my favorite hikes starts at Inspiration Point,
winds downhill on Meadows Canyon Trail, then cuts through Tilden Nature
Area and enters Wildcat Canyon Park on Wildcat Creek Trail. From there,
climb back up to San Pablo Ridge on Conlon (the easiest ascending trail),
and return to Inspiration Point on paved Nimitz Way. This hike clocks
in at a little more than 8 miles. Another great loop begins at the Steam
Trains parking lot. Hike either Lupine or Vollmer Peak Trail, then Big
Quarry Trail to Seaview Trail (which is part of the Bay Area Ridge Trail
and Skyline National Trail). Be sure to visit Vollmer Peak as you return
to the trailhead, and keep an eye out for wildlife. I saw a coyote once
less than a mile from this trailhead, near Vollmer Peak. If you're hiking
with children or older folks, you probably will want to park along Central
Park Drive and wander along the mostly flat and easy paths.
For the featured hike, start at Inspiration
Point. Walk west toward the Nimitz Gate. On the right behind a
metal gate you may see the EBMUD trailhead (you'll need a trail permit
to hike in the EBMUD watershed). Just 100 feet inside the Nimitz Gate,
Curran Trail sets out to the left (the signpost for the trail is on the
far side of Nimitz Gate). Turn left onto Curran Trail.
The multi-use trail gently descends through Monterey
eucalyptus, California bay, and coast live oak. Common snowberry, blackberry,
coyote brush, and poison oak occupy the understory. At 0.15 mile, Curran
Trail meet Meadows Canyon Trail at a signed junction. Turn right onto
Meadows Canyon Trail.
The wide trail, open to cyclists, equestrians,
and hikers, dips sharply down for a few feet, then leaves the shade of
a eucalyptus grove and levels out in grassland. Coyote brush, California
coffeeberry, and poison oak are the dominant shrubs, while blue elderberry,
twinberry, willow, hazelnut, coast live oak, buckeye, and California bay
grow in the creases of the hills, where seasonal streams provide them
moisture. In the grass during spring, you might see mustard, bellardia,
poison hemlock, purple bush lupine, mule ear sunflowers, blue-eyed grass,
and common owl's clover. Meadows Canyon Trail drifts easily downhill,
allowing views up to the ridgetop and west to the Berkeley Hills. In summer,
look for the bright pink blossoms of the honeysuckle plant, the same vine
that dangles jewel-like red berries in the autumn. Invasive thistles have
really taken hold along one part of the trail that I call "cardoon
alley." Gradually, the
trail drops down into a more forested area, with some pine slightly back
from the trail, as well as some broom. Look for a few small redwoods on
the left side of the trail. At 1.56 miles, Meadows Canyon Trail ends at
a gate. Wildcat Gorge Trail begins to the left. (If you want a shorter
hike, you could hike on Wildcat Gorge and then climb back up to the trailhead
on Curran Trail.) Turn right and walk uphill on the paved road.
The road crumbles to dirt as it ascends
under eucalyptus, levelling out along the way. At 1.70 miles, the road
ends at a gate and becomes a fire road, Loop Road, in Tilden Nature Area
(no dogs allowed). The broad multi-use trail is heavily shaded as it meanders
past two group camp driveways and numerous paths that head west toward
Tilden's Little Farm and Environmental Center, and east toward the camps.
Invasive broom is common along the sides of the fire road, and eucalyptus
dominates the landscape, but you might also see pine,
cotoneaster, coyote brush, redwood, and poison oak. If you're exploring
for the first time it can be tough to find the trail you're aiming for,
as the nature area's signs are comprised of symbols rather than words
(look for the Tilden Nature Study Area brochure at the entrance
gate; this pamphlet has a key to the symbols). At 1.92 miles you'll reach
the junction with Pine Tree Trail, on the right. A few steps further
Laurel Canyon Trail sets off on the left side of the trail, and you'll
meet the other end of Laurel Canyon Trail after a few more feet, off to
the right. This trail (along with the other ascending paths), are optional
choices for a loop hike. Continue straight on Loop Road.
Willow, seep monkeyflower, and thimbleberry along
the trail signal the presence of a water source. The trail remains nearly
level, as it makes a slow steady descent. At 1.98 miles Laurel Canyon
Road is the next trail that climbs to the ridge on the right. This junction
is unsigned. Continue straight on Loop Road.
In summer, the sounds of children at play drift
through the creaking and groaning tall eucalyptus trees. At
2.08 miles, Sylvan Trail crosses Loop Road. (Sylvan is a fine option,
and will shorten your hike just a bit.) Continue straight on Loop Trail.
At 2.33 miles, you'll reach a signed junction
with Jewel Lake Trail. Continue on Loop Trail.
Just past some restrooms, on the right, Loop
Trail ends at a signed junction, at 2.41 miles. Turn right onto Wildcat
You'll pass Jewel Lake, on the left, as
the borad, level multi-use trail travels through eucalyptus, with a few
wild rose and currant shrubs on the left. At about 2.47 miles, a bridge
heads left. Continue straight a few more steps, to a signed junction
at 2.50 miles.
Turn right onto Wildcat Peak Trail.
The narrow hiking only path starts in
a mixture of buckeye, coast live oak, and eucalyptus, but soon ascends
into a eucalyptus forest.
At 2.59 miles, you'll reach a signed junction with Jewel Lake Trail. Continue
to the left, on Wildcat Peak Trail.
Angling along the side of a broad canyon,
Wildcat Peak Trail ascends at a moderate pace mostly through eucalyptus,
with some pockets of coast live oak and California bay. At 2.92
miles, an unsigned shortcut trail cuts left. Continue a few feet more
to the signed junction with Sylvan Trail. Turn left and remain on Wildcat
Some switchbacks keep the ascent
easy. Trees thin as you enter chaparral, and poison oak is everywhere,
accompanied by coffeeberry, toyon, blackberry, monkeyflower, small coast
live oaks, coyote brush, and wild rose. In May you might see cow parsnip,
bluedicks, and the last of blue-eyed grass, scorpionweed, and California
poppy blooming along the trail. The grade is steady
and moderate. You'll probably be stopping to admire the views, rather
than to catch your breath. At 3.73 miles, you'll reach a junction (of
sorts) with a hogback that shoots straight uphill. The route is shown
on EBRPD's map, but hogbacks like this are seriously erosive, so stay
on the trail (and remain on Wildcat Peak Trail as you switchback
past the hogback a few times). As you ascend into grassland, views continue
to open up. Thistles choke the native grasses, but some wildflowers bloom
in the spring, including mule ear sunflowers, yarrow, paintbrush,
scorpionweed, checkerbloom, and California poppy. When I hiked here in
late summer a few bush lupines were still showing off their lovely
purple flowers. Wildcat Peak Trail levels out a bit as the path reaches
an unsigned junction with a spur trail, at 4.03 miles. Continue
straight. After curving around the base of Wildcat Peak, the trail
reaches a (under)signed junction at 4.12 miles. Turn left and walk
uphill a few feet to Wildcat Peak's summit.
The stone lookout (built by the Rotary
Club to accompany their peace grove) is a pleasant place for a rest break.
When it's clear, look west to the Golden Gate
Bridge, Mount Tamalpais, and the San Francisco skyline. San Pablo Reservoir
and Briones Regional Park lie to the east. The steep trails of Wildcat
Canyon Regional Park may be glimpsed to the north, and Tilden's 1905 foot
Vollmer Peak stands to the south. You may see hawks and vultures
soaring through the skies. When you're ready to continue, retrace
your steps backs to the junction with Wildcat Peak Trail, and bear left.
After a short steep descent, the path evens
out and runs alongside the peace grove, which is planted with sequoias.
On a May hike I nearly stepped on a gopher snake warming itself in the
sun. At 4.46 miles, a (symbol) signed trail sets out to the right. Turn
right (apparently this is a spur or the continuation of Wildcat Peak
The narrow hiking-only trail descends at a moderate
grade, through eucalyptus, coyote brush, poison oak, coast live oak, and
California bay. Look for flax, bellardia, and blue-eyed grass blooming
in May. At 4.65 miles, the trail ends at a signed junction with Laurel
Road. Turn left, following the sign "to Nimitz Way."
Broad Laurel Canyon Road, closed to cyclists,
climbs easily through familiar vegetation, with poison oak still a constant
trailside menace. You might see twinberry at a damp spot on the left side
of the trail. At 4.76 miles, Rabbit Run Trail descends on the right. Continue
straight on Laurel Canyon Road.
The grade remains on the easy side of moderate.
At 4.89 miles, the fire road ends at a T junction. Turn right onto
Be alert for cyclists and joggers on this
wide paved multi-use trail. Rolling grassy hills loom on the left as you
head east slightly downhill of the ridge. Coast live oak can be seen sporadically
along the trail, mixed in with poison oak, yellow bush lupine, coyote
brush, and blackberry brambles. In summer you might see luxuriant displays
of flowering sweet peas along the trail. The trail is mostly
level, but includes two brief and easy ascents. Rest benches along the
way allow last glimpses of Wildcat and Vollmer Peaks. The last stretch
of Nimitz Way ambles through a grove of Monterey pine, then the trail
ends back at the previously encountered junction, and Nimitz Gate.
Total distance: 6.26 miles
Last hiked: Wednesday, May
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