Mount Wanda,
National Park Service,
Contra Costa County
In brief:
2.3 mile partial loop through grassy hills and oaks adjacent to John Muir's home in Martinez.

Distance, category, and difficulty:
This 2.3 mile partial loop hike climbs about 400 feet in 1/2 mile, but after that the hiking is easy. Total elevation change is about 600 feet. Trailhead elevation is about 130 feet. The park's highest point is about 660 feet.

Exposure:
About equally shaded and exposed.

Trail traffic:
Light.

Trail surfaces:
Dirt fire roads and trails.

Hiking time:
1 hour.

Season:
Best in spring.

Getting there:
• From CA 24 in Contra Costa County, exit Pleasant Hill Road (exit 14). Drive north on Pleasant Hill Road about 2 miles, then stay to the left on Taylor, which feeds into Alhambra Avenue in Pleasant Hill. Continue north on Alhambra Avenue about 3 miles, then, just before the junction with CA 4 (you'll see a railroad trestle), turn left onto Franklin Canyon Road. Make an immediate left into an unmarked lot.
• From CA 4 in Contra Costa County, exit Alhambra Avenue (exit 9). Turn south, then turn right (immediately, if you've exited eastbound) onto Franklin Canyon Road, and make an immediate left into the parking lot.

Get driving or public transit directions from Transit and Trails:
http://transitandtrails.org/trailheads/532

GPS Coordinates* for Trailhead:
Latitude 3759'21.31"N
Longitude
122 7'46.59"W
(* based on Google Earth data, shown as degrees, minutes, seconds)

Gas, food, and lodging:
Stores, restaurants, and gas in Martinez. No camping.

Trailhead details:
Parking for about 18 vehicles in a park and ride lot. There are two designated handicapped parking spots, but the trails are not wheelchair accessible. No parking or entrance fees. No drinking water or restrooms. There is a map at an information signboard up the trail, but there are no maps to take with you. This trailhead is accessible by public transportation: visit the Transit Info website for details.

Rules:
Open sunrise to sunset. Most trails are multi-use, but one is hiking only. Dogs are permitted on leash.

The Official Story:
NPS's John Muir Site page
Park headquarters at the John Muir site 925-228-8860

Map Choices:
• Use AAA's San Francisco Bay Region map to get to the park.
Maps from NPS
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) is a useful map.
The Bay Area Ridge Trail, by Jean Rusmore (order this book from Amazon.com) has a simple map and descriptions of Mount Wanda's segment of the Ridge Trail.

Mount Wanda in a nutshell -- a printable, text-only guide to the featured hike.

View photos from this hike.




Go to Bay Area Hiker Home page


Mount Wanda Trailheadand an adjacent homestead belonged to John Muir, and the naturalist and his family lived here from 1890 until Muir's death in 1914. Both properties, on the southern edge of Martinez, are now managed by the National Park Service. One hundred years ago this was a remote region that featured good access for Muir's trips to Yosemite. Now it's an oasis in a morass of urban sprawl. His home sits on the north side of CA 4, and Mount Wanda (named after one of his daughters), sits on the south side. From Mount Wanda's summit there are sweeping views of Mount Diablo and Northern Contra Costa County's rolling hills, as well as unobstructed vistas of industrial Martinez and some huge new homes on those surrounding hills. I suppose we should be thankful Mount Wanda has been preserved. Ascending on an unnamed fire roadThis 325 acre parcel could easily have been developed as "John Muir Estates." If you can turn a deaf ear to the noise, and look past the smokestacks, Mount Wanda is delightful. You can touch trees that stood during Muir's tenure, and gaze over grassy hills dotted with the same annual flower display he admired year after year.
     It's tough to imagine a better time to visit than Spring. Leaves on the park's deciduous oaks screen some less desirable views, the grass is fresh and green, and wildflowers are plentiful. Mount Wanda gets hot in summer and autumn, and the park looks a bit lonely in winter, with so many bare trees. There is just one partial loop here, although a few fire roads radiate to the park's boundaries.
     Start at the park and ride lot, and walk along the side of Franklin Canyon Road toward the railroad trestle. After about 200 feet, turn left just past the John Muir National Historic Site sign, walk up a few steps, turn left, and navigate the step over. An information signboard stands on the left. John Muir Nature TrailThe unnamed multi-use fire road begins climbing on a moderate grade. Traffic noise from nearby streets is a loud accompaniment as you ascend parallel to Alhambra Avenue. Black and coast live oaks, buckeye, and California bay line the trail. There are a few shrubs of poison oak, slightly back from the sides the trail. You might see shooting stars, California buttercup, woodland star, lupines, fiddlenecks, and mule ear sunflowers in spring. As the trail winds uphill, oaks begin to dominate the landscape. Initially a mixture of coast live oak, blue oak, and valley oak are clustered tightly together, but as the sounds from civilization begin to fade away, blue and valley oaks spread out into grassland. The grade picks up a bit, and it's a relief to reach a signed junction, at 0.50 mile. Turn right onto John Muir Nature Trail.Fire roads on the hilltop
     Stop at the information signboard and pick up a guide to the nature trail and a separate wildflower and flora list. The hiking only path snakes through blue oak woodland, as it circles the slopes of a hill. There are benches sprinkled here and there along the route. On the sides of the trail there were quite a few woodland stars blooming in April, as well as some snakeroot, fiddlenecks, and bluedicks, but the wildflower star was definitely the buttercup. Great clouds of the yellow flower were a pretty contrast to the soft new grass and oak leaves. The nature guide offers an interactive learning experience, with a section on the park's oak trees particularly valuable for hikers intent on identifying coast live, blue, black, and valley oaks. John Muir Nature Trail keeps a mostly level grade, with the overall trend a downhill one. The trail drops to a bridge and ascends again, then begins to follow a seasonal stream uphill along a ravine. This is a quiet and lovely place. On the other side of the bridge a few stairs ascend to the edge of the forest. Descending back toward the trailheadSome valley oaks tower overhead on the right, but on the left a grassy hillside ascends toward the mountain's plateau. Although the trail continues to skirt the hilltop, this view offers a hint of what's to come. When I hiked here in April grass crowded the trail, brushing my knees. A steeply sloping hillside on the right fostered sprinklings of bluedicks and buttercups. Across a valley, cows were visible grazing on a grassy ridge. At 1.09 miles, John Muir Nature Trail ends at a signed junction. Turn left.
     Back on the fire road, the trail climbs a bit, then levels off at the park's grassy ridgetop. In April there were staggering swaths of fiddlenecks along the trail and hillside on the right. At 1.20 miles, an unsigned fire road departs to the right. Bear right, and at 1.27 miles, a fire road feeds in from the left. Continue straight. On clear days, you'll have a view to Mount Diablo, but on my visit clouds obscured the mountain. I could see the hills of nearby Briones Park, just a few miles to the south. At 1.33 miles, take an unsigned path left, to Mount Wanda's summit. An unattractive repeater sits fenced at the top, but there are great 360 degree views. Returning to the trailheadIf it's not too windy the surrounding grass is a fine choice for a lunch break. When you're ready, retrace your steps back down the path to the fire road, turn right, then return north. Bear right onto a connecting fire road, and at 1.56 miles, bear right again to return to the original fire road (some trail names would be helpful here; basically you want to continue east).
      The trail descends, passing some blue and valley oaks. Yet another unsigned fire road heads right at 1.62 miles, but this one, like the rest, is a dead-end. Continue straight. Look downhill to the right, where you might see ducks in a small pond. At 1.83 miles, you'll reach a previously encountered junction with John Muir Nature Trail. Continue straight and retrace your steps back to the trailhead.

Total distance: 2.33 miles
Last hiked: Thursday, April 4, 2002