6 mile loop through mostly grassland near Richmond.
Distance, category, and difficulty:
This 6 mile loop hike is moderate, with a few short steep sections.
Trailhead elevation is about 180 feet. The featured hike climbs to about
1057 feet, wobbles up and down along the ridgeline, then descends back to
the trailhead. According to the GPS, total elevation change for this hike
is about 1200 feet.
Full sun throughout.
One paved fire road, the rest dirt fire roads.
2 1/2 hours
Hot in summer, sometimes muddy in winter. Spring is best.
From eastbound Interstate 80 in Contra Costa County, exit Solano
(exit 17). At the base of the ramp, turn left onto Amador. Drive 0.4 mile,
and turn right onto McBryde. Move into the left lane, and after about 0.3
mile, at the stop sign, continue straight onto Park Avenue. Drive 0.1 mile,
turn left into the park, and continue a short distance to the Alvarado Staging
Area at the end of the road.
From westbound Interstate 80 in Contra Costa County, exit McBryde
(exit 17). Turn left (east) on McBryde and after crossing over the highway,
get into the left lane of McBryde. After about 0.3 mile, at the stop sign,
continue straight onto Park Avenue. Drive 0.1 mile, turn left into the park,
and continue a short distance to the Alvarado Staging Area at the end of
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, pay phones, and restaurants in nearby communities of Richmond,
El Sobrante, and San Pablo (there's not much on the way to the park). No
camping in the park. Nearest campgrounds are in Tilden
Park (group and equestrian camping only), Redwood
Park (group camp), Anthony
Chabot Park (group and individual sites) and Mount
Diablo State Park (group and individual sites).
Parking for about 15 cars. No entrance or parking fees. Two portable toilets
on site. Maps available at the information signboard. Drinking water at
the junction of Wildcat Creek and Mezue Trails. There are 2 designated handicapped
parking spots, and with assistance wheelchair users should be able to navigate
some distance on paved Wildcat Creek Trail. There is no direct public
transportation to the park, but AC Transit bus #68 will get you within walking
distance of this trailhead: visit the Transit
Info website for details.
All trails are multi-use (most trails in adjacent Tilden Nature Area are
hiking only). Dogs are permitted on this hike: they are allowed at Wildcat
Canyon, but are not allowed in Tilden's Nature Area. Park is open from dawn
The Official Story:
Park headquarters 510-236-1262
Wildcat Canyon brochure (pdf)
Use AAA's San Francisco Bay Region map to get there.
from EBRPD (download the pdf).
Olmsted & Bros. Map Co.'s Trails of the East Bay Hills, Northern
Section, is an excellent guide to the park (order
this map 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 Wildcat
The East Bay Out, by Malcolm Margolin, has a good map, and
descriptions of the park (order
this book from Amazon.com).
East Bay Trails, by David Weintraub, has a good map and a
featured hike (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 descriptions of a featured
Canyon in a nutshell -- a printable, text-only guide to the featured
View 67 photos
from the featured hike.
Go to Bay Area Hiker Home page
northwest end of Wildcat Canyon is a big backyard for nearby Contra
Costa County residents of El Sobrante and El Cerrito. Lots of folks walk
their dogs in the park, but once beyond Wildcat Creek Trail's nearly level
dog walking corridor, on weekdays you may have the place to yourself.
Wildcat Canyon is not a wilderness area though; a chorus of lawnmower
engines drifts through the air most days, and traffic noise and train
whistles are commonly heard throughout most of the park. Some times there
are more people hanging around the parking lot than hiking or biking on
the trails (this seems to be an east bay phenomenon, as nowhere else in
the bay area do I encounter this).
Despite its proximity to densely populated
neighborhoods, Wildcat Canyon has a healthy wildlife colony. I've seen
coyotes on two hikes, and plum pit-studded coyote scat is commonly spotted
on the trails in early summer. Red-tailed hawks and kestrels are also
frequently spotted, particularly up on San Pablo Ridge, where there are
views in all directions, including Mount Tam, Mount Diablo, San
Francisco, San Pablo Bay, and eastern Contra Costa County.
There is one main trailhead at Wildcat Canyon,
and a few other backdoors into the park. Some people enter the park from
the southeast, via Tilden Park's Inspiration Point
Trailhead. Starting at Inspiration Point at over 1000 feet makes for
easy hiking along San Pablo Ridge. It's an easy out-and-back under 5 mile
hike to Wildcat Peak on Nimitz Way, a wide paved trail, that is part of
the Bay Area Ridge Trail, and is heavily used by equestrians and cyclists
as well as hikers. Continuing a little further northwest on Nimitz Way
you'll cross from Tilden into Wildcat Canyon Park, but most trail users
(except cyclists) don't go that far. If you have an East Bay MUD trail
permit, you can hike into Wildcat Canyon from Kennedy
Grove, at the edge of
San Pablo Reservoir. Once you cross San Pablo Dam Road t's a pretty and
quiet ascent to the ridgeline via Eagle's Nest Trail (another segment
of the Bay Area Ridge Trail), and from there you can explore the San Pablo
Ridge in either direction, before descending back on Eagle's Nest.
From Wildcat Canyon's main trailhead, all loop
hikes involve a climb from about 200 feet to the ridgeline at about 1000
feet, and then a descent back to the trailhead. I highly recommend that
you ascend to the ridge via Havey Canyon Trail or Mezue Trail, thereby
avoiding a climb on two excessively steep sections of San Pablo Ridge
Trail. Most people can handle descending that grade (the Olmsted map shows
them as hogbacks), but ascending them is brutal.
For the featured
hike, start at the Alvarado Staging Area, on paved Wildcat Creek Trail.
The multi-use trail climbs right out of the parking lot, although the
grade is manageable. This wide paved road is lined with tall eucalyptus,
young coast live oaks, toyon, coyote brush, and lots of broom. In spring
you may see plenty of blooming plants in the pea family, including purple
vetch, birdsfoot lotus, clovers, and lupines. Summer brings a profusion
of invasive yellow star thistle, and cheerful pastel blossoms on sweet
pea vines. After an initial brief climb, the trail levels out a bit, and
passes through a variety of shrubs and trees, including blue elderberry,
poison oak, willow, toyon, pine, coast live oak, coyote brush, and broom.
There's a cute little picnic area (one table) off the right side of the
road, practically in someone's backyard. Ignore an unsigned fire road
ascending to the left at 0.24 mile, and continue straight on Wildcat Creek
Trail. The trail drifts back and forth from old pavement to dirt. In summer
when the broom
seed pods rupture, the trail becomes liberally peppered with tiny black
seeds -- it's easy to see how these invasive plants spread almost overnight.
At 0.43 mile, Belgum Trail sets out uphill to the left at a signed junction.
Continue straight on Wildcat Creek Trail.
The trail begins an easy climb, revealing
a bit more of Wildcat Canyon's grassland. Springtime flowers include blue-eyed
grass, baby blue eyes, and bellardia. Wildcat Creek Trail drops slightly
downhill to parallel Wildcat Creek (dry some parts of the year).
The trail makes a sudden turn right near a fallen tree. On one spring
hike clover and birdsfoot lotus made a carpet of blooms off the
right side of the trail. Poison hemlock, wild radish, and wild mustard
are common, and you might also see monkeyflower and sagebrush. The pavement
finally fades away for good, and the trail enters a nice stretch on the
ledge of a canyon, with hills rolling up to the left, and California bays
and oaks nestled near the creek on the right. At 2.01 miles, Wildcat Creek Trail meets Mezue Trail at
a signed junction. (If you'd like to extend your hike another mile, continue
another 0.2 mile to Havey Canyon Trail, turn left, climb up to the ridge
and then take Nimitz Way to San Pablo Ridge Trail.) Turn left onto
Mezue Trail (it's the second gate on the left).
After crossing through a cattle gate, you'll
begin a moderate climb through grassland on a sometimes overgrown multi-use
trail (usually brushed by summer). In spring, patches of wild mustard
dominate the grass, turning large sections of the hills yellow. Thistles,
particularly invasive plants, can be seen in sizes that range from small
to large. If you hike in spring you may notice large cardoons, which are
related to cultivated artichokes. Flowering in early summer, cardoons
look like artichokes that have run away from civilization; the plant equivalent
of sturdy bearded mountain men
living in a desolate wilderness. Mezue climbs steadily. The trail gets
use from cows, so it's muddy in the winter, and cracked like an overcooked
cheesecake in the hot, dry summer months. To the right an area prone to
landslides is slumped and soggy in spring, when red-winged blackbirds
enliven the air with their cries. As the trail continues uphill, views
open up to the north, south, and west. Mount Tam, the Golden Gate Bridge,
and downtown San Francisco can be glimpsed on a clear day. After a brief
respite, Mezue Trail's grade steepens again, and the vegetation shifts
from grassland to a mixture of coast live oak, California bay, coyote
brush, poison hemlock, poison oak, and cow parsnip. On a summer hike here
I saw a young coyote running with a rabbit in its mouth. The trail's course
is visible uphill, and you'll continue to climb somewhat steeply, skirting
one hill and then climbing another. The ridgeline seems close, but the trail veers right
and drops down to a signed junction at 3.32 miles. Turn left onto San
Pablo Ridge Trail.
This broad dirt trail is open to cyclists,
equestrians, and hikers. Mount Diablo rises up to the southeast, and continuing
uphill on San Pablo Ridge Trail, to the east San Pablo Reservoir, and
the grassy hills of Briones Regional Park come into view. Check the dirt
trail for coyote and bobcat prints, especially evident the day after a
rain. Hawks and vultures are often seen in the skies above the ridge.
Along the trail look for bluedicks, scarlet pimpernel, scorpionweed, California
poppies, fiddlenecks, and sunflowers in the spring. After the first crest,
San Pablo Ridge Trail drops down and then climbs back to the hike's high
point, at 1057 feet. It's a nice spot to sit, with views in every direction,
but it can get awfully windy in cool weather, and if you're without
a windbreaker, you'll probably want to keep moving. The first steep section
downhill is right after the crest. A trekking pole (or two) will help
you to maintain stability, and at least there are inspiring views all
the way down. San Pablo Ridge Trail flattens a bit as it continues slightly
downslope from the contour of the ridgeline. A spur trail breaks off to
the left; this path shortcuts the next descent, but is not a sanctioned
Your knees and hips may be screaming as
you descend this steep grade. San Pablo Ridge Trail levels out and passes
an unidentified trail at a signed junction at 4.50 miles. Stay to the
You might see clarkia blooming along the trail
in late spring and early summer. At 4.65 miles, San Pablo Ridge Trail
ends at a signed junction. Clarke-Boas Trail departs to the right, on
its way out of the park to Clark Drive, just off San Pablo Dam Road. Bear
left (straight, really) onto Belgum Trail (the previously encountered
shortcut and a dead-end fire road drift in from the left to meet Belgum
near this junction).
Winding through open grassland, Belgum
Trail features great views to the west. The dirt multi-use trail splits
at an unsigned junction at about 4.86 miles; stay to the left (this
junction's not shown on the park map). A bench sits off the right side
of the trail. It's probably better appreciated by hikers on the way uphill,
but it's a nice spot for a water break. As Belgum Trail sweeps downhill,
a row of trees on a hillside to the right resembles a fuzzy dark green
undulating caterpillar. The trail passes by a small pond and then through
a former settlement. Palm trees look out of place. Cows sometimes ramble
through a muddy stretch lined with eucalyptus trees. The trail passes
some plum and walnut trees and reaches a gate. Belgum Trail leaves the
cows behind as it turns to pavement and then meets Wildcat Creek Trail
at a previously encountered junction at 5.51 miles. Turn right and
retrace your steps back to the trailhead.
Total distance: 5.97 miles
Last hiked: Tuesday, July 23,