When you’re driving back to Sacramento through “the tunnel,” Highway 24, you’re driving just below the forested ridges above Berkeley to the north, and Oakland to the south. I had the unfortunate experience of seeing them aflame on a windy, hot October day in 1991. Most of the forest survived the blaze, and they’re an almost seamlessly connected series of parks over 15 miles long managed by East Bay Regional Park District.
When summer temperatures rise, we in the Sacramento tend to think of heading to the Sierra foothills for our hiking pleasure. It’s just as fast – and probably cooler – to turn to Redwood Regional Park as an alternative. We were on the trail just 90 minutes after leaving Sacramento (just after the westbound morning commute rush).
Sure enough, we watched tendrils of fog creeping over the West Ridge when we started out from the Skyline Gate at 9 a.m. By 10:30 a.m., we were hiking under sunny blue skies but enjoying the refreshing breeze from the Bay and the shade from bountiful thickets of oak and redwood. By the time we looped back up to Skyline from the Stream Trail along Redwood Creek at 1 p.m., we’d covered 9.9 miles. But we were never uncomfortable, since we left the ridge trail by mid-morning and dropped onto the many trails that are sheltered by trees.
I counted 30 trails on the handy map available on the information station at the trailhead. It’s up to you to mix and match them for a hike that’s short or long. The short 3.7 mile loop described on Bay Area Hiker (with total elevation change of 700 feet) is one of the shorter options.
The park obviously gets its name from the second and third-growth redwoods common throughout its breadth. Until 1860, the hills were lined with old-growth redwoods that were logged to support the rapid homesteading of the area after the Gold Rush. Until then several tall trees in the original forest served as a landmark for sea captains sailing into San Francisco Bay.
1) From the Skyline Gate, we took the East Ridge Trail south all the way to Pinehurst Road, the outer edge of Redwood Regional Park, just above the Upper San Leandro Reservoir, just past where we spotted Moraga through a slot in the hills. That first stretch on the ridge was 3.58 miles, with gentle ups and downs.
2) We then backtracked .84 miles to the well-marked Canyon Trail, which descends from about 900′ elevation to about 600′ over the 4/10ths of a mile. We exited the trail by picnic tables at the Canyon Meadow Staging area.
3) We weren’t sure where the trailhead was but we went north (bearing right) following the signs marked “orchard.” You’ll pass a short “Create with Nature” trail where children and visitors are invited to assemble fanciful creations out of twigs and branches. After a third of a mile, we found the bridge over Redwood Creek a little past the orchard, and crossed over the nearly-dry stream. To pick up Orchard Trail, we backtracked a quarter mile on the Bridle Trail to the intersection with Orchard Trail.
Orchard Trail has a healthy rise to it, ascending 400 ‘ up the steep, forested hillside for about a third of a mile. To start heading north again (back towards Skyline) we took the lovely French Trail, which parallels the ridge line at roughly the 1,000′ elevation. This is a beautiful bit of trail, easy on the feet due to cushy fallen pine needles, surrounded on both sides by stately redwoods.
4) After 2 miles on French Trail, we took the short Mill Trail down about 200′ to the bridge that crosses Redwood Creek and continued north on the low lying Stream Trail. Stream Trail is a pleasant cruise with a slight incline through the woods. After a little over a mile, we crossed the bridge and came to “Girl’s Camp.”
5) The last half mile or so ascends up Stream Trail – which at that point is a dirt service road — back to the Skyline Gate, rising steadily about 300′.
The Redwood Regional Park trail map highlights a 1.2 mile stretch from Skyline Gate back and forth along the East Ridge and West Ridge Trails, but it’s not a loop (that’s why it’s the easiest – it’s avoiding descending).
I considered piecing together a route that included a return via Golden Spike Trail, Baccharis and West Ridge but concluded the mileage would be about the same as our route, and you wouldn’t have the steep “up” of Orchard Trail, plus it would cut short the time on the not-to-be-missed French Trail.
Driving directions from Sacramento
Take 1-80 to 680 and then Highway 24. Take Highway 13 toward Hayward immediately after the tunnel. Go a few miles and exit at Park. Head south. Turn right on Snake Road, then right on Shepherd Canyon and right on Skyline.
My hiking buddy Mary Ann, who grew up in the area, says that the parking lot at Skyline fills up on weekends, overflowing onto adjacent roads. There’s more parking Redwood Bowl Staging area (near Chabot Space and Science Center), which is also accessed off of Skyline Blvd.
You can click on the photos to see a larger image:
- Drive time from Sacramento: 90 minutes.
- Start and finish: We did the 9.9 miles in about 4 hours, with few breaks.
- Blister count: 0
- Don’t miss: Stream Trail and French Trail
- Watch out for: The Canyon Meadow “Aging” area (defaced sign… kinda funny). Rattlesnakes (although we didn’t see any) and a little poison oak closer to Redwood Creek (growing in low-growing bunches as well as waist-height bushes). Bikes are supposed to be allowed on only a few trails but Mary Ann says that rule is widely ignored.
- Whew! No rattle snakes!
- Head count: Sparse during the week – only two to three hiking parties on the trails below the ridge. Lots of dog walkers on the ridge trails.