Walking a sunny ridge in very open space
Pleasanton Ridge Regional Park is notable for its long ridges, featuring views of rounded hills dotted by giant oaks. It’s a good place for an extended walk, a ride on your mountain bike, or letting a dog run free under voice control away from trail entrances.
On a weekday at this popular East Bay park, I saw many casual walkers, long-distance runners, bikers, and unleashed dogs. Fortunately, most visitors are clustered near the southern tip of the park, close to its only entrance. If, however, you follow trails north a few miles, you’ll enjoy some solitude within 5,271 acres of wilderness.
Although most of the park consists of large, unshaded meadows, some trails descend into heavily wooded canyons. You can find individual and mixed stands of coast live oak, blue oak, black oak, valley oak, and Oregon oak. Other trees include California bay laurel, California buckeye, bigleaf maple, and toyon.
I also liked the old olive-tree orchards planted between 1890 and the 1920s. These small groves display a sense of order and pattern in an area of natural randomness. They also give the overheated walker or rider a bit of welcome shade.
Over the grasslands fly vultures, hawks, and eagles. Less obvious are the larks and bluebirds, but when I spilled some water on the ground on a dry fall day, flocks of small birds appeared.
The most conspicuous animals are the fast, little ground squirrels, but most small mammals hide during the day. A few springs and ponds provide much-needed water, especially for small mammals, amphibians, and reptiles.
I followed a hike described by the hiking group Bay Area Hiker on their web page, www.bahiker.com/eastbay hikes/Pleasanton.html. It is a 5.9-mile partial-loop hike that climbs from the trailhead up to 1430 feet.
Start up Oak Tree Trail, and then turn left up the narrow Woodland Trail path dedicated to hikers and equestrians. A series of switchbacks and good shade make the climb less strenuous.
When Woodland enters an open meadow, follow the right fork. Just past the junction with the Oak Tree Trail and the cow gate, go straight a short distance, then veer right on Ridgeline Trail. At the next junction, bear left on a trail to Olive Grove Trail. Pass by the next two Olive Grove junctions. When the trail joins Thermalito Trail, stay to the left. At the 2.3-mile mark, a spur trail climbs to meet Ridgeline. If you want to shorten your hike, take the trail to Ridgeline, and turn right. To see some views to the north, stay on Thermalito for another 3/10 of a mile, veer right and head uphill. At the junction with Ridgeline Trail, turn left. Continue up to the next hilltop, then turn around and walk back down on Ridgeline.
The walk back is almost all downhill. Stay on Ridgeline past two junctions to the intersection with Oak Tree and Woodland trails. You could retrace your steps down the shaded switchbacks of Woodland, but to see something new, follow Oak Tree back to the trailhead.
Maps are available at the trailhead, but just in case, I recommend you download a copy from www.bahiker.com or www.ebparks.org/parks/Pleasanton. To make the map more readable, zoom in on the southern area and print a copy for your hike.
No fees are charged for entry, parking, or dogs. There is a water tap on Ridgeline. (Watch for the yellow hydrant.) A portable toilet is available in the parking lot. Bring your own drinking water.
Boots are recommended. Some trails are rocky. Others are muddy during the rainy season.
Take Highway 17/880 to Interstate 680 north to Sunol Boulevard/Castlewood Drive (exit 25). Head west on Castlewood. When the road splits, stay right on Castlewood. Turn left at the stop sign, and follow Foothill Road for about 1.6 miles. The Pleasanton Ridge Regional Park entrance is on the right.