A short drive to Little Yosemite
Sunol Regional Wilderness

Neil Wiley

You can visit a wilderness park that looks a little like Yosemite, complete with beautiful views, canyons, unusual rock formations, and waterfalls. Of course, the views are of golden hills, the canyons are less deep, and the waterfalls are quite small, but Sunol Regional Wilderness offers some excellent advantages. Gentle rises in elevation take you to interesting view sites. The hikes are shorter—popular trails range in length from 1.26 miles to 3.9 miles. The trails are less crowded—I saw only one family on my hike. And the drive to the park is much shorter—about fifty miles one-way. Think of the gas you’ll save.

Sandwiched between Mission Peak Reg-ional Preserve on the west and Del Valle Regional Park on the east, Sunol Regional Wilderness has 35 miles of trails over 6,858 acres of rounded hills, grasslands, and oak woodlands.

View weathered serpentine and sandstone outcrops, and enjoy shady riparian corridors along Alameda Creek. Climb to see the dramatic landscapes of Calaveras Reservoir to the south, and San Antonio Reservoir and Mt. Diablo to the north.

The park has notable geological features. You can touch giant boulders of greenstone, schist, and metachert. Climb a massive basalt outcrop at Indian Joe Caves. In the area called Little Yosemite, walk through a creek filled with boulders of metachert, sandstone, and blue glaucophane schist. In this same creek bed see an extraordinary exposure of rock called a mélange. Metachert is twisted inside of metagraywake mixed with darker and shinier phyllite.

The vegetation is typical of the Diablo Range. Rounded grassy hills are dotted with oak trees (valley, coast live, and blue), madrone, gray pine, and California buckeye. Riparian areas host sycamores, willows, cattails, and sedges. Spring brings California poppies, mustard, goldfields, and lupines. Although many original bunch grasses have been replaced with European annual grasses, a few patches of the native grass can still be found.

Located in the middle of several hundred square miles of open space, Sunol Regional Wilderness is a popular place for far-ranging mountain lions, bobcats, and coyotes. Flying predators (eagles, hawks, and falcons) and carrion eaters (turkey vultures) are abundant. On my hike, I saw turtles under the Alameda Creek footbridge, scores of ground squirrels along Canyon View trail, flocks of turkeys, several hawks, many small birds along the creek, and a convention of turkey vultures.


The Trail to Little Yosemite

The name Yosemite sounded promising, so I took the Canyon View Trail through Jacob’s Valley to Little Yosemite. After crossing Alameda Creek on a little footbridge, I took Canyon View Trail uphill. The climb was relatively easy, but there wasn’t much shade, so it could have been more difficult on a hot day.

I met some cows. They didn’t appear afraid, but they grudgingly backed out of the shadows of a big oak as I passed by.

As I gained elevation, I saw more and more serpentine and sandstone outcrops.

Finally, as I rounded a big hill, I looked across the valley to see a dome-shaped rock and a deep V rocky gorge that reminded me of Yosemite in miniature. It was still impressive. I continued down the trail via Cerro Este Road to the valley floor where I listened to a gurgling creek as I had lunch at a convenient picnic table.

The creek was filled with many large and interesting boulders. Although the creek was low in August, I found several little waterfalls. They were like Yosemite Falls, only much, much smaller.

I walked back to the parking area via Camp Ohlone Road. In the distance, I saw a line of horses crossing the valley on a guided trail ride. Trail rides, overnight camps, lessons, and special events are available by reservation with Western Trail Riding Services (925-862-9044, or online at www.westerntrailriding.net). Several large corrals are available.

The loop was about three miles long, with about 600 feet of relatively gradual ups and downs. You could probably hike it in three or four hours, unless you are like me, and stop often for pictures and snacks.


How to Get There

From our mountain area, take Highway 17 and Interstate 880 to Calaveras Road east to 680. If you want the scenic (but slow) route, stay on Calaveras past Interstate 680. Continue past Ed Levin County Park and Calaveras Reservoir over a winding, but well-maintained, road east, then north to Geary Road. Turn right and drive into the park. This is the way to go if you have time. The views are beautiful.

If you want a faster (but uglier) route, drive north on Interstate 680 until you reach the Highway 84 east/Calaveras south exit, north of the Sunol grade. Take Calaveras south to Geary Road. Turn left and drive into the park.



Day parking costs $5 payable at the entry kiosk. Camping fee is $5. To reserve a camping site, call 1-888-327-3257, option 2, then 1. Bicycles may be ridden only on designated bicycle trails. Dogs must be on leash at posted areas, but may be off-leash but under control in open-space areas. No alcoholic beverages, firearms, or bows and arrows. No amplified music. It sounds like heaven. It’s the sound of silence.


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