A short drive to Little Yosemite
Sunol Regional Wilderness
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
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
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
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,
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.