Reopened East Bay Views
Vargas Plateau Regional Park
After almost a year of closure due to the complaints of two neighbors, East Bay Regional Park District’s Vargas Plateau has reopened. This regional 1,249-acre park offers beautiful views of rounded hills, grazing cattle, steeper mountains to the east, and San Francisco Bay to the west.
Dominated by huge grassland meadows, the park is sunny, quiet, and open. It is a great place to ride a horse or bike, walk your dog, or simply enjoy solitude.
On a weekday in November, I saw only two people—a dog walker and a biker. The hills were golden. After the winter rains arrive, the hills will be greener, but you can enjoy this park anytime except on the hottest summer days.
More than six miles of multi-purpose trails take you through the park. The Golden Eagle Trail provides a long but gradual climb to the intersection of two trails.
The Deer Creek Trail is a long trail that goes left to the east, officially ending in dead ends. This didn’t look promising, so I took a trail with views from higher ground.
The Upper Ranch Trail to the right forms a loop around the northern section of the park. Before you get to the loop, be sure to walk up the hill to a designated view site. With 360-degree views, it lives up to its name. In addition to scenery, the hilltop has some interesting rock formations, including some with rough but welcome seating and ledges for resting your feet while enjoying a hiker’s picnic of water and trail mix. Enjoy your meal as you are refreshed by unblocked cool breezes.
The hilltop is a good vantage point for bird watching. You may see golden eagles, hawks, and other raptors eating their own ready-to-eat meals of ground squirrel. I saw a large russet-colored bird, perhaps a pheasant, flying close to the ground.
Several gates throughout the park require opening and careful closing to keep cows from escaping. Speaking of cows, they do a good job of keeping the grass mowed, but their pods are everywhere. Watch where you walk, and avoid getting too close to the cows and their calves.
Facilities are limited to a small off-road parking lot, a restroom, and a trailhead panel with a large map and the usual warnings. Bring your own drinking water.
Some articles about the park mention the narrow roads to the entrance. For those of us living in the Santa Cruz Mountains, the road to the park will seem familiar. It is narrow and curvy, but quite safe if you drive slowly and pay attention.
To print a park map, go to ebparks.org, click on Parks/Trails, select Vargas Plateau, and then choose Park Map (PDF).
To reach the park, take Highway 17/880 north, then cross over to 680 north via Dixon Landing Road or Mission Boulevard. About half way up the big hill on 680, take the Vargas Road exit. Continue on Vargas under the freeway for an easy 1.6 mile drive. Turn right on Morrison Canyon Road. In a short distance, turn left into the free parking lot, but avoid running over the spikes on the exit-only drive. Parking on the road is illegal. The park is hiker-, dog-, horse-, and bicycle-friendly.
For GPS users, the park address is 2356 Morrison Canyon Road, Fremont, CA.
Visit ebparks.com to learn more about other nearby parks, such as Garin, Pleasant Ridge, Mission Peak, and Sunol. If you like Vargas but want a bit more challenge, you may enjoy visiting Morgan Territory. The scenery is similar, but it is larger, more remote, and has steeper hills.