Ridge Trail second time around

I haven’t posted anything on backpack trips since February (Ridge Trail SF-Taylor 2022-02). At that point, I’d just done my first backpack this year on the Bay Area Ridge Trail. I have been busy since doing short trips on the trail, with the objectives of: 1) completing the trail again in one year (it took about 3-1/2 the first time); and 2) documenting the Ridge Trail signs along the route. The trail council does not have a good inventory of their signs, so I’m helping with that. Some signs are missing, some are off route, and a lot of locations are over-signed, though on the whole, the signing is in good shape. Most of my trips have been short, one or two nights, since I’m picking up a lot of segments that are short and don’t yet connect to the next segment. It doesn’t seem logical to post on every single trip, so I’m going to try something different – adding each trip to a single post, and at least for the time being, pinning that post to the top of my blog.

Unless there is a stretch of cool weather, I’m done with the ridge trail until fall. I just completed a sweat-soaked three day, two night trip to Vargas Plateau, Alum Rock Park, Sierra Vista Open Space, and Mission Peak Preserve. Dehydration is no fun. I’ve done 265 miles of the 400 so far, so should be able to pick up the rest in the fall. As always, I’m doing the trail by transit to the greatest degree possible. I did ride my bike on the Coyote Lake and Coyote Creek segments, but all the rest has been hiking. More to come…

2022-12-18/19: Hood Mtn and Sugarloaf Ridge

Photos on Flickr:

2012-12-13: Skyline

giant chain fern in fall color

Photos on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/allisondan/albums/72177720304831957

2022-12-07/08: Moore Creek and Pacific Union College

I rode my bike from Rutherford to the trailhead at Moore Creek County Park. I didn’t notice the trail leaving from the east side of the parking lot, so headed up Moore Creek itself, a fire road that becomes a trail, following and crossing the creek several times. All the madrone trees were so heavy with berries that they look red. Sedges along the creek had turned a fall yellow color. The official section ends at Moore Creek pools, near the park boundary. But the trail continues as Dan’s Wild Ride trail, climbing through serpentinitic rocks to the ridgeline, and then dropping to a backcountry road. A bit on the road, and then back onto a trail to the south boundary of Pacific Union College (PUC), where the dedicated trail section starts again. The section is partly trail and partly fire road, Climbing to the ridge, it continues to the north boundary at a gate, where there is not sign indicating the end/start of the Ridge Trail section. Coming back south through Moor Creek, I noticed the actual Ridge Trail which follows the Valentine Vista trail, ascending the high ridge to the east, before descending back down to the trailhead at road end in Moore Creek park. I’m not sure why the trail climbs so high. I thought maybe the future trail would stay high to head south, but the gap analysis document doesn’t indicate that. The views up top are nice, but not worth the climb. I rode my bike from the trailhead back to Rutherford, caught the bus back to Napa, and on home.

twisted manzanita, Pacific Union College section

Photos on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/allisondan/albums/72177720304845293

2022-11-28/29: El Sereno

El Sereno Open Space is another short section, just 3.5 miles, and another transit inaccessible section. Someday it will be just a piece of the long Peninsula trail, with connections to a bridge over Hwy 17 to the south, and to John Nicholas trail to the north, but for now, it is isolated. I took light rail to Campbell and bus to Los Gatos. The road up to the Aquinas trailhead on the east side of open space is gradually at first but becoming increasingly steep. I arrived at the trailhead at dark, and rode or walked the trail up to the ridge top, where I camped at the edge of a meadow area. It was cold but the stars were great. In the morning I walked south to the end for now, where it looks down over Lexington Reservoir, and then back to the northwest where it ends at the other trailhead on Montevina Rd. And then back down to Los Gatos. After tea, I rode along Los Gatos Creek all the way to Diridon Station. Some of the creek is just a huge concrete ditch, some is far to close to noisy traffic and buildings, and some feeling very remote and natural.

manzanita along trail

Photos on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/allisondan/albums/72177720304774335/

2022-11-28: Santa Teresa

This section logically goes with the South Bay sections to the west and north, starting with Almaden Quicksilver and continuing north, but I want to shave on day off my long Peninsula trip, so checked off this section through Santa Teresa County Park. I started at the bus stop on McKean Rd at Almaden Rd. The trail starts north along Alamitos Creek, and then turns back south along Calero Creek. The trail climbs steeply into the center of the park, where it levels off at the parking lot and picnic areas, and then climbs steeply again to Coyote Peak, which is the end of the trail section for now. The views from the top of Coyote Peak are great, but it was very cold and very windy up on top, so I headed back down. There was some on and off rain, but nothing heavy, and it cleared again by the end of the day. I walked down by a slightly different trail, then back on Calero Creek. I decided to walk the Almaden Parkway to a more frequent bus route (the one to McKean only runs once an hour and not on weekends). Don’t walk on Almaden Parkway! It was designed for the exclusive use of motor vehicles. Nevertheless, it worked, and I caught the bus back into San Jose, early enough in the days to start on the next section, above.

old rock wall and oak in Santa Teresa County Park

Photos on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/allisondan/albums/72177720304776556

2022-11-22/23: Grant

I rode my bike from downtown San Jose out to Quimby Rd, where I intended to ride my bike up the back way in to the park. But once I left the suburbs, the road was mostly too steep to ride, and I walked most of it, in the dark, to the crest where Joseph D Grant County Park begins. I camped at the top. In the morning, I headed south through oak woodlands to the ridge and then back down to the southern terminus in Hall Valley. The black oaks in wetter areas on the hillsides where brilliant fall yellow, though up on the ridge they were a subtle yellowish brown. I looped back on a lower route to where I’d stashed my bike, and rode north along the ridge. Much of it was ridable, though some parts too pocked with gopher holes and cow print mud impressions. The trail leaves the ridge and drops very steeply to Mt Hamilton Rd, where it ends. I rode Mt Hamilton Rd, which climbs for a while and then drops to San Jose, a long long ride downhill which was quite enjoyable. The length of the downhill made me appreciate the accomplishment of getting my bike up the hill the day before. The top of the ridge is almost 750 meters, and the valley floor about 50 meters, so a significant climb, and descent.

black oak fall color in Grant park

Photos on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/allisondan/albums/72177720304794498

2022-11-22: Mt Madonna

Early this year I had decided that I would skip all the short and transit inaccessible sections of the Ridge Trail. But in the fall I changed my mind, and set out to walk all of them. This was the first.

Mt Madonna is the most remote section of the entire trail, only 3.5 miles of the dedicated Ridge Trail, and far from any connections. But not that inaccessible. I took transit to Gilroy, then rode my bike to the Sprig trailhead along Hwy 152. The trail climbs from the trailhead to the crest of the Santa Cruz Mountains, steeply up a dry canyon, then steeply up through mixed chaparral and scrublands, and then along a very gradual fire road through the redwoods, to an end near the north side of the county park. I suspect this flat section must have been for a water ditch or pipeline. The top of the mountain has a lot of picnic areas, and it mostly dedicated to Henry Miller (the cattle baron who had a summer home here, not the author). I returned by a separate and longer trail to the trailhead, making a loop through the park. Rode my bike back to Gilroy, for tea, and then the bus back to San Jose, where I started the next section, above.

trail/fire road through redwoods, Mt Madonna

Photos on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/allisondan/albums/72177720304684797

2022-10-21: SF to Taylor

Another section that I’d done earlier in the year, but re-did to document sign locations. It starts with a walk across the Golden Gate Bridge, with beautiful views and horrible traffic noise. It is not really something I enjoy, but since there is no transit to the north end of the bridge, is one I repeat every time I do this section. The trail then climbs up through scrublands in Golden Gate National Recreation Area, and then along the crest before descending to Tennessee Valley. The ridge is very low at this point, so of course there is a long climb back to the ridgeline, crossing Hwy 1, and then descending to Redwood Creek that flows out of Muir Woods. Though it is possible to hike up through the monument to Pantoll, the ridge trail follows Deer Park Fire Rd most of the way up, and the Old Mine trail (for hikers) and service road (for bicyclists) to Pantoll Ranger Station and Campground. There is a hiker/biker campsite here, $7/might, where I’ve often stayed, but this day I continued north and camped on an hilltop covered with ancient oaks. The upper section of the Matt Davis Trail (not the lower section, which almost everyone agrees is terribly designed) and the continuing Bolinas Ridge Trail are some of my favorites, so I always enjoy doing them again. The trail dips in and out of forested gullies and across steep grassy hillsides with views down to Stinson Beach and the coastline. It climbs into a redwood forest, and then eventually back out into grasslands, where it descends to the Cross-Marin Trail (which does NOT cross Marin) and into Samuel P Taylor State Park. I was early enough to catch the Marin Stage bus back to San Rafael and on San Francisco.

sunset from Bolinas Ridge

Photos on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/allisondan/albums/72177720304694359

2022-09-25: Sutro

This was a short trip to pick up a section of trail that I’d already hiked, but my iPhone was dead and so I didn’t take sign documentation photos. Now I have. This section goes from Stanyan St to Clarendon trailhead.

Photos on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/allisondan/albums/72177720304699093

2022-09-21: Taylor to Lucas Valley

I was at Samuel P Taylor State Park for a sacred circle dance to celebrate the autumnal equinox, so it was a good connection for doing the Ridge Trail section from there to Lucas Valley Open Space. After the afternoon dance in the redwood grove, I headed out backpacking. The trail initially follows an old railroad grade along Lagunitas Creek, then heads steeply up a fire road to San Geronimo ridge. The trails rises and descends along the ridge, with Giancomino Open Space on one side and Marin Municipal Watershed on the other. I camped at one of the few flat spots along the ridge, though next morning exploring I found a better place at Hunt Camp, at bit off the trail, with flat ground and a primitive spring box and trough. Parts of the ridge are dense forest, and one area of grassland, but most is serpentinitic soils with Sargent Cypress and many other species adapted to that nutrient poor soil. The trail descends through White Hill Open Space, crosses under Sir Francis Drake Blvd, and then climbs again into Loma Alta Open Space. A long downhill along an easement through private ranch lands leads to the crossing underneath Lucas Valley Rd at Big Rock. And then, or course, along long steep climb to the ridgeline in Lucas Valley Open Space. About two-thirds of the way up there is a spring to a trough, the only convenient was on this entire section. I walked out east and down via Luis Fire Road and streets to the bus pad at Marinwood.

This is a segment I’d cone earlier in the year, but before adopting the sign documentation project, so was hiking it again for sign photos, but it is a section I much enjoy doing anyway.

baby rattlesnake along trail on San Geronimo Ridge

Photos on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/allisondan/albums/72177720304679521

2022-08-23: Kennedy Grove to Dry Creek

I would not normally hike on the Ridge Trail during August, but my mountain trip changed, and a cooler (somewhat) stretch of weather is forecast, so back to the Ridge Trail, starting at Kennedy Grove, near El Sobrante, which I accessed by train and bus. First day I walked to Redwood Regional Park above Oakland, a long day. Breakfast at Redwood Bowl, a picnic area that gets busy during the day but is almost unused in the morning. Walking south the trail descends, in this case into the fog and heavy fog drip as the trees condense out moisture from the fog. The trail signing approaching Redwood Canyon is confused, leading to a trailhead that is not on the main route. A snack break at Bort Meadow in Chabot Regional Park, where there is water, and a lunch break at Chabot Staging Area, which is not a pleasant place for lunch, just a huge parking lot, but that’s where I was. The steep climb to Dinosaur Ridge follows, not quite as bad as it used to be as a trail cuts off the very steepest part of the fire road. I camped off the trail in the Call Canyon area, unfortunately loud for being too close to I-580 and the stroads of Castro Valley. Then on the the Five Canyons section and on to the access trail to Dry Creek Pioneer Regional Park. This section is called Chabot to Garin Trail, but Dry Creek trailhead is a more logical exit point, and for me, is just a short walk to transit.

There is a campground just off the trail at Sibley Volcanic Natural Preserve, but it is not at a location where most people would be stopping to camp. I have used group campsites at Gillespie in Tilden and Bort Meadow in Chabot when they were not occupied by groups. There is also camping in Chabot, but nothing designed for backpackers.

Dinosaur Ridge, in EBMUD East Bay Watershed

Photos on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/allisondan/albums/72177720304480567

2022-07-30: Hill Ranch

This was a day hike sponsored by the Bay Area Ridge Trail Council and the owners of Hill Ranch. Hill Ranch sits between Lucas Valley Open Space and Indian Tree Preserve. The ‘trail’ follows ranch/fire roads through the private property. Good views in all directions. The council offers led hikes on this section from time to time, but it is otherwise not open to the public. The group was shuttled from the end point to the base of the Indian Tree fire road, and we hiked up to meet the family. At the end, we walked out the trail through Lucas Valley to the origin at Big Rock. A number of council staff were on the hike, so it was a good chance to catch up with plans for new sections of the trail.

Photos on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/allisondan/albums/72177720304473481

2022-06-24: Vargas Plateau, Alum Rock Park, Sierra Vista Open Space, Mission Peak Preserve

Vargas Plateau: Capitol Corridor to Fremont, then Fremont BART, then walked up Morrison Canyon Rd to the Cliff trail, then up the trail to its connection with the Ridge Trail along the ridgeline. I walked to the north end, where there is no end-of-segment sign, then back to Morrison Canyon Rd and down again to Fremont BART. There is water at the south end trailhead. Pretty area, but nothing special, and the hike up the Cliff Trail access was hot, hot. This is one of those segments that I had skipped before, as it is not very transit accessible. There are no near-term plans to connect to the north or south ends of this segment.

Alum Rock & Sierra Vista: BART from Fremont to Milpitas, and then VTA light rail to Penitencia Creek station. Up the Penitencia Creek trail to Alum Rock Park, then up the North Ridge and Boccardo Trails to the ridge, a long steep climb, mostly in Sierra Vista Open Space. Then along the Upper Calaveras trail and lower Calaveras trail to the south end of the trail at an overlook. There are no near-term plans to connect to the north or south ends of this segment. My next section was the Mission Peak, Levin to Ohlone section, so I walked Felter Road all the way to Levin, a long gaps but along a road that works OK.

Mission Peak: The trail council is proud of the Levin extension, from Sandy Wool Lake to a point along Calaveras Rd, but I think it sucks. It follows property and fence lines rather than any natural path of travel, winding around so much it almost but not quite overlaps itself. The short section from Old Calaveras Rd to the water tank on top of the hill is almost impossibly steep, most hikers could probably not walk it. The Mission Peak section does have many steep hills already, but why add another? The 560 meter climb from Sandy Wool Lake (pond) to the ridge is steep, but once finally on the ridge, the trail wanders along, and passes Eagle Springs backcountry camp, which is both for this trail and the Ohlone Trail. I stayed there. Nice views, great sunrise, Venus and crescent moon. There is water, which EBRPD says needs to be purified, but it comes from a well-fenced spring area, so is likely OK. The Ohlone extension on the north end is better, not as much up and down, and only a few steep hills. Mission Peak is a very popular destination, and I passed at least 300 people on the trail, on Sunday morning. Bus to Fremont BART, BART to SF, and Stern Grove Festival. And home on Capitol Corridor from Richmond.

sunrise from Eagle Springs, Mission Peak Preserve

Photos on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/allisondan/albums/72177720300218063

2022-02-25: Milagra Ridge, San Francisco

For this trip, I started at Skyline College, accessible by bus, and walked north. Milagra Ridge, part of Golden Gate NRA, has great views north to San Francisco, south to Montara Mountain, west to the Pacific. I gradually descends to Pacifica, where I took a break for tea, and then continued to Mussel Rock. I had heard that it was possible to walk north along the beach at low tide, and it was low tide, so I went for it. It is indeed possible. The Ridge Trail heads up into Daly City, which is a pretty boring walk, but the beach is spectacular. The terrain is too rough for there ever to be a trail close to the beach, but as an alternative, it is great. I climbed up to Daly City again and headed north past Lake Merced, through Stern Grove (had to bypass most because it was closed due to water main break flood), and to West Portal. After a stay at the hostel, I continued from West Portal to Twin Peaks and Sutro Tower. A new alignment splits the trail through SF to Golden Gate Park, so I did one leg and then the other. The older route has very old signing. I walked to Arguello Gate and through the Presidio to Golden Gate Bridge.

The next day I did the Fifield-Cahill section through the San Francisco Watershed, which is a docent guided hike, but continued north out Portola Gate and Sweeney Ridge to Skyline College, completing this section from Hwy 92 to Golden Gate Bridge. It is interesting to hike with groups when most of my hiking is solo.

hiking group on Fifield-Cahill section

Photos on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/allisondan/albums/72177720300177349

2022-02-20: Taylor, Giacomini, White Hill, Loma Alta, Lucas Valley

Taylor to Lucas: This was a continuation of my previous trip which ended at Samuel P Taylor State Park, with has a hiker/biker camp, and great transit access. The ridge trail follows an old railroad grade to the crossing of Lagunitas Creek, then climbs onto San Geronimo Ridge through Giacomini and White Hill. This section of the trail, with Sargent Cypress and other unique plants growing on serpentinitic soils, is fascinating to me. The trail crosses under St Francis Drive (a transit flag stop), then into Loma Alta which is mostly an upland grassy area. The trail crosses under Lucas Valley Rd and into Lucas Valley Open Space. There is one water source along the trail, a piped spring. The trail ends, for now, on the ridge, though the ridge trail signing is not clear about where, and there are some signs off route. The trail will connect to Indian Hill eventually. This is the end of the longest section of the ridge trail, from Hwy 92 to Lucas Valley, 80 miles. From the end of the trail, I walked the ridge to the east and out to the Marinwood bus pad, then by bus to Novato for the next section.

Indian Hill: The bus delivers me exactly to the trailhead for the O’Hair Park, Little Mountain Open Space, Stafford Lake, and Indian Hill Open Space. The trail edges a suburban neighborhood for a while, but eventually climbs to wilder spaces, and ends at Indian Tree, which is a group of large redwood trees. Someday there will be a connection through Hill Ranch to the previous section at Lucas Valley. At the end of this hike, I was tired of cold and wind, and so headed home rather than continuing to Mt Burdell.

hilltop oaks in Lucas Valley Open Space

Photos on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/allisondan/albums/72177720300178893

General Information

Photos on Flickr: Ridge Trail collection

More on GaiaGPS: I’ve organized my GaiaGPS routes and waypoints a bit, hopefully to make it easier for you (and me) to find things:

Other posts on Bay Area Ridge Trail.

Ridge Trail SF-Taylor 2022-02

My first backpack trip since last August! The fires, and smoke, ended my mountain backpacking season early, and I let other things fill up my calendar. It’s all good, but it felt good to be out on the trail again.

My trip included enjoying Alasdair Fraser and Natalie Haas at The Freight & Salvage in Berkeley, staying overnight at the SF downtown hostel, with quick trip to Cellarmaker Brewing. I took the buses to Golden Gate Bridge plaza, and walked across the bridge. What a beautiful view, and what an unpleasant place to be. Vehicles on the bridge create a nearly intolerable noise. But across, and under the bridge, and to the trail.

Chlorogalum, soap root, I think a different species than Sierra Nevada

The trail climbs up onto the ridge, with better and better views. Connecting trails along the ridge eventually lead down to Tennessee Valley, a loss of all that elevation. The park service is building a new parking lot at Tennessee Valley, which seems an overkill. I wonder if they will put in water. Agencies often neglect water at trailheads because of their assumption that everyone drives and therefore can bring water with them. Not true, but more windshield perspective.

The trail climbs steeply out of Tennessee Valley, back to the ridgeline, and north to cross Shoreline highway and then descend to Redwood Creek, which flows out of Muir Woods NM. There are some interesting feral cherry trees along Dias Ridge, in blossom right now, and will have edible cherries later. From Redwood Creek, the trail climbs back up to the ridge and to Pantoll Campground. I often take a side trip to Pelican Inn, down Redwood Creek to Muir Beach, but not this time, it was too late in the day and I arrived at the campground near dark. There is a hiker/biker camp site at Pantoll, but unfortunately some people who clearly did not hike or bike had occupied every flat area of the site.

In the morning, north along the Matt Davis Trail and then the Bolinas Ridge Trail. The first section is open, with oaks and bay laurels in the draws, but mostly grassland. It then goes several miles through second growth redwood forest before coming back out into grasslands. There aren’t many flowers out yet. The trail then descends to Lagunitas Creek and Samuel P. Taylor State Park. Where there is another hiker/biker site, this time occupied by six friendly bicyclists.

Sunday I headed back home.

This section of the Ridge Trail is completely transit accessible: at Golden Gate Bridge plaza via Golden Gate Transit (several buses) and Muni 28. Pantoll is accessible via Marin Stage 61. Taylor is accessible via Marin Stage 68.

Photos on Flickr: album | collection

ADT 2-3 Squaw to Foresthill 2021-05

Last week I re-hiked two more segments of the American Discovery Trail (ADT), 2 and 3, from Squaw Valley to Foresthill.

I started out early from the trailhead at the bridge over the Truckee River just south of Squaw Valley Road on Highway 89 (River Road). The trail immediately climbs away from the river, heading towards the ridge between Squaw Valley and Bear Creek. There are numerous trails in the area, but some junctions are signed (Western States Trail) and some are just more obvious. The trail then descends towards Squaw Village (all of these Squaw name are going to be changed, but I don’t know what to, yet; maybe Olympic since the post office name is already Olympic Valley). If you want to keep to the ADT or Western States alignment, you have to either keep a close eye on the track or on the waypoints. I wasn’t keeping a close watch, however, and ended up turning uphill where the trail turned downhill, following an older Western States sign higher up on the slope of the valley. I ended up on a ski area road that climbs to the top of KT-22, far from the current trail route. From there, I dropped to Squaw Saddle, where the original Western States trail alignment crossed over from Squaw Valley to the Five Lake drainage. So I missed going over the top past Emigrant Monument and down the Whiskey Creek drainage, and can’t report on the snow conditions up there, but from what I could see and what I experienced other places, I don’t think the remaining snow patches are deep or uncrossable.

granite & sierra juniper on Squaw Saddle

From Squaw Saddle, a very old and now very vague trail heads down and connects with the Squaw Saddle Trail, which then connects with the PCT, which then connects with the Whiskey Creek Camp Trail. Whiskey Creek is moderately deep, and I crossed on a rock hop, though not easily. In general, creeks higher up are flowing well, but flowing like they would ‘normally’ be four or five weeks later in the season. The soil is moist, there are many snowbanks, but most are small and not deep, and some flowers are out and some just coming on. Again, like much later in the season. The perpendicular ridges of very deep snow that show up some years are not there this year, thankfully.

The original Western States Trail did not go along Tevis Cup Trail and then Tevis ridge (Foresthill Divide) where the current ride and foot race go, but through Picayune Valley, and this is the officially named Western States and the ADT route. There are a number of trees down from Whiskey Creek Trail through Picayune Valley, some new this year and some have been there several years. All are fairly easy to bypass or climb over. I spent time just enjoying Picayune, as I always do. At the crossing of the Middle Fork of the American River, it was too deep to rock-hop, but I waded across with no big problem. The snowmelt creeks are much smaller in the morning, increasing in size throughout the day, so if you need to cross a major creek or river, morning is the time.

red star onion

The trail exits the Granite Chief Wilderness at Talbot Campground, and it is a long slog along a boring road to French Meadows and Lewis Campground, the next piped water source. The trail along the reservoir north side has not been maintained in years, and is deep in winter debris (the stuff that falls out of trees mostly during the winter but sometimes during wind storms), not really pleasant to walk. Where the trail goes into the brushfield from an old burn, it becomes impassable in spots, tight thickets of whitethorn. At least at this time of year the whitethorn is a little flexible with moisture, but later in the year when it dries out it will extract a lot of blood in trade for passage. I finally bailed out and followed a logging road out to Mosquito Ridge Road, and then back to the trail at the ridge top. This section is flagged, but the flagging is often right in the middle of a whitethorn patch. Until it is maintained, I think this section of the ADT must be considered closed.

The ADT rejoins the Western States on Red Star Ridge, and drops into Duncan Canyon. Some trees down on this section, easy to bypass for hikers but not equestrians. I waded Duncan Stream rather than trying to find a rock hop. The climb out to Robinson Flat is long but the bedrock areas have interesting displays of flowers. At Robinson, the meadow pump was locked up, but there is flowing water at the lower edge of the meadow. The campground was also closed, for hazard tree removal. Almost every tree is going to be removed. In a sense, this is inevitable, as most red firs develop middle age rot and start dropping branches and trunks. A few red firs seem to make it through this stage and become very large and very old, but few.

A group of runners on the Western States Trail assembled at Robinson Flat in the morning, and the first part of my walk was with that huge group, but they took a different route than the ADT, and I did not see them the rest of the day. I really enjoy the upper part of the walk along Barney Cavanaugh Ridge, with views out over the canyons, but as the trail descends it ends up in the forest on wide logging roads and is much less interesting. The road crosses Deep Canyon Creek, a certain water source, and a number of other creeks that have water only in the spring. The ADT and Western States Trail turns down Last Chance Ridge, and a new (not sure how new) trail avoids most of the road on the ridge, going on the north slope, initially on new trail and then following an old mining ditch. After rejoining the road, look for a grassy meadow and pond to the left hand side of the road, where a water pipe provide cold spring water. The road reaches the end of the ridge near Pacific Slab Mine, a much newer mine than the long gone Last Chance area mines, and drops steeply down to the Middle Fork American River and across a suspension bridge.

suspension bridge, Middle Fork American River

The climb out of this canyon is significant, about 1500 feet, but the sun was low and it was not too bad. The trail wanders the ridge and then joins the Deadwood Ridge Road where there is a hand pump for water. I thought I would camp there, but the mosquitos, the tiny oak mosquitos were thick and it was too warm to hide out in my sleeping bag, so I packed up and headed down into the next canyon, to El Dorado Stream. It was dark by now, and I was not sure my headlamp would last the three miles or so, but it did, barely. There is ample flat camping area on the west side of the bridge. Few mosquitos and much cooler air, and a good night’s sleep. I explored around quite a bit in the morning. There are feral cherry trees here, though only a few were ripe yet.

The climb out of the canyon to Michigan Bluff is 1600 feet, but much more gradual than the earlier climb out. From Michigan Bluff where there is piped water at the corner, the trail follows logging roads westward before eventually turning back into a trail and dropping down to cross Volcano Stream. From there, up again to Foresthill Road and then along the road to town.

I had originally intended to re-hike segment 4, from Foresthill to Auburn, but my feet were worn out and I decided to call it done. So I had a beer at the Mountain Club and then hitch-hiked back toward home.

I am not sure whether I will do all the ADT California segments this year. I’ve done 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, and 8. Segment 9 awaits the reopening of the Coastal Trail in Point Reyes National Seashore, closed by the Woodward fire last year. Segment 6 is a bike ride, which awaits a coolish day with gentle winds, Sacramento to Antioch, though I guess could do the reverse, with the wind. Segment 1 just awaits planning it into my summer. Someday I intend to walk the trail from Virginia City, Nevada, to Point Reyes, 382 miles, but that is at least three weeks and requires a wet year in the fall, so there is still water available, and after the snow melts, and not midsummer when the Sierra Foothills and east side of Mt Diablo is sweltering. Not this year, maybe next.

I have used two new books to identify flowers and shrubs along this trip. They are Wildflowers of Nevada and Placer Counties, California (2017), and Trees and Shrubs of Nevada and Placer Counties, California (2014), both published by the Redbud Chapter of the California Native Plant Society. Neither of these is in the Sacramento library system, but there are copies available through Link+ interlibrary loan. I decide to purchase copies, which are only available from CNPS: https://store.cnps.org/collections/books/products/wildflowers-of-nevada-and-placer-counties-california-second-edition and https://store.cnps.org/collections/books/products/trees-and-shrubs-of-nevada-and-placer-counties-california. No plant books are perfect, and I still consult other guides on occasion, but these are the best I’ve found. They are not really ‘field guides’, though, too heavy to be taking on a backpack trip, and not available electronically.

I realize, now that I have better plant books, that I have mis-named some of the flowers and shrubs from my earlier trips. Oh well. Not likely I will have time to go back and make corrections. Even with the new guides, there is one flower on this trip I was not able to identify.

Photos on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/allisondan/albums/72157719428415935

Earlier ADT posts: https://allisondan.wordpress.com/category/backpacking-hiking/american-discovery-trail/

ADT-CA-2 route on GaiaGPS: https://www.gaiagps.com/public/xzSo6obIdpFa1Vh9WiVBRnFr/

ADT-CA-3 route on GaiaGPS: https://www.gaiagps.com/public/SFAZkkyMe2mANJGirpbbERoo/

Note that the ADT waypoints, which I do use on my trips, I am not making available in my ADT folder. If you want these, you will have to purchase them from the American Discovery Trail Society.

ADT-CA-8 2021-05

It is dry out there! Poison oak is turning fall colors, at least two months early, California Bay Laurel trees (non-deciduous) are losing a lot of leaves, live oak leaves are browning around the edges, almost all flowers except poppies, monkeyflower, and non-natives are past, the grass is crispy. Except for canyons and seep areas where there is still some moisture left, and things look more like spring. The photo below is ironic, fog over the ridges creating fog capture droplets, as every place else is dry, dry, dry.

fog along Skyview Trail, also ADT

The next segment of the American Discovery Trail. As always, access by transit, in this case Capitol Corridor to Martinez, and County Connection 316 to Pleasant Hill BART station, and then a short walk back to the Contra Costa Canal Trail where I left off the last trip (ADT-CA-7 2021-05). I arrived early afternoon, intending on not hiking far that day, but sometimes the feet get to moving, and I went all the way to San Pablo Creek area.

I grabbed water at Larkey Park, the last source before Bear Creek Staging Area in Briones Regional Park. The Lafayette Ridge Trail in Briones Regional Park is one of my favorites, for the views, not the trail itself which is a fire road and utility road that humps up over every hill and then descends, again and again. But what views!

I continued through the EBMUD East Bay watershed to San Pablo Creek, which is the next source of water. The creek is somewhat unnatural, in that it carries some Mokelumne River water through the plumbing system of EBMUD.

The next day up the Inspiration Trail to Inspiration Point, and then south along the Skyview Trail in Tilden Regional Park. The ADT has been rerouted here, north of the earlier way, and I missed the turn for that. The ADT and Mokelumne Coast to Crest Trail are coincident from Walnut Creek to Inspiration Point, and some though not all of the trail has new ADT and MCCT trail markers. Where the ADT markers are missing, the MCCT markers guide the way. The ridge in Tilden had fog blowing across it all morning long, giving a completely different feel to the trip.

The trail then descends Strawberrry Canyon through the UC Berkeley campus. I had tea at the corner of Bancroft and College, where the ADT becomes an urban trail. In keeping with the urban nature, I rented a Bay Wheels bikeshare to ride College and Broadway into Oakland. Making the best of that, I stopped for beer at Temescal Brewing and again at the Modern Times taproom before continuing around Lake Merced and to Jack London Square. The ferry to San Francisco, which is officially part of the ADT, does not run at all on weekends under the pandemic schedule, so I could not complete the trail to San Francisco and the bridge.

I’ll pick up this section when the weekend ferry is running again, or be there on a weekday. I’m also awaiting the reopening of the Coastal Trail in Point Reyes National Seashore so that I can complete segment 9 to the ocean. It was closed by the Woodward Fire in August 2020.

And home on the Capitol Corridor from Oakland Jack London.

Photos on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/allisondan/albums/72157719323240500

ADT collection on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/allisondan/collections/72157637788624964/

Other ADT blog posts: https://allisondan.wordpress.com/category/backpacking-hiking/american-discovery-trail/

ADT-CA-7 2021-05

Last weekend I did segment 7 of the American Discovery Trail from Antioch to Walnut Creek. I’ve done parts of this trip a number of times (Berkeley to Clayton backpack, and others), but the only whole trip I’ve done was in 2014 (ADT7: Antioch to Walnut Creek 2014-01).

As always, my access was by train and transit. Capitol Corridor from Sacramento to Martinez, then San Joaquins from Martinez to Antioch. The schedule doesn’t really work, but it gave me plenty of time in Martinez to walk over to El Cielo Brewing to have a beer. On the way back, Pleasant Hill BART to Richmond BART, and then Capitol Corridor back to Sacramento. It is a short 0.3 mile walk from the ADT to Pleasant Hill BART. The walk from the Antioch Amtrak station to the trail is longer, about 3 miles, but if I’d used BART instead to Antioch, it would have been a shorter 2.5 miles.

The segment starts on the far shore of the Contra Loma Reservoir. No idea why, it should start at where it the ADT leaves the Contra Costa Canal Trail/Delta De Anza Trail and heads south into Antioch Community Park. The trail then winds up into the hills of Black Diamond Mines preserve, using ranch/fire roads. It climbs way up, with good views. I camped on the ridge, and didn’t sleep much at all for the howling wind all night. The trail then descends to the Somersville townsite, one of the early mining towns, and then climbs again to high ridges with fewer views, and then a long descent into the town of Clayton. Clayton has a coffee shop, a convenience store, a few restaurants, and a nice park. The is the old part of Clayton, a real town, not the new part of Clayton which is just an exurb of Concord.

hills and oaks of Black Diamond Mines preserve

From Clayton the trail along a wash and across the fan heads into Mitchell Canyon and then begins the long climb to Mount Diablo. The Mokelumne Coast to Crest Trail, which is mostly coincident with the ADT, deviates here to go up Donner Creek, east of Mitchell Canyon, and then rejoins past Deer Flat. The trail up Mitchell is gradual until it heads up steeply through switchbacks to reach Deer Flat. Deer Flat once had developed water, but not in years, and Mitchell Canyon had only a trickle for a short distance. The route then circles to the east before climbing very steeply up to Prospectors Gap. There is a spring off the trail, on Donner Creek, but I forgot to look to see if it had water this year. The plumes of clematis seeds decorate much of the other vegetation all the way up the trail. The trail/road then heads around the east and south side of Mount Diablo. The official ADT route did not formerly go to the top of the peak, but apparently it now does, but I skipped it for being late in the day and very windy.

clematis seed plumes

From the peak, or where the ADT meets the road to the peak, the Summit Trail and ADT route heads down the south slope of Mount Diablo, zig-zagging close to and then away from the road. The park has turned off nearly all water sources, even in the campgrounds, and the only sources I could find were hidden away from the public. This is a reasonable response to the drought, I guess, but sure makes it hard on long distance hikers.

During the night the fog came in heavy, and in the morning all the isolated trees had circles of wet ground around them, water that is captured from the fog and then drops to the ground. It either doesn’t happen in forested areas, or if it does, is not as obvious, but for isolated trees in the woodlands, it must really make a difference.

fog droplets on grey pine needles

The next day I followed the route out Wall Point Road through the park, and then regional park, and then city park, then the edge of Walnut Creek, all the way to Heather Farm Park. There is a lot of cattle grazing on these lands, useful to keep the vegetation down that would carry fire, but really there wasn’t much left to eat, and I think the cows should be off by now in a dry year. There were also a lot of people out hiking and bicycling! This is a popular trail for people in the Walnut Creek area, and perhaps beyond. The park is the first place with water available in quite some miles.

ADT segment 7 ends at the bottom of Heather Farm where the trail meets the Contra Costa Canal Trail. Segment 8 heads west along the canal. I think the break point of the two segments should actually be where the Contra Costa Canal Trail crosses the Iron Horse Trail. At that point, it is 0.3 miles north to Pleasant Hill BART station with BART and buses, or about 2 miles south to Walnut Creek BART station with BART and more buses. I realize many people dayhiking on the ADT just drive to trailheads, but the long distance hikers need transit access points and stores for resupply. I went to Pleasant Hill BART, took BART to Richmond, and home on the Capitol Corridor.

Photos on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/allisondan/albums/72157719235713289

ADT collection on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/allisondan/collections/72157637788624964/

Other ADT blog posts: https://allisondan.wordpress.com/category/backpacking-hiking/american-discovery-trail/

I have been working on creating routes, traced on the trails in GaiaGPS, for the California segments. I am not making any claim that these always reflect the current route, nor match on-the-ground signing, but you may find them useful. I just purchased the 2018-04 version of the ADT California tracks and waypoints, and will be checking them against these routes over time.

ADT-CA-1: https://www.gaiagps.com/datasummary/route/9ceb43ee-2915-420d-9c80-57de46102477/

ADT-CA-2: not completed

ADT-CA-3: https://www.gaiagps.com/datasummary/route/2a7cbb45-1031-4df1-a5a8-d8a3dd6c4212/

ADT-CA-4: https://www.gaiagps.com/datasummary/route/e75135ac-d79b-4762-b6fc-da5a6a994acd/

ADT-CA-5: https://www.gaiagps.com/datasummary/route/b38deb6c-f511-4874-bc29-e4ef55801258/

ADT-CA-6: https://www.gaiagps.com/datasummary/route/010f9b3f-6613-428b-997f-b589790b396a/

ADT-CA-7: https://www.gaiagps.com/datasummary/route/9d43af35-dc9b-4ca4-99e0-acb7a81e9897/

ADT-CA-8: https://www.gaiagps.com/datasummary/route/effe8e4b-2e40-412d-92b2-74cc387d9846/

ADT-CA-9: https://www.gaiagps.com/datasummary/route/25b7ca99-66fe-42d0-acd6-f40e545b7a9e/

oaks in Black Diamond

Sacramento to Tahoe 2020-06

Yep another backpack trip that I failed to document at the time. A friend asking me about my ‘big trip’ last summer reminded me that I’d not posted.

I backpacked from Sacramento to Tahoe City, along the Pioneer Express and Western States trails, which are also American Discovery Trail segments 5 and 4, and the Tevis Cup trail which, though it is used for the Western States Run, is actually not the Western States Trail.

Leaving from my home in downtown Sacramento, I walked to Folsom and camped at Beals Point Campground, which of course was closed for the pandemic. As a backpacker, I love closed campgrounds. The day was hot and I was not in great shape, so that long walk (51 km) left me quite tired and sore.

Then up into the foothills along the Pioneer Express Trail. I walked to Robie Point, a ways past Auburn Staging Area, and camped there. Light to moderate rain in the afternoon, with thunderstorms, none of this in the forecast. It looked like the thunderstorms would continue into the evening, but I got only light rain. About 39 km.

The next day, down the Western States Trail to the confluence of the Middle Fork and North Fork of the American River, they up along the trail to Drivers Flat. I realized at this point I was behind my intended schedule, so rather than descending into the canyon to Ruck-A-Chucky and the trail, I walked along Foresthill Road. That was a mistake! Cars are so fucking loud, and with the almost continuous stream of traffic on the road (where are all these people going, and in such a hurry?), I was deafened by the time I reached Foresthill. I will never make that mistake again. Now back on the Western States Trail, I walked out of Foresthill and to Volcano Stream where I camped for the night on a small flat area right beside the creek, with walls from some old mining operation. The vegetation along the creek and the feeling of the area are so different from the environment before and after the creek, and it gets dark early down in the canyon. About 40 km.

view east of the Middle Fork American River basin

The next day I continued east, through Michigan Bluff, down through El Dorado Canyon, steeply up to the ridge, past the town site of Deadwood, and then down to the North Fork of the Middle Fork American River, across a suspension bridge, and up to the town site of Last Chance. Both of these canyons with bridges and beautiful creek settings one of my favorite areas of the entire hike, but being behind schedule, I pushed on. I picked up water at small piped water at the meadow near Last Chance, a water source I’d not found before. Then past Deep Creek, another water source, up Barney Cavanaugh Ridge with great views in all directions, through Robinson Flat camping area, winding down into Duncan Canyon and up to the ridge, where I camped. About 58 km. This is not only the longest of my days, but the hardest, with the descent into and climb out of the two canyons. But it is worth every minute. At this point, my muscles were getting in shape but my feet were not happy. What I had poorly planned as a five day backpack trip was already on day four and I was, so to speak, in the middle of nowhere and far from my destination.

The Western States and Tevis Cup trails diverge here, with the Western States dropping down to French Meadows Reservoir and then to the Granite Chief Wilderness at Talbot Campground. But I’d never been on what I’m going to all the Tevis Ridge Trail, and is the route of both the trail run and endurance ride (at least in most years), which gradually climbs the Foresthill Divide to the saddle where the Tevis Cup Trail comes out of the wilderness. The ridge has great views, but no water. Fortunately there were snow banks to keep me hydrated. I continued into the wilderness and camped at the granite buttress overlooking the Middle Fork American River. 23 km along the ridge (see track below) and another 5 km to campsite, so a relatively short day of about 28 kim.

That night the temperatures, which had been gradually dropping through the week, plummeted to well below zero, and the wind increased to a howling 40 mph plus. It was hard to stay warm, and impossible to sleep. The next day I hiked up over the crest and out through Squaw Valley, mostly following roads down through the ski area rather than the Western States Trail along the side of the valley. I caught the TART bus into Truckee, hung out there, and spent the night. I found a nice place to camp away from town and close to the river. It still has a lot of freeway noise, just like every other place in Truckee. Though I love Truckee, I do not like sleeping there, as the sound of Interstate 80 is pervasive everywhere in town. Next morning, home on the California Zephyr. About 12 km.

My total distance for the hike was about 230 km (141 miles), over 5-1/2 days. The distance is not out of my range, but whew, was I exhausted and footsore. This is probably the most ambitious backpack trip I’ve done in the last few years.

Tevis Ridge Trail on GaiaGPS: https://www.gaiagps.com/datasummary/track/858d0078738409d7e3297bbcecd8656d/

Photos on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/allisondan/albums/72157719175365860 (relatively few photos because I was so busy hiking, and had previously hiked these trails except for Tevis Ridge)

Pioneer Express 2021-04

This backpack was a continuation of my previous trip on the Western States Trail.

I took the train to Auburn. It is less expensive to take the bus, but, well, I love trains. I camped out near Robie Point, and in the morning headed to Auburn Staging Area, the end of the Western States Trail and beginning of the Pioneer Express Trail. While having breakfast, I talked to three women who were in training to ride… not the Western States (Tevis Cup), but the PCT. All the way! While many people backpack the PCT, which is a major physical accomplishment, I don’t think many ride it. Perhaps not quite as much of a physical accomplishment, but a logistically challenging trip. Keeping yourself and your horse happy and healthy for that distance requires planning, and training, and that’s what they were doing.

The Pioneer Express Trail drops toward the canyon but then contours a long ways above the Shirland Canal, before dropping precipitously down the Cardiac Trail to the Oregon Bar trailhead and then down a closed road to the American River at Oregon Bar. I can’t understand how a National Recreation Trail was routed along the very steep and heavily eroded Cardiac Trail. The designation is federal, but maintenance is the responsibility of the land management agency, in this case, California State Parks. So I’m not sure where to point the finger.

American River at Oregon Bar

The trail then follows the north side of the American River all the way to Folsom. The first section, above the river but with views down on it, and very occasional access points, is one of my favorites, when Folsom Reservoir is down and the river is flowing. At high pool, it comes up to Oregon Bar, but at the moment the river is flowing all the way to just past Mormon Ravine. I love free flowing rivers! I have never been big on the idea of living forever, or coming back reincarnated, but the one reason I’d really like to is to see the rivers flowing free again, as they are meant to be. Of course in those future times people probably won’t be traveling, except by foot, so I’d likely see only part of one river system, but I’d be happy.

I did a little bit of trail work on this trip, pulling up young brooms, and cutting older brooms. The brooms are nonnative invasives from Europe, and they both push out native plants and close off trails. There are at least two species along the trail, but there may be more. One grows huge, but isn’t long-lived, so the stiff grey brown dead ones stand along the trail. But in their short life they produce abundant seeds for the next generation of plants. Unless I pull them up first! The brooms are widespread from the eastern part of the Pioneer Express up through the Foresthill-Auburn section of the Western States Trail, so this is a project that I can make only a small dent in, but even a short stretch of trail free of broom makes me happy. I don’t cut poison oak, though it needs cutting. I’m no longer willing to face the horrible cases of poison oak reaction I get when I cut and pull poison oak (to really reduce poison oak, it must be pulled out by the roots; cutting it just causes it to produce more stems next year).

From Mormon Ravine westward, the views are of the Folsom Reservoir puddle and the drawdown wasteland above it, so not interesting views, but close up along the trail there are a lot of flowers along with native trees and shrubs.

I walked out to the truss bridge over the American River at Folsom, had tea at Reset: Cafe, and then took light rail home.

I was, up until this trip, trying to make the Pioneer Express Trail and American Discovery Trail (ADT) fit together as one coincident route, but they aren’t. They deviate at some critical locations, including the descent to Oregon Bar, where the ADT follows a much more rational alignment, yes, with some road segments, but none of the horribly eroded trail. It will be a significant project to separate out the routes and associated waypoints again, but when I get that accomplished, I’ll post links. I use GaiaGPS.

Photos on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/allisondan/albums/72157718893077858

Colfax & Western States Trail 2020-04

This last week I did a road walk and backpack trip on the Western States Trail from Foresthill to Auburn.

California Zephyr train to Colfax in the mid-day, then started my walk to Foresthill by following Canyon Drive and then Yankee Jim’s Road. The road starts out paved but eventually turns to dirt. Being a weekday, there was very little traffic on the road, so the walk was enjoyable. It follows along Bunch Canyon, which deepens quickly as it approaches the North Fork of the American River. There are very few crossings of the North Fork, Ponderosa Way downstream, Iowa Hill Road upstream, and Soda Springs far upstream. I’ve walked the Iowa Hill road and bridge before, so wanted to try a new route, and this one is quite a bit shorter to Foresthill. Of course after dropping to the river and crossing at the bridge, where there were some river runners and a few swimmers/sunbathers, the road climbs sharply up the east side via Shirttail Canyon.

Where the road sort of tops out at a placer or hydraulic mining area, I stopped for the day, and camped with a night of good stars. The mining area has only two species, manzanita and Ponderosa pine, nothing else can live on the impoverished earth, as the soil has been washed away. The whole complex community of life in a normal forest environment is missing, including the fungus, bacteria and invertebrates. That is why these areas take so long to heal, well more than a hundred years after they were first decimated, the damage looks recent. Gold mining trashed California, and I don’t know why we celebrate that history.

The road continues to climb at a more gradual rate into Foresthill. I had tea at Mega Cafe, and then headed down into the Middle Fork American River canyon.

The Western States Trail and the American Discovery Trail segment 4 are coincident here, with WS Trail signing being frequent and ADT signing showing up occasionally. The trail drops steeply on old roads through mining areas, and then slackens as it becomes a real trail, heading downslope towards the river but not reaching it until miles later. There are several creeks that cross the trail, most of them seasonal but a few probably year-round except in fall of dry years (of which this is likely one). A few old mining roads come down to the trail from the area west of Foresthill, and at Dardanelles Road there is a nice bench and deck, a strange amenity for out here in the woods. The trail approaching this point is on an old steel pipe, part of a water system that gathered water, probably for a placer or hydraulic mining operation. There was quite a bit of water development in this area, but it has become harder to see as the forest has returned.

Two roads connect the trail to the river. Both are signed Fords Bar, but since they are more than a half mile away from each other, probably only one should have that name. At both locations there are sandy/rocky beaches and composting toilets for river runners. The trail then more closely follows the river, to just above Ruck-A-Chucky Falls, where a short spur road leads down to another beach and composting toilet. This is where I camped for the night.

The route is then on a road climbing well above the river to bypass the narrow canyon that contains the falls and a number of smaller rapids, then drops back down to the campground which again has a beach. The falls seems to have a constructed portage, as it is the mostly un-runable section, but I’ve not been down to river level to see what it looks like. The official route goes up to Francisco’s, an old homesite, but you can also just continue on the road through the campground.

Ruck-A-Chucky Falls, Middle Fork American River

The signed Western States Trail then climbs up a road, recently improved (though I wish it hadn’t been) to Drivers Flat. At one time the WS Trail dropped down to cross the river and continue on the old Mountain Quarries road on the south side of the river. It is not clear to me whether this route has been officially dropped from the Tevis Cup trail ride and Western States Endurance Run, or whether it is still used, but at any rate the signing goes back up to Foresthill Divide.

From here the route unfortunately uses the Foresthill Loop southern leg as it goes westward. For poor planning, I was there on a Saturday, and weekend days are infested with mountain bikers. Of the mountain bikers, about 50% are polite, about 40% are quite otherwise, and about 10% are dangerous jerks. I don’t know what it is about mountain biking that so attracts the arrogant entitled, but they are are the bane of hikers. One mountain biker threatened to run me down and screamed epithets are me because I hesitated looking for a place to step off the trail without poison oak. I have come to strongly believe that hikers and mountain bikers cannot share trails, they must be separated. Sadly, the WS Trail route used to be hiker and equestrian only before it was turned into a mountain bikers playground in 2000. I took the northern side of the loop, which is not the WS Trail, but has fewer mountain bikers in the morning.

Eventually, the WS Trail route leaves the loop and continues on trails that are open to but not congested with mountain bikers. This trail leads down to the confluence of the North Fork and Middle Fork American Rivers. Even with the water still very cold, this area was packed with people out enjoying the weekend, and parked along the roadway for quite some distance.

The route stays on the north side of the American River, but it is worth walking across the Hwy 49 bridge and then the Mountain Quarries bridge for the views, and then back to the main route. This climbs very gradually away from the river on the Mountain Quarries railroad grade, but then leaves it and climbs more steeply to Robie Point. It then drops and contours around to the Auburn Staging Area, which is the end of the Western States Trail, and the ADT segment 5, and the end point of the ride and race. There is a skate park near the staging area, and it is fun to watch young people on skateboards, kick scooters, roller blades, and even a bicycle.

I camped out not far from the trailhead, then in the morning walked to Auburn Station and caught the Capitol Corridor train back home to Sacramento.

It was my intention to continue west on the ADT-5 and Pioneer Express Trails, but my feet were worn out, so I deferred that to my next trip.

ADT-CA-4 route on GaiaGPS

Photos on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/allisondan/albums/72157718860683176

South Fork American River 2021-03

Last week I completed a backpack trip from the east end of the South Fork American River Trail at Greenwood Creek trailhead to Folsom. The new section for me was the eastern part, about 13 km.

I started out with a dayhike with my friend Steffani and dog, which is how I got to a place that is definitely not transit accessible. When she headed home, I walked a short ways to camp, then explored around. I had thought the trail right next to the river was the main trail, but it is not, the main trail stays up higher on the hillsides. I walked to Greenwood Creek, down along the river, and back to my campsite.

The next morning I did more walking to warm up from a night colder than I was expecting. The meadow/old pasture a short ways in from the Magnolia Ranch trailhead was full of early morning birds, including man pairs of mountain bluebirds which I rarely see, maybe using the nest boxes. The canyon was filled with fog in the morning, which gradually burned off.

Hastings Creek is the first water, quite a large creek for such dry country, with a fancy bridge. From there the trail climbs and descends heading west and southwest. I saw almost no one until close to the Cronan Ranch road (not open to the public but used by hikers, bicyclists and equestrians), where there were suddenly a lot of people out enjoying the day, almost a crowd. A few of the grassy areas had a lot of flowers, but most did not, with the best abundance on shallow rocky soils (maybe with some serpentinitic influence. The river is visible below in many places. The main trail never dips down to it, but side trails reach it at a few points. I used the Norton Ravine access trail and spent some while on the sandy beach.

South Fork American River near Norton Ravine

The trail passes through a section of chaparral, that had very few flowers this time of year, but a rare plants sign indicates there is more here than meets the eye. The chaparral, which often forms on drier south-facing slopes, is so very different from the rest of the trail. Chemise is the most common plant, manzanita probably next.

From the side trail to Satan’s Cesspool, where I had been before, the trail continues to climb through grassy hillsides and oak groves before reaching a saddle with broken down picnic tables. The trail then roller coasters through semi-chaparral, and then enters Pine Hill Preserve, host to four rare plants and four endemic and rare plants, though I’m not sure if all these are present in this section or south of the river in the main preserve area.

The trail descends to Skunk Hollow raft take out, and ends there. A walk across the (new) Salmon Falls bridge and along the road a short ways leads to the Salmon Falls raft take out, and the start of the Sweetwater trail.

Folsom reservoir (I refuse to call reservoirs lakes) is down quite a bit, 396.2 feet elevation on Friday, so the (old) Salmon Falls 1925 bridge is exposed, and the river flowing beneath it, and I walked out to it. Along with a lot of other people – it was quite a popular destination. Though the water level was much lower in 1997 and 2015, I did not see it then, so this was a first for me. It also exposed the Natoma Ditch, alongside the river, that I’d also like to explore. In 2015 Salmon Falls itself was apparently exposed, downstream from the old bridge, but it takes a lower water level, and I’m not sure how low. The water is currently rising, slowly, so I imagine now is the time. It will drop again in the fall, perhaps to a near record low, if the drought pattern that is setting up continues. The best information about the Salmon Falls area, and in fact the entire Folsom Lake SRA, seems to be Kevin Knauss, https://insuremekevin.com/blog-post-history/hidden-history-beneath-folsom-lake/. You’ll have to poke around a bit to find his blog posts, or just buy the book!

Though I am aware that low reservoirs means water restrictions later in the year, I am so pleased to see a free-flowing river where there is normally stagnant reservoir water. Nature heals, if allowed.

I camped near a water source just beyond Sweetwater Creek. Saturday I continued west on the Browns Ravine trail, which has mileage markers from 17 near the Old Salmon Falls staging area, down to 3.5. West of 3.5 they are missing, and the trail is not as obvious across the dike, through the picnic area, and on towards Folsom Lake Crossing, where it exits to the intersection at two barely visible places. I think there is a plan to improve this section, and maybe rename it the June Cash trail.

From there I followed the Johnny Cash trail/bike path down into Folsom, had iced tea at Reset: Cafe, and then headed home on light rail. Sutter Street in Folsom is quite busy on Saturdays, with a farmers market in the morning and two blocks of the street closed to cars, for people to wander and enjoy.

My hiking distance was about 64 km. The three sections are available in my GaiaGPS account:

Photos on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/allisondan/albums/72157718503035829

Ridge Trail by Transit

For the last three and a half years I’ve been hiking the Bay Area Ridge Trail, which encircles the bay area on the ridges high above the bay, except where it crosses at the Golden Gate, and the delta near Martinez. Of the completed trail (390 miles / 628 km), I have walked 92% of it, and have also walked some of the gaps in the trail which will eventually measure about 550 miles (990 km), so I have not even come close to the whole route, but with my hike two weeks ago on Almond Ranch have reached a point of completion that I’d like to write about.

And I did almost all of it by transit!

The Bay Area is relatively rich in transit, and many trail segments have transit access close to or even at the trailheads. Of course my tolerance for walking to the trailhead from the nearest transit stop is probably greater than most people’s, but a commitment to transit instead of driving makes for a wonderful accomplishment, and for me an enjoyable planning activity. I have been car-free for nine years, and car-lite for five before that. My life is one of walking, bicycling, transit and trains. The most important decision I’ve made in my entire life was to become car-free, and the word free is appropriate. One cannot truly be free if one is attached to a car. So I encourage everyone else to become car-lite, or car-free. The earth will thank you. The natural areas you love to visit, including the Bay Area Ridge Trail, will thank you. Your city or town will thank you.

Matt Davis Trail (Bay Area Ridge Trail), Mt Tamalpais State Park

Trip Planning

I use both Google Maps and Transit app to plan my trips. Of course I take the Capitol Corridor train from my home in Sacramento, usually transferring to BART and/or the bus as I get closer. Google Maps is good for overall planning, as it shows multiple options if they exist. Google also allows you to save or send the planned route, for future reference on a different device. When I’m actually traveling, though, I use the Transit app (iOS and Android) as it contains real-time information for most of the transit agencies, rather than the scheduled times shown by Google Maps. It shows only up to three options, so sometimes misses an appropriate routing that Google would show.

Pandemic note: All of the transit agencies have cut back some of their services during the pandemic, ranging from minor cuts to cutting entire routes. Routes may have less frequent service, or longer gaps mid-day, or a shorter span of service (from start to end on each day), or run less frequently on weekends, or not at all. Do not rely on information that may be out of date, including mine, but check for the specific date you are planning on traveling. If the level of service seems unacceptable, try different times of day or different days of the week (weekdays/weekends). For some transit agencies, Google is updated to current schedules almost immediately, but for some agencies there may be a delay of several days or up to two weeks, so if a change has happened recently for the transit agency you are planning to use, it may be worth calling to check. Transit app, so far as I have experienced, is brought up to date within a day.

If you are traveling on any of the Bay Area transit providers (except Capitol Corridor), Clipper Card is the way to go. You can load value on the card, and can set it up to autoload more value when you get low. It is contactless and very convenient, and eliminates the need to figure out how to purchase tickets for each agency or trip.

For the trail itself, I use GaiaGPS iOS app on my iPhone. I have entered the trail segments, often by tracing on trail routes while looking at the Ridge Trail pdf maps. The web browser version is the place for planning trips and tracing routes, but the iOS version fits in my pocket. The council also has used OuterSpatial, a phone app, and recently developed a partnership with AllTrails.

I freely admit that your trip including transit will take longer than if you drove, sometimes a little longer, sometimes a lot longer. The further out you are, the less frequent the bus is likely to be, with up to 75 minute headways, gaps during the mid-day, and less or no weekend service. So part of the planning process is seeing if the transit schedule matches your schedule. How much time do you have? Do you have a choice about days of the week, or time of day?

If you bicycle the gap between the transit stop and the trailhead, of course that will be much quicker, but sometimes there are pretty steep hills, and unless you have an old beater bike, leaving your bike locked at the trailhead all day (or longer) may not be smart. But I have done that a few times, for some of the longer walks. Of course if you have a mountain bike and those skills, most segments of the trail are open to mountain bikes, and you can just continue right onto the trail. With the exception of Muni Metro, all trains and buses have some bicycle capacity.

I have also hitchhiked a few times. Saratoga Gap, where the Ridge Trail crosses Hwy 9 on the peninsula, is not accessible by transit, so I hitchhiked down to Saratoga at the south end of one hike, and then back up to the gap to continue my hike south. I also hitchhiked from the summit on Hwy 29 back to Calistoga, after completing the Oat Hill Mine, Palisades, and Mt. St. Helena spur trails. I realize that most people will not be comfortable hitchhiking (and you probably would not get a ride during the pandemic anyway), so making use of Meetup may be your solution for these segments.

The Meetup group Bay Area Ridge Trail (RT) & More, offers group hikes along various sections of the Ridge Trail and other nearby trails. You can often arrange to catch a ride with a participant, if you plan ahead of time, getting to the trailhead for hikes without transit access. The council itself offers guided hikes from time to time, day and overnight, including some segments that are not yet accessible to the public. Check https://ridgetrail.org/events/ for details. Of course there are many fewer group activities during the pandemic, but I imagine both sources will ramp back up as the pandemic fades.

The council’s trail maps, at https://ridgetrail.org/trail-maps/, and the book Bay Area Ridge Trail: The Official Guide for Hikers, Mountain Bikers, and Equestrians, by Elizabeth Byers and Jean Rusmore (https://www.wildernesspress.com/product.php?productid=16685; also Amazon Kindle book https://www.amazon.com/Bay-Area-Ridge-Trail-Equestrians-ebook/dp/B07WXPPWMS/), are of course valuable planning tools.

sunset and smoke, Loma Alta Preserve, Marin County

Trip Examples

The council’s Backpacking Trip: Presidio to Mt. Tamalpais (https://ridgetrail.org/backpacking-trip-presidio-to-mt-tamalpais/), can be accessed by transit. Arguello Gate is accessible from Muni 1 on California, 0.3 mile walk, or Muni 38/38R on Geary, 0.6 mile walk. The south end of Golden Gate Bridge is accessible by Golden Gate Transit 30, 70, or 101 buses. The. North end of the bridge is NOT accessible by transit, except by walking the 1.8 miles across the bridge. Pantoll Ranger Station, the north end of this trip, is accessible by Marin Stage 61 bus. Some corrections to the book text: Haypress Campground is not free, it is $5/night, reservations at https://www.recreation.gov/camping/campgrounds/10067346. Site 3 at Pantoll Campground is $7/night for backpackers.

Access to both Almaden Quicksilver County Park and Santa Teresa County Park is also by transit, using VTA 83 bus stop on McKean Road near Almaden Road. Walking south 0.4 miles is the Mockingbird Trailhead entrance to Almaden Quicksilver County Park, and thence 16.3 miles (26.3 km) of Ridge Trail through the park and Sierra Azul Open Space Preserve to Lexington Reservoir. Walking north 0.3 miles to Alamitos Creek trailhead, that follows Alamitos Creek and Calero Creek, and into Santa Teresa County Park, 6.3 miles (10.2 km) to Coyote Peak. 

A short 0.2 mile walk from the AC Transit 99 bus stop on Mission Blvd in Hayward to the Dry Creek Pioneer Regional Park leads onto the long Chabot to Garin segment of the Ridge Trail. This 10.6 mile segment to Five Canyons Parkway, is also the southern-most of a continuous 48.4 mile Ridge Trail to Kennedy Grove Regional Park in El Sobrante. Notes: You can also go through Garin Regional Park, but the walk to or from Mission Blvd bus stop is much longer. The Dry Creek section will become a side trail once the next segment to Niles Canyon is completed, perhaps in 2021.

And of course the council’s Berryessa BART Transit to Trails Adventures (https://ridgetrail.org/bart-transit-to-trails-adventures/), not only starts at the Berryessa BART station, but passes the VTA Penitencia Creek Light Rail Station as well. It provides access to Alum Rock Park, with a short but safe no-trail section of road, and Sierra Vista Open Space.

Bay Area Ridge Trail, Huckberry Preserve, Alameda County


GaiaGPS: my Bay Area Ridge Trail tracks and routes, including waypoints for the major transit access points, at https://www.gaiagps.com/datasummary/folder/ced071b9-a8d3-45b3-9c28-570b755ef065/. I do not claim that my tracks and routes are completely accurate, or that they are fully up-to-date, but I do update it as often as I can, and refine the routes I’ve traced as soon as new trails show up in Open Street Maps, which is the underlying geographic database for GaiaGPS. You do not need to have a GaiaGPS account to view this information in a web browser, but do for iOS/Android, but to change map layers or manipulate data for your own use, you do need an account.

My photo collection for the Ridge Trail is on Flickr at https://www.flickr.com/photos/allisondan/collections/72157708271186714/.

Previous blog posts on my Ridge Trail trips are accessible at https://allisondan.wordpress.com/tag/bay-area-ridge-trail/. Not all my trips, mind you, I missed posting on some, particularly the shorter day hikes.