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

Resources

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.

Ridge Trail: Big Rock to Pantoll 2020-09

I finally got to the Lucas Valley and Loma Alta sections of the Bay Area Ridge Trail in September, and re-hiked from White Hill to San Francisco, on a five day backpack trip in September (yes, posting this late because I’d forgotten to earlier).

As usual, this was transit accessible section: Capitol Corridor to Richmond, AC Transit 72M to west Richmond, Golden Gate Transit 40 to San Rafael, and Marin Transit 245 to the intersection of Lucas Valley Road and Gallinas Road. The a longer walk than most trips along Lucas Valley Road, 3.4 miles (5.5 km), most with a wide shoulder or parallel residential streets, but some unpleasant along narrow shoulders. It would have been a longer walk, but some women playing tennis recommended that I head up Luiz Fire Road to the ridge, much better than continuing along Lucas Valley Road.

Finally on trail (fire road) again, the steep climb opened up great views to the south and east. At the top of the ridge, I turned west to meet with the end of the Ridge Trail as it comes up from Big Rock. I had always assumed that Big Rock was on top of Big Rock Ridge, but in fact it is in the low gap where Lucas Valley Road goes from Lucas Valley to Nicasio Valley. Of course as always, there are great views from the ridge. The end/start of the ridge trail is further west along the ridge, and the Big Rock Trail (as called the Lucas Valley Trail) heads downhill towards Big Rock, sometimes on fire roads and sometimes on single track.

bay laurel and rock, Loma Alta Trail

Crossing Lucas Valley Road in a tunnel, the trail ascends Loma Alta Fire Road through private ranch lands, and then into the Loma Alta Preserve, where is descends to Sir Francis Drake Blvd. I had forgotten, after a summer of backpacking in the Sierra, how damp and foggy the coast ranges can be, a different world.

From this point to San Francisco, I’ve hiked the Ridge Trail in the past, Ridge Trail: White Hill to Pantoll 2017-10 and ADT9: San Francisco to Point Reyes 2013-11, but it is a favorite section, so I did it again. People are outside much more than usual as a result of the pandemic, and the trails were crowded through Samuel Taylor State Park, the Matt Davis Trail north of Pantoll Station, and around Tennessee Valley. I camped at the Pantoll campground, which has a lower cost backpacker site, and again at Haypress campground near Tennessee Valley. On the other hand, I saw almost no one on the Bolinas Ridge section.

After some time in San Francisco, I took San Francisco Bay Ferry to Oakland, and Capitol Corridor train back home to Sacramento.

This hike was approximately 46.4 miles (74.7 km) from the start to the north end of the Golden Gate Bridge, which is the official zero point of the trail, though of course I also walked the bridge and into San Francisco.

Photos on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/allisondan/albums/72157716600491713; Bay Area Ridge Trail collection on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/allisondan/collections/72157708271186714/.

Ridge Trail: Almond Ranch 2020-12

On December 5 I completed the Almond Ranch section of the Bay Area Ridge Trail. This section, which is on a newly acquired property managed by John Muir Land Trust (JMLT) fills a gap between the Mount Wanda trail within John Muir National Historic Site and Sky Ranch which were previously protect by the trust, and which now forms a large protected area along Franklin Ridge.

My access was by Capitol Corridor train from Sacramento to Martinez, then walking along streets of Martinez to the trailhead in John Muir NHS. There is a bus stop very close to the trailhead, but on weekends the bus only runs every 785 minutes, so it was much easier to walk the 2.1 miles (3.4 km) than wait for the bus. The trailhead for Mount Wanda can be accessed from Alhambra Ave just south of Hwy 4, or through the NHS when it is open. There is also a back-gate access to the trail, but as an exit only, you can’t re-enter the NHS, which takes you under Hwy 4 and connects to the trailhead.

The Mount Wanda trail is a fire road that climbs to the ridge top, opening up good views in all directions, then dips a bit and climbs to the Mount Wanda/Almond Ranch fence and gate. Almond Ranch was opened in October. Rather than following the fire road, a new trail diverges off the ridge top and contours around hillsides to regain the fire road/trail in Sky Ranch. Most of Almond Ranch is open grasslands, but the off the ridge and down in the draws there are oaks, California Bay Laurel, and other species that like more moisture and less wind. Where the new trail meets Sky Ranch, there is a row of huge concrete pipe segments, the purpose of which mystifies me. These are the sort of pipes usually used for sewer lines in cities, so what are they doing here?

Almond Ranch trail (Bay Area Ridge Trail) and oak

With this gap closure, the Bay Area Ridge Trail is now continuous from Benecia, across the Martinez-Benicia bridge, through Martinez, to Nejedly Staging Area, and up through the Carquinez Strait Regional Shoreline, to John Muir NHS, along Franklin Ridge and then down to Ferndale Road, a distance of 10.2 miles (16.4 km). There follows a gap of 1.7 miles (2.8 km), which can be walked by following Ferndale and Alhambra Valley roads for 2.5 miles (4 km). The trail then climbs out of Alhambra Valley over East Bay Municipal Utility District lands, through Sobrante Ridge Regional Preserve, and down to Conestoga Way. There is then a 1.8 mile (2.9 km) gap along surface streets to the next segment of the Ridge Trail in Kennedy Grove.

Almond Ranch will also be part of the yet incomplete Carquinez Strait Loop Trail. With this Almond Ranch gap closure, the Dutra Ranch Trail (also called Contra Costa Feeder Trail #1) becomes a side trail of the Ridge Trail.

Photos on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/allisondan/albums/72157717423100027; and Bay Area Ridge Trail collection on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/allisondan/collections/72157708271186714/.

Ridge Trail: East Bay 2020-10 (+ SF + ADT)

This month I re-hiked the continuous section of the Bay Area Ridge Trail from Kennedy Grove recreation area in the north (El Sobrante) to Garin park in the south (Hayward), about 73 km (45 miles). Kennedy Grove is less than a mile from the AC Transit 74 bus stop on Castro Ranch Rd (though be warned, only every other bus goes to this destination), then along Hillside Dr (though be warned, the back gate from Hillside is signed as being open all park hours but was locked when I was there, so I had to crawl under the gate). The Ridge Trail leaves the area, parallels and then crosses San Pablo Dam Rd, and then climbs on trail and fire road to Nimitz Way on the crest. Nimitz Way is an old road now only open to hikers and bicyclists, and it can be quite busy when the weather is nice, as it is moderately flat and has great views. The trail then heads south to Inspiration Point on Wildcat Canyon Road in Tilden Park.

Dropping down to cross the road, it climbs again to the ridge crest and continues south to nearly Vollmer Peak, then down to the trailhead near the redwood railway. There is water here. On this hike, I found about half the water sources to be turned off. There is no justifiable reason for this, just lazy park personnel using the pandemic as an excuse to not clean drinking fountains.

Ridge Trail in Huckleberry Preserve

The trail continues south into East Bay Municipal Utilities District (EBMUD) lands, then Sibley Volcanic and Huckleberry Botanic preserves. The ridgeline is not flat, so the trail repeatedly loses and re-gains elevation. It passes Skyline Gate, which is one of the most popular access points in the east bay, so expect to see crowds of people for several miles though Redwood park. The water here was turned off. The trail loses considerable elevation to cross Redwood Creek, then climbs again into Anthony Chabot park. Passing close to Bort Campground (but not to, the maps are incorrect for the current alignment), the trail follows the creek and then gradually climbs to the ridge north of Chabot before descending to Chabot Staging Area, which is the EBMUD trailhead.

The Ridge Trail then ascends the ridge and then descends again to Cull Canyon recreation area, where there is usually water, but it was off. Following some streets and trail segments, the trail crosses Castro Valley Blvd and goes under I-580 (or you can follow Five Canyons Parkway, which is not a pleasant walk but saves distance and elevation loss).

From the Five Canyons trailhead, the trail climbs steeply to the ridgeline and wander along with good views and a lot of cows. PG&E is doing vegetation clearing in the area and has made a dust bowl of the fire road. They probably won’t fix it when they are done. The trail descends into Palomares Creek, dry this time of year, and then climbs the ridge again to Stonebrae Country Club. A ways south on the ridge, the trail starts its long descent. You can either go out to Dry Creek trailhead at May Rd, or out through Garin Park, which is nice but longer. Regular transit runs along Mission Blvd, a short walk from Dry Creek or longer walk from Garin. This entire section of the trail is dry, which is strange, since it passes five huge water tanks and goes through Stonebrae, which is an island of emerald green fairways on the otherwise dry ridge.

The trail will eventually stay on the ridge to the south and descend into Niles Canyon, instead of going out at Dry Creek, but that segment is not completed yet.

This section of the trail is the second longest of the entire trail, so makes some wonderful hiking. There is one backcountry camp, in Sibley Volcanic, but it is not at a location that makes sense for walking the trail. There are other backcountry camps on the planning horizon, but none under construction.

I took transit to San Francisco, and spent a day there, for the enjoyment and to give my feet a rest. I visited one of my San Francisco favorites, the Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park, swam a bit at Baker Beach, walked Lands End, and of course went to Acme Bread in the Ferry Building.

Japanese Tea Garden, San Francisco

Then I headed back out on the American Discovery Trail section CA-08, from San Francisco to Pleasant Hill. The route includes the ferry ride from the Ferry Building in San Francisco to Oakland Jack London, and then streets from there to UC Berkeley. I skipped the street walking this time to be nice to my feet, took transit, and picked up again at College Ave and Bancroft Way, where the route goes up Strawberry Canyon and the Jackson fire road to the crest. From here is follows the same route as the Bay Area Ridge Trail though Tilden Park, but descends from Inspiration Point to San Pablo Creek. On EBMUD lands, it parallels and then crosses the creek and goes around the east side of Briones Reservoir to Bear Creek Staging Area. Where the water was again turned off. From Bear Creek, the trial climbs to Lafayette Ridge and follows it down to Pleasant Hill Blvd, then up through Acalanes and down through the north end of Walnut Creek to where it meets the Contra Costa Canal trail. The trail along Lafayette Ridge is a roller coaster, up and down over enumerable hills, not a fun hike, but the views and vegetation are great.

ADT Trail on Lafayette Ridge

The ADT heads east southeast from here and up over the shoulder of Mt. Diablo, but my feet had had enough so I walked out the the Pleasant Hill BART station, took the bus to Martinez, had a beer at Del Cielo, and caught the Capitol Corridor home to Sacramento.

Photos on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/allisondan/albums/72157716598013768; Bay Area Ridge Trail collection on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/allisondan/collections/72157708271186714/

Ridge Trail: Santa Teresa 2019-11

Another section done, November 2019, one the last of the transit accessible sections in the south bay and east bay. I took Capitol Corridor to Diridon Station, light rail to Santa Teresa, and bus to McKean Road, near the trailhead. I walked up to Mockingbird Trailhead, which is the end of the Almaden Quicksilver section that I’d hiked in October 2018 (no post). There is a gap on surface streets, then the trail follows Alamitos Creek down and Calero Creek up, through suburban neighborhoods and then agricultural land.

sycamores along Calero Creek

The trail then heads steeply uphill into Santa Teresa County Park. It was raining off and on all day, with more rain visible to the west over the Santa Cruz Mountains, so the trail was muddy, but there were people out hiking on this day after Thanksgiving. Just before reaching the Pueblo picnic area, there is a ridge trail sign that is impossible, pointing three different directions, but the correct route is towards the picnic area, or to the right in the opposite direction. I sheltered at the picnic area to wait out a short downpour, then headed up the fire road to Coyote Peak. Coyote is supposed to be one of the best views around, but the views were obscured by low clouds and rain. The official trail ends at this point, but is likely to head east down through private lands to Bailey Avenue.

I headed down trails out of the park at an informal trailhead on Bernal Road. Though this will not be the final alignment, it is the practical gap to fill from Santa Teresa to Coyote Creek, so I walked the Bernal Road to the junction with the Coyote Creek section of the Ridge Trail, 6 km. This is not a pleasant walk; it is along a wide arterial road with heavy traffic and very poor crossings of side streets and freeway on-ramps and off-ramps. Presumably the Bailey Road alignment will be more pleasant.

This was a largely transit access trip. I took Capitol Corridor to San Jose, light rail to Ohlone/Chenowyth station, and bus 83 (weekday only) to the junction of Almaden Parkway and Harry Road, very close to the trailhead. On the east end, it was a fairly long walk to transit from the Coyote Creek junction, and due to a poor bus schedule I just walked all the way to the Santa Teresa light rail station. Then the reverse of all this back home.

Circumnavigation progress: 527 km of 612 km (380 miles), 86% of existing trail, plus 81 km of gaps.

Photos on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/allisondan/albums/72157712067223436

Category search for Bay Area Ridge Trail

Ridge Trail: OuterSpatial app

The Bay Area Ridge Trail is now available in the OuterSpatial app. This app, available for iPhone and Android (no iPad version yet) shows trails for all areas where a partner agency has provided the trail alignments, which includes the Bay Area Ridge Trail. An ‘interactive’ map has been available for several years through the ridge trail website, but it was not interactive in the sense of being location aware. The new app is, it has the ‘you are here’ blue dot so you can follow trails as you go. The Trails tab highlights the ridge trail in yellow, while the Outing tab shows trails that have been entered as part of an outing or trip. I used the app on my last ridge trail hike, Crockett Hills and Fernandez Ranch, and found it quite useful. Where there are unsigned or not clearly signed junctions, the app can keep you on track. Though a significant portion of the trails have updated signing, mostly correct, other parts have old signing, or confusing signing, or missing signing.

A screen capture of the app is below. It shows the two segments that I did on my most recent trip. You can zoom in for a great deal of detail, including other trails, creeks, and ridge lines. Check it out!

Ridge Trail: Crockett Hills and Fernandez Ranch 2019-11

Completing the last east bay segment of the ridge trail between Carquinez and Garin, I walked the Crockett Hills and Fernandez Ranch trails.

Another transit trip, I took WestCat Lynx from San Francisco to Hercules, and then WestCat 11 to Crockett. A short walk along Crockett Blvd leads to the Crockett Hills trailhead. The trail climbs up through a canyon and gains the ridge after passing under Cummings Skyway in a short tunnel. The views north to the Carquinez (Al Zampa) Bridge, and all of San Pablo Bay and the mountains beyond (Tamalpais and even the tip of Mt St Helena) are spectacular. The trail drops into and follows a creek valley, and then climbs out to a long descent towards Highway 4. The official trail ends before the final descent, but as always, with my attempt to hike the gaps as well as the trail, I continued.

The park trail ends at a ranch fence. From there, over the fence, squeeze through a chain link highway fence, through a tunnel, squeeze under another highway fence, then cross the eastbound highway 4, which took about 10 minutes of waiting for a gap in traffic, rather a busy highway for a Sunday), then over a barbed wire fence, through a long grazing area, through another barbed wire fence, across the railroad tracks (this is a busy BNSP route), and to the next trailhead. I DON’T recommend to anyone else doing this gap. I’m not sure what the eventual ridge trail alignment will be. There was flagging for a ‘cons ease’, I assume a conservation easement for a trail, through the ranch lands, but I don’t know where/how the crossing of Highway 4 will be.

trail through Crockett Hills Regional Park

The ridge trail starts again at the Fernandez Ranch trailhead on Christie Road, and climbs to the ridge top where it connects with the trail on EBMUD lands. This is the point where the western and eastern segments of the ridge trail, crossing respectively the Carquinez and Martinez-Benicia bridges. come back together. I had done the trail both south and east from here, so I walked along the ridge trail just to where it approaches a suburb of Hercules. There is no official trailhead here, but a fire/ranch road leads out on the north side of the neighborhood. From there, I caught WestCat bus 10 to Hercules, and then WestCat bus 30Z to Martinez, and Capitol Corridor home.

With this segment, my ridge trail distance is 516 km (320 miles), out of the 380 constructed. I note from the Ridge Trail website that the official completed mileage has gone from 375 to 380. I am unsure which segment completion boosted the mileage from 375 to 380, but every bit counts.

Photos on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/allisondan/albums/72157711981007963

Ridge Trail: Skyline to Mussel Rock 2019-11

On November 17 I joined a hike sponsored by the Bay Area Ridge Trail Council, from Skyline College to Mussel Rock, along the Milagra Ridge trail. This is a section I’d done before, but it is always nice to join a group of trail supporters for a hike. This was another transit trip, but unfortunately the SamTrans bus from San Francisco to San Bruno was cancelled (broke down, I heard), so I had to catch the next bus and missed the group at the trailhead. I caught up about half way between Skyline and Pacifica and went the rest of the way. The trail has spectacular views south toward the Fifield section of the ridge trail and coastline, and north towards the Marin Headlands. It descends into Pacifica and follows streets to Mussel Rock, north of town. From this point, the official trail head steeply uphill along streets into Daly City, which is the most boring part of the entire trail. We hung out at Mussel Rock for a while, then returned to Pacifica for lunch and a jazz band at the Chit Chat Cafe.

I understand that it is possible at very low tide to walk from Mussel Rock to Fort Funston, without going up the hill into Daly City. I’ll try it sometime. The steep and eroding cliffs down to the ocean won’t ever see an official trail, though.

Bay Area Ridge Trail hiking group, led by Bob Siegel (ridge trail hat and shirt)

Photos on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/allisondan/albums/72157711979167061

Ridge Trail: Sonoma 2019-07

Continuing my circuit of completed sections of the Bay Area Ridge Trail, I did three sections in Sonoma County in mid-July. And then was off on my summer backpacking in the Granite Chief Wilderness in the Sierra, and forgot to post on this trip.

This was my second major trip in Sonoma County. I took Capitol Corridor train to Richmond, bus to San Rafael, and SMART train to Santa Rosa, my first time on that commuter train. Unlike the Capitol Corridor, on which I can no longer write in my journal because the Union Pacific tracks are in bad and deteriorating condition, I could actually write on SMART. I took a local bus to the trailhead in Howarth Park.

The trail through Howarth Park, Spring Lake, and Annadel State Park gets less and less use the further from Santa Rosa, hikers dropping out first, then mountain bikers, and I saw no one the second half of the trip. There is a mix of grasslands and woodlands, and a few redwood groves in Annadel heading up to the ridge, and then down to the south trailhead on the Lawndale Trail. There are extensive burn areas to the south, probably from 2017. The burn is patchy and vegetation recovering. Redwoods, bay laurel, and black oaks sprout from the base, even when the tree is not killed.

I walked the gap between Lawndale trailhead and Hood Mountain trailhead, rural roads and along Highway 12.

The Johnson Ridge Trail starts immediately at the highway, follows an easement, and then into Hood Mountain Regional Park, climbing gradually and then more steeply towards the top. The Valley View trail segment was closed due to trail damage, but the route to the peak was clear if not as scenic. I spend the night on top, brilliant stars, spectacular sunrise, and fog in the valleys in the morning. The next morning I headed north along the the ridge to Azalea backcountry campground, which was fun but is not the ridge trail route, which will head south from the peak. The bedrock along much of the ridge is serpentinitic, producing low stature forests composed of Sargent cypress and many other adapted plants. Back down to the highway, I walked to Oakmont and then caught the bus back into Santa Rosa, where I stayed overnight at an Airbnb and visited the breweries.

view south from Hood Mountain, fog in the valleys

For the next segment, I took to bus from Santa Rosa to Glen Ellen and walked up into Jack London State Park. I climbed the Mountain Trail, then headed south along the East Slope trail to the current end of the ridge trail. The east slope trail is an actual constructed trail, a nice change after walking fire roads for much of the time. The trail wanders through redwoods, oaks, and grassland, ending at a small loop with beautiful rocks and trees, and with a thick growth of poison oak.

I returned north along the trail, and then the North Sonoma Mountain trail to its trailhead end, climbing steeply at the beginning and then descending gradually. I was originally going to return back through the park to Glen Ellen, but I was tired, my feet were sore, and the trail had lost a lot of elevation I’d have to regain. I hitched a ride into Rohnert Park, walked to the SMART station, and then did the reverse trip on the way home.

I had spent a lot of time in Sonoma County back in the 1990s, when there was almost no transit at all, and what there was, was infrequent and limited. Having real transit in the county now has made an incredible difference. Santa Rosa has changed as well. It used to be, as I called it, ‘a little piece of Los Angeles in northern California’ but it is now an interesting place, breweries, restaurants, concert in the park, etc.

With this trip, my ridge trail distance is about 505 km (313 miles) of the 375 constructed, plus 71 km (44 miles) of not-yet-constructed gaps. One segment in the south bay, and a few in the north bay, and I will have completed all the transit-accessible sections.

Photos on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/allisondan/albums/72157709605315442

Ridge Trail: Napa 2019-07

Yesterday I completed four segments in Napa County: Oat Hill Mine trail, Palisades & Table Rock trails, Mt St Helena, and the trail in Bothe-Napa Valley State Park. Below, I’m trying something new with photos, a Flickr embed.

Bothe Ridge Trail TH

As always, most of the access is by transit, this time Capitol Corridor to Suisun/Fairfield, then Vine Transit buses 21 and 10X to Calistoga, then a short walk to the trailhead for Oat Mine Hill trail. The Oat Hill Mine trail is an old wagon road, so the grade is moderate but continuous. The lower part is mostly shaded, oak forest, while the upper half is mostly sunny, chaparral with some grasslands. At the top of the hill, a marker on the sign post says ‘end Ridge Trail segment’ but this isn’t correct, as the trails along the ridge and to Mt St Helena have been added to the Ridge Trail. (7.3 km)

The Palisades trail is much different, a narrow trail with many rock steps. The sections with rock steps and through forested areas are in pretty good condition, but on the open grassy hillsides the trail is sloughing off, and the yellow star thistle (Centaurea solstitialis, an aggressive non-native invasive) has taken over the the grasslands, leading to a less than pleasant trail experience. The Palisades are a volcanic rock formation that tops the ridge and falls away steeply on the west side. The Palisades trail connects with the Table Rock trail that continues more or less along the ridge, crossing a small creek (probably seasonal) and continuing to the Highway 29 crossing. This seems to be a much older trail than the Palisades trail, well beat out and eroded by use. It passes two large labyrinths, but it was the heat of the day, so I skipped these. (9.7 km)

The next segment is the trail and road up Mt St Helena, the highest spot on the Ridge Trail (4342 ft/1323 m). The path is pretty boring, and passes through large areas that were burned in 2017, and/or butchered by a misguided attempt to create firebreaks (the fuels were not removed or burned, but left on the ground, so these actually carry fire better than live vegetation). But the views are pretty amazing. It was not a very clear day, but Mt Diablo and much of the route of the Ridge Trail is visible. Once years ago I was there on a very clear day, and most of northern California was visible. The vegetation contains California nutmeg (Torreya californica), a conifer with a cone that looks like a large green berry, and that sprouts after fires, and on the top of the north peak, sugar pine, with its long, pendant cones. (8.1 km)

I returned to Calistoga by hitching a ride from the Highway 29 saddle, not because returning on the trail would not have been good, but to save time. I walked the gap between Oat Hill Mine trailhead and Bothe Napa Valley State Park, stopping at Calistoga Roastery for tea. There is a path along the alignment of Washington Ave for about 1/3 of the walk, but the rest is along the shoulder of Highway 29. The high speed traffic is not pleasant, but there is space enough to feel safe, and in fact there is space enough to add a separated multi-use path. However, I hope there is some way the future Ridge Trail alignment can follow the Napa River, away from the highway. (8.0 km)

The trail up through Bothe Napa Valley state park along Ritchey creek is pleasant. The is apparently the furthest east occurrence of redwoods in Napa County, with some large though second growth trees in the lower part and increasing areas of redwoods in the upper part, which is further west. The lower trail dawdles along the creek, and the upper trail climbs the slopes above the creek. The official end may be at the creek crossing at ‘Traverso Homestead’ site, or maybe further up the old logging road at the park boundary (prominently signed) beyond which the road seems to disappear. There is no ‘end of Ridge Trail’ sign at either location. The trail will apparently go from here to Sugarloaf Ridge State Park. (5.5 km, or more)

It was my original intention to get to Santa Rosa for two more segments, but I did not feel like hitchhiking that part, and the transit all runs north-south, not east-west, so getting to Santa Rosa requires going all the way to El Cerrito Del Norte BART, and then back north. Yow! So those segments will await another trip.

I’m now at 68% of the trail, plus 64 km of gaps and side trails. The official trail tracker spreadsheet shows the Palisades/Table Rock and Mt St Helena segments as official parts of the trail, spurs, so those I’ve included in my total.