Best Hikes of the East Bay
Our trail guide includes awesome views and abundant flora and fauna.
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Leona Heights Park
Oakland Three-mile loop, moderate to difficult.
Highlight: A mini redwood forest grows along the creek.
This is a hidden gem in Oakland, tucked in a steep canyon dense with vegetation. The walk takes one through two distinct landscapes—a lush redwood forest along a rocky creek and a dry California landscape. Park at Leona Lodge, 4444 Mountain Blvd., or nearby. The trail begins at a gated area downhill from the lodge at York Trail, which runs along the creek. You climb along the creek with waterfalls and rocky outcrops, crossing on footbridges occasionally. The single-track path emerges on a fire road that, if you take it to the left, goes up to Merritt College and connects to Leona Canyon Park, an East Bay Regional Park site. But go right, which winds downhill to a former sulfur mine. Once you descend to the residential area, it is a short walk back to Leona Lodge. Go any season. Dogs are permitted but on leash. Note: This trail isn’t always well-maintained, and so you may have to scramble over a fallen tree.
Meadows Canyon Trail and Seaview Trail
Tilden Regional Park, Berkeley Nine-mile out-and-back route, difficult.
Highlight: A three-bridge view of the bay to the west and Mount Diablo to the east along a glorious ridge-top ribbon of trail.
This trek goes from Lone Oak to the Steam Trains and back. From Lone Oak, go up Meadows Canyon Trail to the intersection with Curran (very muddy after heavy rains). Go right at Curran then immediately left up a short spur to Wildcat Canyon Road. Cross this paved road and take the fire road, the Seaview Trail, part of the Bay Area Ridge Trail network. It’s three steep miles to the Steam Trains. Once you climb above the eucalyptus groves, you’ll take in some of the best views of Berkeley and the bridges; to the east, San Pablo and Briones reservoirs cradled by the foothills that roll through the suburbs. Go in late spring or early summer, when the mud has dried out but the hills are still green. Dogs allowed off-leash.
Mulholland Ridge Trail
Mulholland Ridge Open Space Preserve, Moraga/Orinda Two miles, moderate.
Highlight: Stunning views from easily accessible trailheads that can be explored on the north side of this paved ridge.
Tucked away on the border of Orinda and Moraga, the Mulholland Ridge Trail is a little-known pathway. A mile off Highway 24 and accessed from both cities via Donald Drive, it’s easy to get to and worth the drive. This fairly elevated, easy, one-mile ridge walk (two miles round trip) has a moderately steep grade that flattens out between the water tower and the entrance on the Orinda side. The ridge is paved, so it’s a great spot for wet-weather hiking. Best of all are the 360-degree breathtaking views of the Oakland hills, Moraga Valley, and Diablo Range—and on a clear day, you can see the ships floating in the bay by Vallejo. A few benches and tables provide a perfect place to picnic. Dogs are free to go off-leash.
Oyster Bay Regional Shoreline
San Leandro 2.1-mile loop, easy, many parts paved
Highlight: Watching the planes land at Oakland International Airport and checking birds diving into the water.
Just a hop off Interstate 880, this East Bay Regional Park offers a fascinating look at how a former landfill site can be reclaimed for recreation and even wilderness on the edge of industrial San Leandro. Visitors can walk a loop trail on the outer edge of this landmass, which juts into the bay, as well as dirt trails through grasslands. The paved trail leads to a sculpture called Rising Wave by Roger Berry, 17 10-foot stainless-steel rods rising into the air and twisting. Dogs can be off-leash.
Little Yosemite Area
Sunol Regional Wilderness Area, Sunol One to two miles, easy
Highlight: Graceful trees arch over parts of the gently meandering trail, but the big, sprawling boulders and the gushing creek are the real draws.
Get a taste of Yosemite without even leaving the East Bay. It’s possible in the Sunol Regional Wilderness Area, where an easy, family-friendly dirt fire road leads to enormous rock formations tumbled into Alameda Creek. Languid pools and turbulent waterfalls crisscross the scenic gorge that is Little Yosemite, property owned by the San Francisco Water Department. Like the Yosemite its name is derived from, this scenic spot is heavily trafficked but stunningly pretty and accessible. Beware the heat in summer. Dogs are allowed off-leash.
Sausal Creek/Dimond Canyon Park
Oakland Three-mile out-and-back walk, moderate to difficult.
Highlight: A steep canyon hides the city this walk traverses.
This walk is either along Sausal Creek or, given the water levels, in the creek itself. Starting in the city’s Dimond Park, the path picks up near the playground and goes along the creek in Dimond Canyon Park rising into the hills. With the Leimert Bridge looming overhead, this journey feels like entering a secret portal that can traverse Oakland neighborhoods with stealth. After the Leimert Bridge, the trail sort of disappears for awhile, so it’s necessary to hop from rock to rock in the creek. Eventually, the trail follows a pedestrian tunnel under Highway 13 into Joaquin Miller Park. In winter, the water levels may be so high that you have to walk in the creek. Dogs are permitted but on-leash.
Guide to 12 East Bay HikesInstead of schlepping to see redwoods alongside throngs of tourists in the Muir Woods, beat a path to Redwood Regional Park, where redwoods stand as quiet sentries along the Stream Trail, often without the crowds. The beauty of hiking in the East Bay is that it can be a lone experience not far from the trailhead. A hike can be rife with misty vistas, dusty ridge trails, and rolling hills flecked with lowing cattle. The landscape announces seasons with California poppies bursting orange and interlocking tendrils of blooming Scotch broom undulating like a vast yellow sea. To understand this bit of East Bay paradise, follow this guide to 12 worthwhile hikes. It includes lesser-known adventures as well as old favorites in a world of hiking microclimates with unique characteristics. From Alameda, Berkeley, and Crockett to Moraga, Oakland, and San Leandro with varying distances and levels of difficulty, these hikes are sure to please.
Photos by Pat Mazzera