Lafayette Ridge Trailhead,
Briones Regional Park,

East Bay Regional Park District,

Contra Costa County
In brief:
4.5 mile out and back hikes through the southern part of Briones.

Distance, category, and difficulty
:
This 4.5 mile out and back hike is moderately easy, with about 900 feet in elevation change. Trailhead elevation is about 400 feet. The featured hike climbs to about 1300 feet. There are several steep sections.

Exposur
e
:
Almost totally exposed.

Trail traffic
:
Moderate.

Trail surfaces
:
Dirt fire roads.

Hiking time
:
2 hours.

Season
:
Too hot in summer. Best in late winter and early spring.

Getting there
:
From CA 24 in Contra Costa County, exit Pleasant Hill Road (exit 14). Drive north on Pleasant Hill Road about 1 mile to the second traffic light (Springhill Road), make a u-turn, then drive south on Pleasant Hill Road and take the first right into the parking lot.

Get driving or public transit directions from Transit and Trails:
http://transitandtrails.org/trailheads/207

GPS Coordinates* for Trailhead
:
Latitude 3754'22.74"N
Longitude
122 6'2.79"W
(* based on Google Earth data, shown as degrees, minutes, seconds)

Gas, food, and lodging
:
Gas, stores, and restaurants in surrounding Lafayette neighborhoods. No camping.

Trailhead details
:
Large parking lot. No toilet facilities. No admission or parking fees. Maps available at the information signboard. There is no direct public transportation to the park. County Connection bus #206 has limited service along Pleasant Hill Road, within walking distance to the trailhead.

Rules:
Most trails are multi-use. A few are open to equestrians and hikers only, and one trail is designated hiking only. Dogs are permitted. Park is open from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.

The Official Story:
EBRPD's Briones page
Park headquarters 510-562-PARK

Map Choices:
• Use AAA's San Francisco Bay Region map to get to the park
Map from EBRPD 
A Rambler's Guide to the Trails of the East Bay Hills, Northern Section, published by The Olmsted & Bros. Map Co. (order this map from Amazon.com)
Afoot and Afield: San Francisco Bay Area, by David Weintraub (order this book from Amazon.com) has a great map and descriptions of a Briones hike.
East Bay Out, by Malcolm Margolin, has an incomplete map and good park descriptions (order this book from Amazon.com).
East Bay Trails, by David Weintraub, has several small maps and trail descriptions (order this book from Amazon.com).





Go to Bay Area Hiker Home page




Briones Regional Park features four major trailheads with many loop possibilities. TrailheadAbundant loops everywhere, that is, except from this trailhead, where you hike about 1.75 miles and climb over 600 feet in elevation before you reach a major junction. The Lafayette Ridge Trailhead is convenient, less than a mile north of CA 24, but after hiking the Lafayette Ridge Trail you may consider the proximity a mixed blessing, as traffic noises drift up the ridge top. The Reliez Valley Trailhead, a few miles north of the Lafayette Ridge Trailhead, has a small lot, and the first 1.5 miles of the trail edge between housing developments (with lots of cows along, and sometimes on the trails). The three other trailheads, Bear Creek, Alahambra Valley, and Briones Ridge Road, collect entrance fees, but deliver you to the heart of the park immediately, and offer expanded amenities. View of Mount Diablo from Lafayette Ridge TrailUnless you have a profound dislike of cows, there's a lot to love at Briones, so you might explore the trailheads and see which one(s) you like best.
        For this featured hike, enter the park from the parking lot, and take the right trail uphill a few yards.  Go through the gate and then follow the broad fire road uphill. A leaning sign post is easy to miss at the first junction. Go to the left on the Lafayette Ridge Trail. A gradual climb through grassland takes you around a farm in the crease of the hills. The trail can be very muddy after rain, even before the cows muck it up. At the next unsigned junction, turn left and continue to walk uphill.  An old, abandoned ramshackle farm building comes into view on the left side of the trail. On a hike in November along here I saw a flock of tiny yellow goldfinches flying from tree to hillside and back again, over and over. Lafayette Ridge TrailThey were so small that each could sit on a blade of dry grass without bending it. After the trail passes the building, it reaches a flat, then turns uphill again. There are plenty of animal paths near here, so when in doubt about the trail, just keep climbing on the wide road. Some oaks creep close to the trail on the north side of the trail. A small path (the Briones to Las Trampas Trail) breaks off and heads south. Continue uphill on the Lafayette Ridge Trail. Views of Mount Diablo are outstanding the entire hike, and as you climb higher you have great perspectives in all directions:  Las Trampas to the south, Berkeley hills to the west, Suisun Bay to the north.
        After about a mile, go through a gate and continue straight at an (under)signed junctionJunction The trail dips down for a few yards, then turns away from a locked gate marking the park's boundary; turn to the north on a multi-use singletrack trail. You may notice that on the "share the trails" sign at the start of this section the words hikers and equestrians have been scratched in an attempt to obliterate them, leaving the word bicyclists intact. Everyone's a critic of park management, apparently. The short portion of trail skirts a large lovely house, then broadens again at a damp seep, and continues uphill. It then delivers you to a very poorly signed junction under an oak tree. Basically it's a 4 way junction. The trail to the east (right) goes to the road, then ends, and the trail to the left, which is signed, crests at a shady hill, then drops down and ends at a construction site. You want to go straight (a quick right and then left), but from the junction you can barely see that the trail goes that way, and it's unmarked. The photo of this junction doesn't help much; look to the water tank, then down, and you'll see it. Lafayette Ridge Trail
        Continuing on the Lafayette Ridge Trail, this next section of the park, away from the houses, is the nicest stretch of this hike. At about 1.6 mile, a whisper of a path through the grass marks the start of the Springhill Trail. I've never been on this trail, so I can't vouch for it. If it wasn't signed I certainly would have missed it; it resembles a deer path more than a trail. Springhill Trail descends into a canyon to the north, then connects with the Buckeye Ranch Trail, which climbs back up to the Lafayette Ridge Trail. This option would add about 1.5 miles, and significant elevation change, to your hike.
        Continue on the Lafayette Ridge Trail, and look for deer, coyote, and bobcat prints in the soft mud after a rainstorm. The Lafayette BART station is visible to the south, and all this climbing has not reduced the traffic soundsfrom CA 24 much. As the trail rises and climbs repeatedly like the tracks of a roller coaster, views of the trails to the north get even better. Although this trail is not part of the Bay Area Ridge Trail system, I find it the archetypal ridge trail, hugging the contours of the crest, with views unobstructed by trees. Lafayette Ridge TrailA few maples cling to the hillside of the north slope among the many oaks, beneath the ridge line. Yellow star thistle grows down the middle of the trail in sections. When muddy, the hills can be a challenge to ascend and descend, as your feet slide in every direction. You can turn around wherever you please, but the logical spot is at about 2.25 miles, at the end of the Lafayette Ridge Trail. I love the view to the north from here, and admire the Briones Crest Trail, no wider than the ridge at sections. It makes me think of walking on the edge of a knife. At this unmarked junction, Russell Peak Trail heads to the left, and Briones Crest to the right. From here you could also extend your hike by making a loop out of the Russell Peak Trail and Mariposa Trail, for an additional 2.6 miles. For this featured hike, retrace your steps from this junction back to the trailhead.

Total distance: about 4.5 miles
Last hiked: Monday, November 8, 1999