3.4 mile loop up and down hills outside of Martinez. Hosts a Bay Area Ridge
Distance, category, and difficulty:
This 3.4 mile loop hike, while short, is on the moderate side
of easy, due to a series of steep trails. From the parking lot (elevation
50 feet) the hike climbs to a ridge, drops down a canyon, rises to the ridge
again (reaching a high point of 625 feet), then descends back to the trailhead.
Total elevation change is about 900 feet.
Almost totally exposed.
Dirt fire roads.
Too hot in summer. Best in late winter and early spring.
From CA 4 in Contra Costa County, exit Alhambra Avenue (exit 9). Drive north
on Alhambra about 2 miles, then turn left (at a stop sign) onto Escobar.
Drive about 0.1 mile, then turn right onto Talbart. Drive on Talbart (which
becomes Carquinez Scenic Drive) about 0.3 mile, then turn left into the
Nejedly Staging Area.
Get driving or public transit directions from Transit and Trails:
GPS Coordinates* for Trailhead:
Longitude 122° 8'50.01"W
(* based on Google Earth
data, shown as degrees, minutes, seconds)
Gas, food, and lodging:
Gas, pay phones, stores, and restaurants back on Alhambra Avenue in Martinez.
No parking or entrance fees. Small parking lot (the upper lot is for equestrians).
There's no drinking water, but there is a portable toilet, and maps are
available at an information signboard. There is one handicapped parking
spot, but trail access is blocked, and trails are poorly-suited to wheelchairs.
This park is accessible by public transit. Visit 511.org for details.
Carquinez Strait is open from 8 a.m. to dusk (unless otherwise posted).
Most trails are multi-use. Some restrict bicycles. Dogs are permitted.
The Official Story:
Use AAA's San Francisco Bay Region map to get there.
Afoot and Afield: San Francisco Bay Area, by David Weintraub
this book from Amazon.com) has a great map and descriptions of a Carquinez
East Bay Trails, by David Weintraub (order
this book from Amazon.com) has a good map and a featured hike.
101 Great Hikes of the San Francisco Bay Area, by
Ann Marie Brown (order
this book from Amazon.com) has a simple map and descriptions of a featured
The Bay Area Ridge Trail, by Jean Rusmore(order
this book from Amazon.com) has a simple map and descriptions of the
Carquinez Strait segment of the Ridge Trail.
Strait in a nutshell -- a printable, text-only guide to the featured
photos from this hike.
Go to Bay Area Hiker Home page
landscape of rolling grassy hills and oak woodlands is typical in this part of Contra Costa County -- nearby Briones and Mount
Wanda offer similar profiles. But unlike those parks, Carquinez Strait
Regional Shoreline, perched above its namesake channel, offers unobstructed
views of Suisun Bay, Benicia, and southern Solano County.
The main section of this 2,800 acre park stretches
from John Muir National Historic Site and CA 4 to Carquinez Strait,
but there's a separate, smaller parcel near Port Costa. The Bay Trail
has proposed a segment running along the north edge of Carquinez Strait
Regional Shoreline, and part of the Bay Area Ridge Trail cuts through
Beginning a hike at the Nejedly Staging Area,
a short distance from Martinez, is convenient but does present some challenges. This
is one trailhead where people hang out in the parking lot all day long,
so be sure to lock your car, and hiking alone is not recommended. Once
you start into the park you'll find a choice of three routes to the ridge,
all somewhat steep, with California Riding and Hiking Trail the most extreme.
The three trails nearly meet along the ridge, and from a quick series
of junctions you can select a loop or out-and-back trek. Since cattle
range through the shoreline park, trails can be muddy during the wettest
months of the year. I usually avoid these mostly exposed slopes in the
summer, but recently I had a terrific hike during a breezy August day
when the temperatures lingered around 70 degrees.
Begin at the
gated Rankin Park Trail, which starts near a picnic table. On the
other side of the cattle gate the trail splits at a signed junction. Turn
left (although the other leg is an option). The narrow trail, open
to hikers and equestrians, begins a steep ascent under shade of coast
live oak and California bay, with poison oak, monkeyflower, and coyote
brush in the understory. After an intial uphill stretch, the trail makes
a sharp right and climbs along the property boundary, with a cemetery
visible on the left. Sunny patches yield a few toyon shrubs, and a mark
a transition to grassy oak woodland, with a few buckeye and many gorgeous
blue oaks prominent along the trail. At 0.18 mile, there's a bench off
the trail to the right. In summer yellow star thistle is common, overtaking
the grassland. At 0.20 mile, the path bends left, passes through a cattle
gate, and meets a fire road. Turn right to continue uphill, still
on Rankin Park Trail.
Sharp eyed hikers might notice a few fruit
and olive trees on the left, mixed through poison oak and toyon, as well
as blue, valley, and coast live oak. The broad multi-use trail climbs
at a moderate grade, curving uphill. You'll pass through another cattle
gate, then make a final press toward the ridge. Buckeyes huddle together
downslope on the left, and oaks taper off as grassland takes over. In
summer, tarweed tints entire hillsides yellow. At 0.67 mile you'll reach
a signed junction and the end of Rankin Park Trail. Turn right onto
California Riding and Hiking Trail.
The trail, open to hikers, equestrians,
and cyclists, rises through grassland, then descends easily to a signed
junction at 0.80 mile. Turn left onto Franklin Ridge Loop Trail.
At a somewhat steep pitch, the multi-use
through grassland. Look for buckwheat blooming on the hillside to the
right in summer. At 1.00 mile, the trail reaches a saddle and an unmarked
junction. Trails straight and to the left dead-end at the park border.
Turn right to remain on Franklin Ridge Loop Trail.
The trail descends steadily as it continues
its circuit around the ridge. A seasonal creek on the left sustains a
mixture of California bay, buckeye, poison oak, and coast live, valley,
and blue oaks. Some patches of sagebrush, coyote brush, monkeyflower,
and toyon coat the lower slopes of the grassy hillside on the right. At
1.74 miles, a spur continues straight to Carquinez Scenic Drive, while
Franklin Ridge Loop Trail veers right at an unsigned junction. Turn
Lost elevation is quickly regained on a
very steep stretch through pretty oaks. With every step there are increasingly
long views north, to Carquinez Strait and then Benicia. Gradually vegetation shifts to poison
oak and coyote brush-dotted grassland. Still skirting downslope of ridgeline,
the trail eases up to a moderate climb. At 1.96 miles, look for a small
unsigned but obvious path on the left. Turn left (this is optional).
On my summer hike as I walked through the
grassland yellow star thistles jabbed at my ankles and calves, and lizards
skittered about. The path rises to a hilltop and bench, ending at 2.07
miles. This is a nice place for lunch (although there is another bench
a short distance further on the loop trail, just off the trail). When
ready, retrace your steps back to Franklin Ridge Loop Trail, then turn
The ascent is easy here, and the views outstanding.
On clear days you should be able to see quite a distance east, but even
in the summer haze
southern Solano County and the Benicia-Martinez Bridge should be visible.
You may be captivated by the progress of tugboats bullying freighters
through the strait. At an unsigned junciton at 2.21 miles, a dead-end
trail departs on the left, leading to a picnic table. Continue straight.
With no shade along the trail, it can get
quite hot in summer, and even an infrequent breeze makes all the difference
between swelting and mild. Look for raptors casing the hillsides on the
right. At 2.74 miles, another dead-end trail sets off on the left, the
junction unmarked. Continue straight.
The trail eschews a straight line and follows
a curvaceous route uphill through grassland. Look back for a nice view
of a single graceful oak on the ridge. At 2.96 miles, one last unsigned
dead-end trail starts on the left. Continue straight, but a few
a signed junction at 2.98 miles, you'll reach California Riding and Hiking
Trail again. Turn left.
Although this trail is very steep and narrow,
it is a multi-use segment of the Bay Area Ridge Trail. After a short drop
through grassland, California Riding and Hiking Trail adopts a course
along a seasonal creek, shaded by California bay, buckeye, Coast live,
and blue oaks. Watch out for poison oak, which is common. The trail maintains
a steep grade through a patch of sagebrush, monkeyflower, and toyon, then
tapers off as it turns right to rejoin the creekbed. There's one final
sharp stretch, then the trail cuts left and almost completely levels out.
You might notice a few ash trees along the trail. Finally, you'll step
out of the woods and follow the trail through grassland. At 3.42 miles
California Riding and Hiking Trail ends at a gate on the edge of the parking
Total distance: 3.42 miles
Last hiked: Thursday, August 22, 2002