Kennedy Grove Regional Recreation Area,
East Bay Regional Park District,
Contra Costa County
In brief:
3 mile loop through woods and grassland near San Pablo Reservoir.

Distance, category, and difficulty:
This 3 mile loop hike is easy. Trailhead elevation is about 190 feet. The featured hike climbs to about 740 feet, descends to about 350 feet, climbs to 540 feet, then descends back to the trailhead. Some trails are steep, but short -- the total elevation change is about 740 feet.

More sun than shade.

Trail traffic:

Trail surfaces:
Dirt fire roads and trails.

Hiking time:
1 1/2 hours.

Getting there:
From Interstate 80 in Contra Costa County, exit San Pablo Dam Road (exit 18). Drive southeast on San Pablo Dam Road (toward El Sobrante) about 4.5 miles (about 0.6 mile past Castro Ranch Road), then turn left into the park. Continue about 0.2 mile to the park entrance kiosk.

Get driving or public transit directions from Transit and Trails:

GPS Coordinates* for Trailhead:
Latitude 3756'48.72"N
(* based on Google Earth data, shown as degrees, minutes, seconds)

Gas, food, and lodging:
Gas, stores, and restaurants along San Pablo Dam Road, near I-80. No camping.

Trailhead details:
$5 parking fee (April 1 to October 31). $2 dog fee. Parking in a large paved lot, with some overflow parking in an adjacent dirt lot. Drinking water, restrooms, maps, and pay phone at the trailhead. There are 3 designated handicapped parking spots, and although trails are ill-suited to wheelchairs, the picnic areas around the lawn are wheelchair accessible via a paved path. This trailhead is accessible by public transit. Visit the Transit Info website for details.

Park is open from 8 a.m. to dusk (hours vary slightly with the seasons). Dogs permitted on leash near the lawn, and off leash in the remote parts of the park. Some trails are multi-use, and a few are signed closed to bicycles.

The Official Story:
EBRPD's Kennedy Grove page
Park headquarters 510-223-7840

Map Choices:
• Use AAA's San Francisco Bay Region map to get there.
• Kennedy Grove map from EBRPD
The Bay Area Ridge Trail, by Jean Rusmore (order this book from has a simple map and descriptions of Kennedy Grove's segment of the Ridge Trail.

Kennedy Grove in a nutshell -- a printable, text-only guide to the featured hike.

View photos from this hike.

Go to Bay Area Hiker Home page

Kennedy Grove is a summertime weekend destination for picnics and weddings, as well as year round daily jogs or dogwalks. TrailheadWith reservable picnic areas, horseshoe pits, volleyball areas, a flat paved loop trail, and a children's playground, many visitors stray no further than the eucalyptus-rimmed lawn area. But this recreation area at the base of San Pablo Dam hosts a few short hikes through 218 acres of oak, grassland, chaparral, and California bay, and is a staging ground for hikes into adjacent EBMUD lands.
      A Bay Area Ridge Trail segment begins at Kennedy Grove, running along the western shore of San Pablo Reservoir, crossing San Pablo Dam Road, then climbing through a eucalyptus forest and chaparral to San Pablo Ridge. The out and back hike is a study in contrasts -- the first stretch along the reservoir is commonly noisy and dirty, and crossing San Pablo Dam Road can be downright terrifying, but once you begin climbing you are more likely to see and hear animals than people. Climbing on Lower Sea Foam Trail This is a very good hike for birdwatching, as hawks are regularly spotted, and some hikers have reported sightings of golden and bald eagles around San Pablo Reservoir. Once you reach the ridge you can extend a hike to the north or south on Nimitz Way. Note that a EBMUD permit is required for this hike.
     Within the confines of Kennedy Grove, a half dozen trails can be strung together for a few loops, all limited by the small size of the park. Portions of Upper and Lower Sea Foam Trails are surprisingly steep, while Kennedy Creek and Black Oak Trails have minimal elevation changes. When I visited in mid-July there were still a few wildflowers blooming in the chaparral, and evergreen woods of California bay and coast live oak provided a cool respite from summer heat. Black oaks in the park's northern section add color during autumn. At the View Point
     Start at the overflow parking lot near the entrance kiosk. About 2/3 of the way through the lot, gated Laurel Loop Trail begins on the left. Walk around the gate and head slightly uphill, through eucalyptus and coast live oak mixed with a few planted buckeye and white oak. The multi-use trail passes an off-limits service road on the right, then crests at a junction at 0.19 mile. Bear right.
     The broad extension of Laurel Loop Trail, open to hikers, equestrians, and cyclists, ascends easily through coyote brush, poison oak, monkeyflower, poison hemlock, coast live oak, bush lupine, sagebrush, and blue elderberry. Ignore a well-worn path heading uphill to the left, and continue around the base of the hill to a signed junction at 0.34 mile, just before the park boundary with EBMUD property. Turn left.
    After ducking under the limbs of a sprawling coast live oak, Lower Sea Foam Trail begins a sharp ascent. The narrow trail, closed to cyclists, climbs through chaparral, with coyote brush, toyon, poison oak, and monkeyflower the most common plants. Descending on Upper Sea Foam TrailWillow and blue elderberry linger in the low creases of the hillside, but as the trail heads uphill they are superseded with sagebrush and cardoons. In early summer you may catch the last of the wildflowers, including paintbrush, elegant clarkia, and California fuchsia. As the trail weaves up the hillside vegetation shifts to grassland. At 0.69 mile you'll reach a signed junction with Upper Sea Foam Trail. Turn right.
     Upper Sea Foam Trail, open to hikers and equestrians only, presses on uphill, heading to a bench and viewpoint nearly hidden in a cluster of chaparral. There are nice views down to San Pablo Reservoir and west to San Pablo Ridge. In summer look for buckwheat in bloom along the trail. With the hillside now completely overtaken with coyote brush and California coffeeberry, the trail continues uphill, at a moderate pace. Upper Sea Foam Trail reaches the park's highest point, under cover of a pretty coast live oak grove, then curves left and begins a descent. Black Oak TrailPoison oak dominates the understory, thriving beneath coast live oak, madrone, toyon, and some California bay. You may see Indian warrior in bloom here during winter months. At a moderately steep grade Upper Sea Foam descends into a canyon,where California bay, creambush, and ferns line the hillsides. A few switchbacks are followed by a quick dip and rise, then Upper Sea Foam drops back into chaparral and ends at a signed junction at 1.39 miles. Turn right.
     Black Oak Trail, a wide multi-use trail, runs along and then crosses a creek. Near the stream willow and blackberry tangle, but once the trail steps out into grassland plants better suited to sunshine and limited water take over. In early summer swaths of poison hemlock dry to a jaundiced yellow, conspicuous mixed through golden grassland dotted with coyote brush. The trail climbs slightly. At 1.49 mile a fire road bends right at a signed junction. The trail to the right soon reaches the park boundary; stay to the left on Black Oak Trail.View from Black Oak Trail
     Oak and chaparral spotted hills rise up on the right, but unfortunately the property is privately held. At 1.59 miles Black Oak Trail swings left at another park boundary gate. Coast live oak, poison oak, toyon, monkeyflower, and snowberry line the trail as it climbs easily. At 1.75 miles the trail splits at a signed junction. Stay to the left.
     A few deciduous black oaks stand out among their evergreen coast live oak cousins. The trail continues uphill, curving right around the top of a softly shaped hill marked with a bunch of coast live oaks. Look left for a view past a grassy knoll to San Pablo Ridge. A solitary buckeye stands alone in the grassland, making a spectacle of itself in every season. The trail levels out as it reaches a signed junction at 1.86 miles. (You can extend this hike another 0.4 mile by continuing straight, then returning on the other leg of the loop.) Turn right.Kennedy Creek Trail
     After a short stretch through grassland, you'll reach another signed junction, at 1.93 miles. A picnic table sits beneath some oaks on the left -- a good place for lunch on a sunny day. Turn right.
     The trail descends easily through more coast live and black oak. You'll reach a familiar junction at 2.14 miles. Turn left and retrace your steps back to the junction with Upper Sea Foam Trail, at 2.50 miles. Continue straight, now on Kennedy Creek Trail.
     There's a short descent, but multi-use Kennedy Trail soon adopts an easy downhill pace. Blackberry, willow, coast live oak, poison oak, snowberry, coyote brush, and buckeye create a thick trail border. At 2.70 miles you'll reach an unsigned junction. Stay to the left, and pass the signed junction with Lower Sea Foam Trail on the left, and a picnic area on the right. At 2.73 miles Kennedy Creek Trail ends at a signed junction with Laurel Loop Trail. Stay to the right.Lawn area
     Back in the provence of tall eucalyptus trees, Laurel Loop Trail makes its way at a level pace to the bulk of the park's picnic areas. I lost the trail near a volleyball net at the edge of the Laurel Glen picnic area, but no matter, it's an easy return from the lawn area -- walk on the paved path toward the restrooms and you'll return to the parking areas.

Total distance: 3.02 miles
Last hiked: Monday, July 16, 2002