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.
Dirt fire roads and trails.
1 1/2 hours.
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:
(* 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.
$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:
Park headquarters 510-223-7840
Use AAA's San Francisco Bay Region map to get there.
Kennedy Grove map
The Bay Area Ridge Trail, by Jean Rusmore (order
this book from Amazon.com) has a simple map and descriptions of Kennedy
Grove's segment of the Ridge Trail.
Grove in a nutshell -- a printable, text-only guide to the featured
photos from this hike.
Go to Bay Area Hiker Home page
Grove is a summertime weekend destination
for picnics and weddings, as well as year round daily jogs or dogwalks.
With 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. 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
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.
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. Willow 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. Poison 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.
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.
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
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.
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