Mission Peak Regional Preserve,
East Bay Regional Park District,
Alameda County

In brief:
This 5.6 mile out and back hike is a steep trek from the edge of a residential neighborhood to the top of the mountain. Hosts a Bay Area Ridge Trail segment.

Distance, category, and difficulty:
This 5.6 mile out and back hike is moderately tough, but manageable, particularly if you visit on a cool day and bring plenty of water. Trailhead elevation is about 400 feet. The park's high point is about 2517 feet; total elevation change for this hike is about 2200 feet. A Bay Area Hiker reader who preferred to remain anonymous describes the route perfectly: "this trail is not for beginners or casual 'neighborhood' walkers. It is somewhat steep and continually demanding."

Almost completely exposed.

Trail traffic:

Trail surfaces:
Dirt fire roads and trails.

Hiking time:
3 hours.

Muddy in winter, hot in summer, best in spring.

Getting there:
• From Interstate 680 in the Warm Springs District of Alameda County, exit Mission Boulevard (exit 12). Drive northeast on Mission Boulevard to Stanford Avenue, and turn right. Drive about 0.5 mile to the trailhead at the end of the street.
• From Interstate 880 in Alameda County, exit Warren/Mission Boulevard (exit 12). Drive northeast on Mission Boulevard, pass under 680, and turn right on Stanford Avenue. Drive about 0.5 mile to the trailhead at the end of the street. (Note: if you quake in fear at the thought of driving on 880, and are traveling from the peninsula, you can take a slower, prettier, less stressful drive. Drive east across the bay on the Dumbarton Bridge, which becomes Decoto. About 4 miles from the Dumbarton Bridge toll plaza, turn right onto Paseo Padre Parkway. Drive south a few miles, to the junction with Mission Boulevard. Turn left, and make the first right onto Stanford Avenue.)

Get driving or public transit directions from Transit and Trails:

GPS Coordinates* for Trailhead:
Latitude 3730'15.74"N
(* based on Google Earth data, shown as degrees, minutes, seconds)

Gas, food, and lodging:
Gas, stores, pay phone, and restaurants back to the southwest on Mission Boulevard. No camping in the park, but Mission Peak is the gateway to the Ohlone Wilderness Trail, a backpacking trek requiring advance reservations.

Trailhead details:
Lots of parking in a lot at the edge of a residential neighborhood. Respect all no parking signs on the surrounding surface streets, or you may get a ticket. No parking or admission fees. No designated handicapped parking, and preserve trails are not wheelchair accessible. Vault toilet at the edge of the parking lot. No water. Maps available at the information signboard. AC Transit runs several routes along Mission Boulevard, and from there it's a quick and fairly flat walk to the trailhead: visit the Transit Info website for details.

Most trails are multi-use. A few are open to hikers and horses only (and of course, cows). Dogs are permitted. Park is open from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m., unless otherwise posted.

The Official Story
EBRPD's Mission Peak page.
EBRPD headquarters 510-562-PARK

Map/book choices:
This hike is described and mapped in 60 Hikes within 60 Miles: San Francisco, by Jane Huber (yup, that's me, the creator of this website). Order this book from Amazon.com
Map from EBRPD
Afoot and Afield: San Francisco Bay Area, by David Weintraub (order this book from Amazon.com) has a great map and descriptions of a Carquinez Strait hike.
• David Weintraub's East Bay Trails has a good map and descriptions of this hike (order this book from Amazon.com).
The Bay Area Ridge Trail, by Jean Rusmore (order this book from Amazon.com) has a simple map and descriptions of the Mission Peak segment of the Ridge Trail.

Mission Peak in a nutshell -- a printable, text-only guide to the featured hike.

View photos from this hike.

Go to Bay Area Hiker Home page

I've always thought that climbing a bay area peak is somehow more palatable when I can see the summit from the trailhead, and throughout the hike. Parking lot When I have a mountain in my sights, it can't get away from me, and throw an unexpected sharp grade at me when I'm not looking. And then there's the visual inspiration to hold my attention as I'm slogging my way uphill toward the goal. Motivation is a key element when you prepare to climb Mission Peak the first time (and perhaps after that as well). The trails climb about 2000 feet from the trailhead, in less than 3 miles. Fit hikers should have not problem with this 6 mile hike, and beginners in reasonable shape may find the ascent tough, but manageable, with proper pacing and plenty of water.
      Hikes at Mission Peaks are best taken on cool days. There is virtually no shade on the ascending fire road and trail. No escaping chilly winds either, so bring a windbreaker or jacket along.Hidden Valley Trail
      Although the park is grazed by cows (some of whom are particularly aggressive), the lush green hills bring wildflower lovers to Mission Peak in spring. The cows create muddy trails during wet months, and lumpy paths later when things dry out a bit. There is so much cow traffic that in late winter I found Horse Heaven Trail to be a difficult to navigate sloppy mess where I nearly expired in a quicksand-like mud trap probably rigged by the cows (more on that later). This is one park where it may be better to stick to the fire roads.
     The out-and-back hike to the summit is the preserve's most popular route. Hikers looking for a longer excursion can continue from the summit on the Bay Area Ridge Trail all the way past Monument Peak to Ed Levin County Park. The 14 mile out-and-back trek pales in comparison to the 28-mile Ohlone Wilderness Trail, which departs from Mission Peak. This hiking and equestrian trail (which requires a permit) travels through Sunol Regional Wilderness and ends up near Lake Del Valle. One of park's feisty cows on Hidden Valley TrailMission Peak's proximity to Fremont makes it possible get off a bus a few blocks from the park, and then backpack on the Ohlone Wilderness Trail for three days without worrying about your car (of course, you'll have to arrange a ride home).
     For the featured hike, start at the gate at the edge of the parking area. The trail splits immediately. Stay to the left on Hidden Valley Trail. After a brief descent, the broad fire road, open to cyclists, equestrians, and hikers, crosses a sycamore and oak-lined creek (stay to the left as a connecting road heads right) and then begins an ascent. Walking through the first cattle gate can feel like passing into the initial circle of Dante's Hell. Legs used to more reasonable grades may register a mild protest. Tell them to shut up and keep moving. As you climb you may notice shortcuts carved through the grassland at many spots. These paths are even steeper than the fire road, but some hikers use them for shorter trips to the top. A rare flat stretchWhile it's nearly senseless to encourage strict trail use when the cows go wherever they want, it can be confusing to choose the "proper" trail when shortcuts are so well worn, so stay on the fire road. Hidden Valley Road draws near a creek at several points as the trail curves uphill, and here you'll find a little shade from coast live oaks and California bays. You might see or hear wild turkeys shuffling across the hills or gobbling back and forth to each other, while vultures and hawks soar overhead. At one point you'll pass through a stretch of chaparral, with poison oak, sagebrush, and monkeyflower along the trail. Buckeyes and oaks soak up moisture on the right, in a damp crease. But soon you'll pass back into pure grassland. At 1.4 miles, Hidden Valley Trail reaches an undersigned junction with Peak Meadow Trail. (If you want to shorten your hike, turn right on Peak Meadow, which will deliver you back to the trailhead.) Continue straight on Hidden Valley Trail.Approaching junction with Eagle Trail
     Hidden Valley Trail continues to climb. On a hike in late winter, I watched a cow and her two calves running and bucking through the grass. Spring was definitely in the air. After almost 2 miles of calf-aching ascending, the trail flattens out and enters a rocky valley. There are nice views to Mission Peak's craggy west face and summit. At 2.05 miles, Moore Grove Trail begins on the right side of the trail at a signed junction. Continue uphill to the left on Hidden Valley Trail.
      You may see hang gliders swooping down toward the trailhead as you approach their launch site on the left. In early spring, look for patches of orange-yellow fiddlenecks in the grass on the right. At 2.22 miles, you'll reach a signed junction. The trail to the left heads toward Ohlone College. Bear right and remain on Hidden Valley Trail. A few steps later, at 2.29 miles, there's a cattle gate and another signed junction. Bear right on Eagle Trail.Peak Trail
      I had heard that Mission Peak's cows are feisty. One cow, part of a group grazing near the pit toilet just down the trail to the left, was particularly aggressive on the day I visited. The spunky bovine mama mooed loudly, repeatedly and with urgency, slowly trotting toward me in a menacing way. I was heading away from the cows and as I gained some distance she calmed down. Although we might not think of cows as wildlife, it's a good idea to give them a wide berth on the trails. And by the way, although you might not expect them to, the cows graze all the way up to the summit, and even can be spotted on the incredibly steep and rocky west face of the peak. Crazy!View south from the summit
     Eagle Trail, part of the Bay Area Ridge Trail, is a broad multi-use trail. Mission Peak's treeless high hills afford views to many bay area parks and preserves along Eagle Trail, and all the way to the summit. Just north is Garin/Dry Creek Pioneer, a bit further north and east is Mount Diablo, to the east you should be able to pick out Sunol, and a look west may reveal Coyote Hills (on the edge of the bay). On clear days you might be able to see the Sierra, Mount Hamilton, and the Santa Cruz Mountains. After a short stretch on Eagle Trail, you'll reach a signed junction with Peak Trail at 2.42 miles. Turn right on Peak Trail and prepare for the final climb to the summit.
      There's a short harsh grade, then the path, open to equestrians and hikers only, flattens out a bit. Peak Trail turns left near some garbage cans and pushes towards the top. The trail is rocky and steep. A few other side paths run along Peak Trail here and there. Finally at 2.78 miles, you'll reach Mission Peak's rocky summit. There are excellent views in every direction. On a hot day you'll probably welcome the breeze, but if it's chilly you might not want to linger. Popcorn flowers, California poppies, and fiddlenecks dot the surrounding grassland in early spring. When you're ready, retrace your steps to the trailhead.A view back to Mission Peak from Horse Heaven Trail
     Option: If you're adventurous and have good navigating skills, descend south from the summit to the signed junction with Horse Heaven Trail. Take Horse Heaven Trail, stay to the left at an unsigned junction near a creek, continue to Peak Meadow Trail, turn left (the junction is marked by a blank post) and return to the trailhead. This makes for a 6.17 mile hike. When I tried Horse Heaven in late winter, the trail, open to equestrians and hikers only, was a mess. If I chose the trail names at the East Bay Regional Park District I think I would dub Horse Heaven/Hiker Hell Trail. Cows had created muddy spots and confusing alternate paths. I got one leg stuck up to my knee in a muddy quicksand-like patch, and struggled for what seemed forever until I managed to free myself. No doubt this was a trap hatched by those nasty cows. I expected them to show up at any moment, and then who know what would have happened! Caked with mud and with squishy stuff in my boot, I struggled on, only to lose the path completely near a water trough. I ended up traveling cross country through the grassland, eventually reuniting with the actual trail. All in all, a lousy experience. Perhaps the conditions are more manageable in drier seasons, but I wouldn't recommend this option in winter or early spring.

Total distance: 5.56 miles
Last hiked: Friday, March 16, 2001