Sobrante Ridge Regional Preserve,
East Bay Regional Park District,
Contra Costa County
In brief:
2.5 mile partial loop across grassy hillsides to a manzanita-studded knoll. Hosts a Bay Area Ridge Trail segment.

Distance, category, and difficulty:
This 2.5 mile out and back hike is easy. Trailhead elevation is about 550 feet, and the featured hike's high point is about 750 feet -- total elevation change is around 330 feet. This is a small preserve with some rolling trails.

Partial shade in some spots, lots of shade on the Manzanita Trail, otherwise very sunny.

Trail traffic:

Trail surfaces:
Dirt fire roads and trails.

Hiking time:
1 hour.

Winter for the manzanitas in bloom, spring for flowers.

Getting there:
From Interstate 80 in Contra Costa County, exit San Pablo Dam Road (exit 18). Drive about 3.5 miles southeast on San Pablo Dam Road to the traffic light at Castro Ranch Road. Turn left and drive about 0.8 mile, then turn left (into a housing development) on Conestoga Way. Drive uphill on Conestoga Way about 0.3 mile, turn left onto Carriage Drive, drive about 0.2 mile, and then turn right onto Coach Drive. Take Coach Drive about 0.3 mile to the park entrance at the end of the cul-de-sac.

Get driving or public transit directions from Transit and Trails:

GPS Coordinates* for Trailhead:
Latitude 3758'11.94"N
(* based on Google Earth data, shown as degrees, minutes, seconds)

Gas, food, and lodging
Gas, pay phones, stores, and restaurants back on San Pablo Dam Road. No camping.

Trailhead details:
Small dirt parking lot. Additional street parking in residential neighborhood. No entrance or parking fees. No restrooms. Water fountain at trailhead. Maps available at information signboard. Pay phone, gas, restaurants, and stores about 3 miles northwest on San Pablo Dam Road. Note: When I visited in January 2002, the parking lot was deeply rutted and showed evidence of storm damage. If you go during wet months, you may want to bring a 4-wheel drive vehicle, so you don't get stuck in the mud, or park in the street. This trailhead does not offer access to wheelchair users. There is no direct public transportation to the park.

Most trails are multi-use. Two are designated for equestrians and hikers only. Dogs are permitted. Park is open from dawn to dusk.

The Official Story:
EBRPD's Sobrante Ridge page.
Park info (at Kennedy Grove office) 510-223-7840.

Map Choices:
• Use AAA's San Francisco Bay Region map to get there.
• Map from EBRPD
A Rambler's Guide to the Trails of the East Bay Hills: Northern Section, by Olmsted & Brothers Map Co., is a useful map to the park (order this map from
The Bay Area Ridge Trail, by Jean Rusmore(order this book from has a simple map and descriptions of Sobrante Ridge's segment of the Ridge Trail.

• David Weintraub's East Bay Trails has a useful map and descriptions of the trails (order this book from

Sobrante Ridge in a nutshell -- a printable, text-only guide to the featured hike.

View 29 photos from this hike.

Go to Bay Area Hiker Home page

Although sobrante means surplus, or leftover, in Spanish, the land including and surrounding Sobrante Ridge Regional Preserve is anything but real estate table scraps.Trailhead  It's prime Contra Costa County property; part of Richmond just south of Pinole, with rolling green hills and commanding views of Mount Diablo, and only a short distance from I-80. The sobrante sobriquet is believed to be an allusion to the land grant's late date. Most of the east bay land grants were gifted by 1840, but Juan Jose Castro received his parcel from the Mexican government in 1841. East Bay Regional Park District's Wildcat Canyon was also part of that property. Sobrante Regional Preserve was ranched through the 1970s, and the land was acquired by the park district in 1985.
      Sobrante is a small preserve with pretty oaks, grassland, and rare manzanitas, but there's not enough acreage to present challenges to serious hikers. The preserve has primitive facilities (no restrooms), which is unfortunate, because the hiking is easy, dogs are allowed, and picnic tables make for great family outdoor excursions. I suppose it's a great destination if you live nearby; otherwise head to nearby Briones for more amenities. Sobrante Ridge Trail in summer
      Although manzanitas are Sobrante's main attraction, they are found only in one small grove at the preserve's western edge. Siliceous shale sustains the rare Alameda Manzanita, which only grows here and in and around Huckleberry Botanic Regional Preserve in the Oakland hills. Visit Sobrante right after the start of winter rains to witness the stunning sight of manzanitas in bloom. While their floral peak fluctuates from year to year, mid January is a safe bet. The small urn-shaped white blossoms do not languish, but soon give way to berries that ripen in late summer and are edible. (If you adore manzanitas, my favorite place to bask in their beauty is San Pedro Valley Park in Pacifica. View southeast from the ridgeManzanitas carpet the hillsides from the low elevation at the park trailhead all the way up the mountain's flank to McNee Ranch State Park. With so many miles of manzanitas, you can catch at least some of the plants during their blossoming peak all throughout January.)
     Start your hike at the preserve's main trailhead at the end of Couch Drive. A paved service road sweeps uphill, away from the housing development, to East Bay MUD property (off limits to recreational use). Walk uphill on the road about 170 feet, then turn left onto a wide dirt road at an unmarked junction. Sobrante Ridge Trail, open to cyclists, equestrians, and hikers, climbs somewhat steeply through grassland, makes a sharp turn under a high-tension power tower, and then crests near another EBMUD gate, at 0.22 mile. Continue straight.Manzanita Trail
     From here views north are unobstructed. On a clear day you should be able to see past San Pablo Bay into Solano County. A look back to the southeast reveals Mount Diablo. Sobrante Ridge Trail shrinks from a road to a path, as it curves levelly around a wooded canyon. Coast live oak and coyote brush frame the trail to the right, near the preserve boundary. Invasive thistles are common in summer. Scan the skies for raptors such as red-tailed hawks and kestrels. The trail gets muddy during the winter, and on a cool day you'll want a jacket for some shelter from the wind. In summer the trail is baked to a concrete hardness, and rattlesnakes may be spotted basking in the sun. At 0.56 mile, Morningside Trail heads north out of the preserve at a signed junction. Stay to the left on Sobrante Ridge Trail, which is a fairly new portion of the Bay Area Ridge Trail. Manzanitas in bloom
     Views west include Mount Tamalpais, but on a sweltering August morning "the sleeping maiden" looked absolutely slumped in the heat. Sobrante Ridge Trail heads south, passing the first of the preserve's picnic tables. At 0.65 mile, Broken Oak Trail sets out to the left. The path starts out level, but drops sharply to a short wooded loop with several picnic tables. Stay straight on Sobrante Ridge Trail.
     After a short drop through coast live oaks and California bay, the trail ascends a bit and then adopts a level course. You might see poison oak, Blue elderberry, monkeyflower, honeysuckle, and coyote brush on the sides of the trail. Although dog visitors leave prints on the trail, look closely for bobcat prints as well. At 1.01 miles, Sobrante Ridge Trail meets Manzanita Trail at a signed junction. Bear right on Manzanita Trail.
     The wide, multi-use trail descends west sharply through grassland. As the vegetation shifts to coast live oaks, you'll draw near the edge of a development. At 1.14 miles, Manzanita Loop sets out at an unsigned junction. Bear left. Coast live oaks along Manzanita Loop Trail
     Some manzanitas appear almost right away, but the dominant plant remains the coast live oak. You might also see toyon, poison oak, and California bay. At 1.16 miles the trail splits. Stay to the right. An interpretive sign explains how the rare Alameda Manzanita thrives in this pocket of siliceous shale, while other plants grow in dwarfed states. Tall manzanitas crowd the trail, but as the hiking-only path skirts some houses, you'll pass through a lovely grove of coast live oaks. In winter, look for the reddish flowers of Indian warrior along the trail. Manzanita Loop climbs to a crest dominated by tall manzanitas, then passes a giant madrone and drops back down to the previously encountered junction, at 1.33 miles. From here, retrace your steps back to the trailhead.

Total distance: 2.49 miles
Last hiked: Thursday, August 8, 2002