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
Dirt fire roads and trails.
Winter for the manzanitas in bloom, spring for flowers.
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:
(* 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
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:
Sobrante Ridge page.
Park info (at Kennedy Grove office) 510-223-7840.
Use AAA's San Francisco Bay Region map to get there.
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
this map from Amazon.com).
The Bay Area Ridge Trail, by Jean Rusmore(order
this book from Amazon.com) 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 Amazon.com).
Ridge in a nutshell -- a printable, text-only guide to the featured
29 photos from this hike.
Go to Bay Area Hiker Home page
means surplus, or leftover, in Spanish, the land including and surrounding
Sobrante Ridge Regional Preserve is anything but real estate table scraps. 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
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.
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. Manzanitas carpet the hillsides from
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
Total distance: 2.49 miles
Last hiked: Thursday, August