Sunol Regional Wilderness,
East Bay Regional Park District,
Alameda County

In brief:
Loop with many scenic splendors, including expansive views, diverse vegetation, and interesting rock formations.

Distance, category, and difficulty:
This 4 mile loop hike is moderate, although there are a few steep stretches. Trailhead elevation is about 410 feet. The park's highest trail reaches about 2300 feet. The featured hike climbs to about 1360 feet, then descends back to the trailhead. Total elevation change is about 1000 feet.

Partial shade in the early stages of the hike, then full sun.

Trail traffic:

Trail surfaces:
Dirt trails and fire roads.

Hiking time:
2 1/2 hours.

Not a good summer hike. Exceptional in spring.

Getting there:
From Interstate 680 in Alameda County, exit Calaveras (exit 21a). Follow the brown "parks" signs. (If you've exited southbound, stay in the left lane of the exit ramp, turn left, drive under the freeway and then stay in the left lane through a stop sign, to remain on Calaveras.) Drive south on Calaveras about 4 miles to the junction with Geary, and turn left. Continue on Geary almost 2 miles to the park entrance kiosk, then continue past the visitor center to an unmarked dirt lot on the left.

Get driving or public transit directions from Transit and Trails:

GPS Coordinates* for Trailhead:
Latitude 3730'55.58"N
(* based on Google Earth data, shown as degrees, minutes, seconds)

Gas, food, and lodging:
Gas, restaurants, and stores in nearby Pleasanton and Fremont. There are individual and group (hike-in) campsites.

Trailhead details:
Lots of parking inside the park in a few lots. Entrance fee (they call it a parking fee, but as you can't park on the road on the way into the park, I consider it an entrance fee) of $5 charged when kiosk is staffed. $2 dog fee. Maps available at the entrance kiosk, Visitor Center, or Interpretive Center. Note that if you plan on parking on Welch Creek Road, you must have a permit from EBRPD. Pit toilets at the edge of the parking lot. Drinking water near the Interpretive Center. There is no direct public transportation to the park. There is one designated handicapped parking space in this parking area, but Sunol's trails are not well-suited to wheelchairs.

Most trails are multi-use. A few are open to equestrians and hikers only, and a handful are hiking only. Dogs are permitted. Park is open from 7 a.m. to dusk (the parking lot is locked at night, so be prompt returning to the trailhead).

The Official Story:
EBRPD's Sunol page.
Park headquarters 925-862-2600

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
Map from EBRPD
Afoot and Afield: San Francisco Bay Area, by David Weintraub (order this book from has a great map and descriptions of a Sunol hike.
East Bay Trails, by David Weintraub, has a useful map and descriptions of 3 featured hikes (order this book from
The East Bay Out, by Malcolm Margolin, has a simple map and preserve descriptions (order this book from

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

View photos from the featured hike (late spring 2002)
View photos from the featured hike (spring 2000)

Go to Bay Area Hiker Home page

With all the amazing parks and preserves in the bay area, it's nearly impossible for me to pick a favorite, Photo of trailheadbut I know that Sunol Regional Wilderness is on my short list. Sunol is a large protected parcel of land, with a plethora of plant communities, and plenty of trails through varied terrain. Many of the trails seem to be slightly tougher than average, making Sunol an appropriate destination for long, challenging hikes. The preserve also abuts Ohlone Regional Wilderness, a rugged chunk of land perfect for weekend backpacking expeditions. Hikes from Sunol can be extended east all the way to Del Valle Regional Park, and west to Mission Peak Regional Preserve (permit required for Ohlone Wilderness Trail).
     Inside Sunol, there are plenty of loop hikes, but if you haven't visited the preserve before, consider choosing a medium-length trek. The steep trails can really wear you out, especially in the summer, when Sunol gets seriously hot. A popular loop combines Canyon View Trail Photo of Indian Joe Creek Trailwith Camp Ohlone Road, an under 3-mile jaunt that visits the Little Yosemite Area. Another choice is the Maguire Peaks Loops, which explores the northern part of the preserve, and is less than a 4-mile commitment. Tougher hikes climb from the trailhead to Sunol's highest accessible peaks; Cerro Este Road skirts two spires over 2,000 feet.
     For the featured hike, start at the edge of the parking area, and walk a few feet to a footbridge. Cross Alameda Creek and consult the map (if necessary) at the junction. Turn right on Canyon View Trail.
     Common moisture-loving trees alder, bigleaf maple, coast live oak, buckeye, and sycamore line the level trail. At 0.10 mile, Hayfield Road begins on the left. Continue straight on Canyon View, and stay to the left as a wide path veers right after a few steps.
     The trail follows along the creek. Ignore an ascending path to the left and continue on level Canyon View Trail. At 0.24 mile, just past a creek crossing, Indian Joe Creek Trail sets off to the left at a signed junction. Turn left.Photo of Indian Joe Caves
The first part of this hiking only path is a self-guided nature trail (get the handout at the Interpretive Center or Visitor Center). Climbing slightly, with California sagebrush, common snowberry, and wild rose in the understory, the path reaches a break in the vegetation. Look to the right (southwest) for views toward Mission Peak Preserve. At the crest of a small hill, wildflowers thrive in the spring. You may see wind poppy, Chinese houses, and mule ear sunflowers in April, and elegant clarkia and California delphinium in late May (visit the wildflowers page for photos). Canyon View Trail departs (again) from the right side of the trail at a signed junction at 0.36 mile. Stay to the left on Indian Joe Creek Trail.
     The narrow path squeezes past a toyon bush, then drops down to a wet spot. Enchanting and lovely fairy lanterns bloom along the trail in April. Look for the delicate pink-white flowers on snowberry shrubs in June. Cave Rocks RoadIndian Joe Creek Trail climbs easily along a shaded stretch of stream, then crosses through a gate and begins a climb through a broad grassy canyon. A few white oaks and sycamores provide occasional shade. Spring flowers include bluedicks and California buttercups. In late May elegant clarkia blooms in profusion along the trail. Sagebrush is common, and you may also see bluewitch nightshade, poison oak, coyote brush, California coffeeberry, and bush monkeyflower. The trail dips down to cross the creek near an old California bay tree, then crosses back to the left bank. Indian Joe Creek Trail fords the stream once more, then turns away from the water and begins to climb in earnest. Coast live oaks share the sunlight with California bays and maples. A few switchbacks break up the grade, but there are some steep stretches.It's hard to believe that cows would choose to graze through here, with such lovely level roads elsewhere in the preserve, but their occasional patties are telltale signs that they too have hiked this trail. Photo from Flag Hill Road In summer I have come across groups of them, huddled together in the shade. At 1.00 mile, a spur path to Hayfield Road starts on the left side of the trail at a signed junction. (If you want to shorten your hike, you could turn left, walk to the junction with Hayfield, then turn left and descend back to the trailhead.) Continue uphill on Indian Joe Creek Trail.
The trail continues to climb, passing through clumps of sagebrush that on one spring hike were tangled with blooming morning glories. Tall sycamores on the left side of the trail surround Indian Joe Caves, a basalt outcrop that may remind you of rock formations at Pinnacles National Monument. As the trail continues to climb, with some steep sections tempered by a few level stretches, sagebrush-coated hills come into view to the north. The final very steep stretch of Indian Joe Creek Trail can feel like an insult on a hot day. At 1.16 miles, Indian Joe Creek Trail ends at a signed junction. (Cave Rocks Trail continues uphill to the right, and if more climbing is what you're after, you can hike up to the ridge on Eagle View Trail, then take Vista Grande Road west and continue the featured hike from the junction of High Valley Road and Flag Hill Road.) For this hike, turn left on Cave Rocks Road. View to Maguire Peaks
      After dipping downhill to cross the creek one last time, the nearly level multi-use fire road sweeps through grassland, with only a few valley oaks to break up views to the southwest. Popcorns flowers carpet the hills in the spring, along with the diminutive blossoms of filaree and scarlet pimpernel. You may catch a glimpse of turtles sunbathing on logs floating in a small pond on the right. High Valley Group Camp comes into view as Cave Rocks Road curves around a hill. At an undermarked junction at 1.60 miles (the signpost is down the trail toward the group camp), Cave Rocks Road meets Hayfield Road and High Valley Road. (Hayfield heads to the left back down to the trailhead, and is an option if you want to cut this hike short.) High Valley Road supersedes Cave Rocks Road, so continue straight on High Valley Road.
     Airplane traffic noise is common, but otherwise this is a very quiet part of the park. The broad trail meanders toward two oaks (the giant eucalyptus that once stood here has fallen), and a signed junction, at 1.85 miles. Photo of Flag Hill From here, High Valley Road continues 0.4 mile to its demise at Welch Creek Road. The barely discernible (at least in spring) Vista Grande Road departs to the right, on its way uphill to the ridge line. Turn left and hike uphill on Flag Hill Road.
      The trail, open to horses, hikers, and cyclists, is a reasonable grade, but you may stop frequently anyway just to take in the views. The Maguire Peaks poke their rocky crests up to the north, and a look back reveals the gorgeous high valley you've just traversed, and the higher still peaks of Sunol's eastern section. Spring flowers downslope off the trail include fiddlenecks, lupines, California buttercups, and blue-eyed grass. A few oaks clustered together provide a little shade, but Flag Hill Road is mostly grassland. The grade picks up a bit, but after passing a rock outcrop on the right side of the trail, Flag Hill Road curves left and crests. A flat stretch along the ridge is welcome. As the trail nears Flag Hill, expansive views, including Calaveras Reservoir, unfold at your feet.View from the rock outcrop at Flag Hill Owl's clover, purple bush lupine, and bellardia are common in May, and later in June look for beautiful white mariposa lilies rising above the dried grass. A rock signpost marks the junction with Flag Hill Trail at 2.64 miles. Continue straight.
     A slightly narrowed path continues along the ridge to the west, then ends at a rock outcrop, at about 2.76 miles. If you've got kids in tow, keep them close, for there's a sharp unfenced dropoff. The dramatic fossilized sandstone rocks make a fine lunch stop, unless you're scared of heights. Their elevation puts you in the unusual position of looking down on birds of prey as they soar over the grassland below. Horehound, deerweed, and coyote mint grow in clusters around the formation. In spring, look downhill for swaths of orange California poppies. When you're ready to continue, walk back to the previous junction and turn right on Flag Hill Trail, which is open to hikers only.
      Seen from a distance, this slight path resembles a randomly draped white shoestring. Flag Hill Trail cuts through the grassland, somewhat steeply at times. Sagebrush and poppies border the trail, which is rocky and can be slippery, so descend with care -- a trekking pole or two is helpful. Photo of Flag Hill TrailOn the other side of a cattle gate, tall grass and thistles crowd the trail. On one hike, I watched an escaped bovine feasting on a mustard patch, alone at the bottom of a valley. He seemed to be in heaven. As Flag Hill Trail winds downhill, more oaks and California bays encroach into the grassland. Blue jays may notice your presence and sound their sharp alarms, letting the neighborhood know a stranger has invaded their space. On one hike I nearly stepped on a skink (every time I see a skink I nearly step on it) as it sat motionless near the side of the trail. At 3.90 miles, a gate marks an unsigned junction. Shady Glen Trail climbs to the left. Continue downhill to the right on Flag Hill Trail.
     After just a few more steps, Flag Hill Trail ends at an unsigned junction at 3.95 miles (Flag Hill Trail is signed, but not the other trail). Turn left and walk along Alameda Creek, on a wide shaded dirt path, which may be muddy. You'll reach a previously encountered junction at 4.06 miles. Turn right and walk back across the bridge, retracing your steps to the trailhead.

Total distance: 4.09 miles
Last hiked: Tuesday, June 5, 2002