Tilden Regional Park,
East Bay Regional Park District,
Contra Costa County
In brief:
6.3 mile loop in a popular park, traveling through woods and grassland. Hosts a Bay Area Ridge Trail segment.

Distance, category, and difficulty:
This 6.3 mile loop hike is on the moderate side of easy, with about 1000 feet elevation change. Trailhead elevation is about 1010 feet. The featured hike descends to about 500 feet, then climbs to a high point of 1211 before returning on a mostly level grade to the trailhead.

Beginning and end exposed, middle section mostly shaded.

Trail traffic:

Trail surfaces:
Dirt trails and fire roads as well as paved fire roads.

Hiking time:
3 hours.

Nice all year, best in spring or autumn.

Getting there:
From Interstate 580 in Alameda County, exit CA 24 (exit 19b). Drive northeast and exit Claremont (exit 3). At the foot of the exit ramp, turn left, and drive about 1.5 miles on Claremont to the junction with Ashby. Continue straight on Claremont, to the junction with Grizzly Peak Boulevard, about 2 miles. Turn left and drive north about 1.4 miles to the junction with South Park Drive. Turn right and drive about 1.5 miles to the junction with Wildcat Canyon Road. Turn right and drive about 1.2 mile, to the Inspiration Point Trailhead on the left side of the road. Note: South Park Drive is closed during the salamander migration season, approximately October-April. If it's closed, continue on Grizzly Peak, turn right on Shasta, then turn right on Wildcat Canyon Road.

Get driving or public transit directions from Transit and Trails:

GPS Coordinates* for Trailhead:
Latitude 3754'18.18"N
(* based on Google Earth data, shown as degrees, minutes, seconds)

Gas, food, and lodging:
Gas, restaurants, and stores are plentiful around Claremont and College. Tilden has group and equestrian campsites only -- no individual sites. The nearest campground is in Anthony Chabot Park.

Trailhead details:
No parking or entrance fees. Forty parking spots in a paved lot, with 2 designated handicapped parking spaces. Nimitz Way is suitable to wheelchairs. Maps available at the information kiosk. Portable toilets just inside the Nimitz Gate. There's a water fountain at the junction lower end of Meadows Canyon Trail. Public transit website.

Park is open from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. Some trails are multi-use, others are open to hikers and horses only, and the trails in the nature area are hiking only. Dogs are permitted in Tilden, but not in the nature area, which the hike described below passes through, so if you're bringing your dogs along, consult the park map and pick an alternate route.

The Official Story:
EBRPD's Tilden page.
EBRPD headquarters 510-562-PARK

Map Choices:
 A variation of 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 (Tilden north)
Lower Tilden (Nature Area) map (pdf)
A Rambler's Guide to the Trails of the East Bay Hills: Northern Section, published by The Olmsted & Bros. Map Co., is very good, particularly if you're interested in seeing how all the east bay parks along San Pablo Ridge string together (order this map from Amazon.com).
Afoot and Afield: San Francisco Bay Area, by David Weintraub (order this book from Amazon.com) has a great map and descriptions of a Tilden hike.
• David Weintraub's East Bay Trails has a good map and 2 featured hikes (order this book from Amazon.com).
The Bay Area Ridge Trail, by Jean Rusmore (order this book from Amazon.com) has a good map and descriptions of Tilden's segment of the Ridge Trail.

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

View photos from this hike.

Go to Bay Area Hiker Home page

Tilden Regional Park is probably the bay area's most comprehensive and well-rounded recreation area. TrailheadThe East Bay Regional Park District had the foresight in 1936 to create, in addition to a network of hiking, cycling, and horseback riding trails, a preserve for the whole family. Seasoned hikers might be disappointed by the timidity of the place, but consider Tilden's assets: a public golf course, botanic garden, extensive picnic and group camping, environmental education center, swimming lake, pony ride, little farm, and my favorite, the steam trains. The park sometimes feels like a wealthy friend's estate, particularly the southwestern areas around Berkeley and Kensington's residential streets. These portions of Tilden are very popular with dogwalkers, and get a lot of traffic. However, dogs are not allowed on the trails at Tilden's Nature Area (which abuts Wildcat Canyon Park), and the trails there are the park's loneliest. Up on San Pablo Ridge,you'll find more quiet, but all-in-all this is a heavily used park, so expect to share the trails.Meadows Canyon Trail
      There are many loop possibilities, as well as out-and-back jaunts on the Bay Area Ridge Trail and the Skyline National Trail, both of which run along San Pablo Ridge. If you have an East Bay MUD trail permit, you can extend a hike out of Tilden to the shores of San Pablo Reservoir. One of my favorite hikes starts at Inspiration Point, winds downhill on Meadows Canyon Trail, then cuts through Tilden Nature Area and enters Wildcat Canyon Park on Wildcat Creek Trail. From there, climb back up to San Pablo Ridge on Conlon (the easiest ascending trail), and return to Inspiration Point on paved Nimitz Way. This hike clocks in at a little more than 8 miles. Another great loop begins at the Steam Trains parking lot. Loop Road Hike either Lupine or Vollmer Peak Trail, then Big Springs or Quarry Trail to Seaview Trail (which is part of the Bay Area Ridge Trail and Skyline National Trail). Be sure to visit Vollmer Peak as you return to the trailhead, and keep an eye out for wildlife. I saw a coyote once less than a mile from this trailhead, near Vollmer Peak. If you're hiking with children or older folks, you probably will want to park along Central Park Drive and wander along the mostly flat and easy paths.
      For the featured hike, start at Inspiration Point. Walk west toward the Nimitz Gate. On the right behind a metal gate you may see the EBMUD trailhead (you'll need a trail permit to hike in the EBMUD watershed). Just 100 feet inside the Nimitz Gate, Curran Trail sets out to the left (the signpost for the trail is on the far side of Nimitz Gate). Turn left onto Curran Trail.Wildcat Peak Trail
     The multi-use trail gently descends through Monterey pine,eucalyptus, California bay, and coast live oak. Common snowberry, blackberry, coyote brush, and poison oak occupy the understory. At 0.15 mile, Curran Trail meet Meadows Canyon Trail at a signed junction. Turn right onto Meadows Canyon Trail.
     The wide trail, open to cyclists, equestrians, and hikers, dips sharply down for a few feet, then leaves the shade of a eucalyptus grove and levels out in grassland. Coyote brush, California coffeeberry, and poison oak are the dominant shrubs, while blue elderberry, twinberry, willow, hazelnut, coast live oak, buckeye, and California bay grow in the creases of the hills, where seasonal streams provide them moisture. In the grass during spring, you might see mustard, bellardia, poison hemlock, purple bush lupine, mule ear sunflowers, blue-eyed grass, and common owl's clover. Meadows Canyon Trail drifts easily downhill, allowing views up to the ridgetop and west to the Berkeley Hills. In summer, look for the bright pink blossoms of the honeysuckle plant, the same vine that dangles jewel-like red berries in the autumn. Invasive thistles have really taken hold along one part of the trail that I call "cardoon alley." Wildcat Peak TrailGradually, the trail drops down into a more forested area, with some pine slightly back from the trail, as well as some broom. Look for a few small redwoods on the left side of the trail. At 1.56 miles, Meadows Canyon Trail ends at a gate. Wildcat Gorge Trail begins to the left. (If you want a shorter hike, you could hike on Wildcat Gorge and then climb back up to the trailhead on Curran Trail.) Turn right and walk uphill on the paved road.
      The road crumbles to dirt as it ascends under eucalyptus, leveling out along the way. At 1.70 miles, the road ends at a gate and becomes a fire road, Loop Road, in Tilden Nature Area (no dogs allowed). The broad multi-use trail is heavily shaded as it meanders past two group camp driveways and numerous paths that head west toward Tilden's Little Farm and Environmental Center, and east toward the camps. Invasive broom is common along the sides of the fire road, and eucalyptus dominates the landscape, but you might also see pine, cotoneaster, coyote brush, redwood, and poison oak. At the top of Wildcat Peak If you're exploring for the first time it can be tough to find the trail you're aiming for, as the nature area's signs are comprised of symbols rather than words (look for the Tilden Nature Study Area brochure at the entrance gate; this pamphlet has a key to the symbols). At 1.92 miles you'll reach the junction with Pine Tree Trail, on the right. A few steps further Laurel Canyon Trail sets off on the left side of the trail, and you'll meet the other end of Laurel Canyon Trail after a few more feet, off to the right. This trail (along with the other ascending paths), are optional choices for a loop hike. Continue straight on Loop Road.
    Willow, seep monkeyflower, and thimbleberry along the trail signal the presence of a water source. The trail remains nearly level, as it makes a slow steady descent. At 1.98 miles Laurel Canyon Road is the next trail that climbs to the ridge on the right. This junction is unsigned. Continue straight on Loop Road.Descending on Wildcat Peak Trail
     In summer, the sounds of children at play drift through the creaking and groaning tall eucalyptus trees. At 2.08 miles, Sylvan Trail crosses Loop Road. (Sylvan is a fine option, and will shorten your hike just a bit.) Continue straight on Loop Trail.
     At 2.33 miles, you'll reach a signed junction with Jewel Lake Trail. Continue on Loop Trail.
     Just past some restrooms, on the right, Loop Trail ends at a signed junction, at 2.41 miles. Turn right onto Wildcat Creek Trail.
     You'll pass Jewel Lake, on the left, as the broad, level multi-use trail travels through eucalyptus, with a few wild rose and currant shrubs on the left. At about 2.47 miles, a bridge heads left. Continue straight a few more steps, to a signed junction at 2.50 miles.
Turn right onto Wildcat Peak Trail.Wildcat Peak Trail
     The narrow hiking only path starts in a mixture of buckeye, coast live oak, and eucalyptus, but soon ascends into a eucalyptus forest. At 2.59 miles, you'll reach a signed junction with Jewel Lake Trail. Continue to the left, on Wildcat Peak Trail.
      Angling along the side of a broad canyon, Wildcat Peak Trail ascends at a moderate pace mostly through eucalyptus, with some pockets of coast live oak and California bay. At 2.92 miles, an unsigned shortcut trail cuts left. Continue a few feet more to the signed junction with Sylvan Trail. Turn left and remain on Wildcat Peak Trail.
      Some switchbacks keep the ascent easy. Trees thin as you enter chaparral, and poison oak is everywhere, accompanied by coffeeberry, toyon, blackberry, monkeyflower, small coast live oaks, coyote brush, and wild rose. In May you might see cow parsnip, bluedicks, and the last of blue-eyed grass, scorpionweed, and California poppy blooming along the trail. The grade is steady and moderate. Laurel Canyon RoadYou'll probably be stopping to admire the views, rather than to catch your breath. At 3.73 miles, you'll reach a junction (of sorts) with a hogback that shoots straight uphill. The route is shown on EBRPD's map, but hogbacks like this are seriously erosive, so stay on the trail (and remain on Wildcat Peak Trail as you switchback past the hogback a few times). As you ascend into grassland, views continue to open up. Thistles choke the native grasses, but some wildflowers bloom in the spring, including mule ear sunflowers, yarrow, paintbrush, scorpionweed, checkerbloom, and California poppy. When I hiked here in late summer a few bush lupines were still showing off their lovely purple flowers. Wildcat Peak Trail levels out a bit as the path reaches an unsigned junction with a spur trail, at 4.03 miles. Continue straight. After curving around the base of Wildcat Peak, the trail reaches a (under)signed junction at 4.12 miles. Turn left and walk uphill a few feet to Wildcat Peak's summit. Nimitz Way
     The stone lookout (built by the Rotary Club to accompany their peace grove) is a pleasant place for a rest break. When it's clear, look west to the Golden Gate Bridge, Mount Tamalpais, and the San Francisco skyline. San Pablo Reservoir and Briones Regional Park lie to the east. The steep trails of Wildcat Canyon Regional Park may be glimpsed to the north, and Tilden's 1905 foot Vollmer Peak stands to the south. You may see hawks and vultures soaring through the skies. When you're ready to continue, retrace your steps backs to the junction with Wildcat Peak Trail, and bear left.
     After a short steep descent, the path evens out and runs alongside the peace grove, which is planted with sequoias. On a May hike I nearly stepped on a gopher snake warming itself in the sun. At 4.46 miles, a (symbol) signed trail sets out to the right. Turn right (apparently this is a spur or the continuation of Wildcat Peak Trail).
     The narrow hiking-only trail descends at a moderate grade, through eucalyptus, coyote brush, poison oak, coast live oak, and California bay. Look for flax, bellardia, and blue-eyed grass blooming in May. At 4.65 miles, the trail ends at a signed junction with Laurel Canyon Road. Turn left, following the sign "to Nimitz Way."Nimitz Way
     Broad Laurel Canyon Road, closed to cyclists, climbs easily through familiar vegetation, with poison oak still a constant trailside menace. You might see twinberry at a damp spot on the left side of the trail. At 4.76 miles, Rabbit Run Trail descends on the right. Continue straight on Laurel Canyon Road.
     The grade remains on the easy side of moderate. At 4.89 miles, the fire road ends at a T junction. Turn right onto Nimitz Way.
      Be alert for cyclists and joggers on this wide paved multi-use trail. Rolling grassy hills loom on the left as you head east slightly downhill of the ridge. Coast live oak can be seen sporadically along the trail, mixed in with poison oak, yellow bush lupine, coyote brush, and blackberry brambles. In summer you might see luxuriant displays of flowering sweet peas along the trail. The trail is mostly level, but includes two brief and easy ascents. Rest benches along the way allow last glimpses of Wildcat and Vollmer Peaks. The last stretch of Nimitz Way ambles through a grove of Monterey pine, then the trail ends back at the previously encountered junction, and Nimitz Gate.

Total distance: 6.26 miles
Last hiked: Wednesday, May 15, 2002