Wildcat Canyon Regional Park,
East Bay Regional Park District,
Contra Costa County
In brief:
6 mile loop through mostly grassland near Richmond.

Distance, category, and difficulty:
This 6 mile loop hike is moderate, with a few short steep sections. Trailhead elevation is about 180 feet. The featured hike climbs to about 1057 feet, wobbles up and down along the ridgeline, then descends back to the trailhead. According to the GPS, total elevation change for this hike is about 1200 feet.

Full sun throughout.

Trail traffic:

Trail surfaces:
One paved fire road, the rest dirt fire roads.

Hiking time:
2 1/2 hours

Hot in summer, sometimes muddy in winter. Spring is best.

Getting there:
• From eastbound Interstate 80 in Contra Costa County, exit Solano (exit 17). At the base of the ramp, turn left onto Amador. Drive 0.4 mile, and turn right onto McBryde. Move into the left lane, and after about 0.3 mile, at the stop sign, continue straight onto Park Avenue. Drive 0.1 mile, turn left into the park, and continue a short distance to the Alvarado Staging Area at the end of the road.
• From westbound Interstate 80 in Contra Costa County, exit McBryde (exit 17). Turn left (east) on McBryde and after crossing over the highway, get into the left lane of McBryde. After about 0.3 mile, at the stop sign, continue straight onto Park Avenue. Drive 0.1 mile, turn left into the park, and continue a short distance to the Alvarado Staging Area at the end of the road.

Get driving or public transit directions from Transit and Trails:

GPS Coordinates* for Trailhead:
Latitude 3757'7.34"N
(* based on Google Earth data, shown as degrees, minutes, seconds)

Gas, food, and lodging:
Gas, stores, pay phones, and restaurants in nearby communities of Richmond, El Sobrante, and San Pablo (there's not much on the way to the park). No camping in the park. Nearest campgrounds are in Tilden Park (group and equestrian camping only), Redwood Park (group camp), Anthony Chabot Park (group and individual sites) and Mount Diablo State Park (group and individual sites).

Trailhead details
Parking for about 15 cars. No entrance or parking fees. Two portable toilets on site. Maps available at the information signboard. Drinking water at the junction of Wildcat Creek and Mezue Trails. There are 2 designated handicapped parking spots, and with assistance wheelchair users should be able to navigate some distance on paved Wildcat Creek Trail. There is no direct public transportation to the park, but AC Transit bus #68 will get you within walking distance of this trailhead: visit the Transit Info website for details.

All trails are multi-use (most trails in adjacent Tilden Nature Area are hiking only). Dogs are permitted on this hike: they are allowed at Wildcat Canyon, but are not allowed in Tilden's Nature Area. Park is open from dawn to dusk.

The Official Story:
EBRPD's Wildcat Canyon page.
Park headquarters 510-236-1262
EBRPD's Wildcat Canyon brochure (pdf)

Map Choices:
• Use AAA's San Francisco Bay Region map to get there.
Map from EBRPD (download the pdf).
• Olmsted & Bros. Map Co.'s Trails of the East Bay Hills, Northern Section, is an excellent guide to the park (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 Wildcat Canyon hike.
The East Bay Out, by Malcolm Margolin, has a good map, and descriptions of the park (order this book from Amazon.com).
East Bay Trails, by David Weintraub, has a good map and a featured hike (order this book from Amazon.com).
• 101 Great Hikes of the San Francisco Bay Area, by Ann Marie Brown (order this book from Amazon.com) has a simple map and descriptions of a featured hike.

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

View 67 photos from the featured hike.

Go to Bay Area Hiker Home page

The northwest Photo of Wildcat Canyon parking lotend of Wildcat Canyon is a big backyard for nearby Contra Costa County residents of El Sobrante and El Cerrito. Lots of folks walk their dogs in the park, but once beyond Wildcat Creek Trail's nearly level dog walking corridor, on weekdays you may have the place to yourself. Wildcat Canyon is not a wilderness area though; a chorus of lawnmower engines drifts through the air most days, and traffic noise and train whistles are commonly heard throughout most of the park. Some times there are more people hanging around the parking lot than hiking or biking on the trails (this seems to be an east bay phenomenon, as nowhere else in the bay area do I encounter this).
     Despite its proximity to densely populated neighborhoods, Wildcat Canyon has a healthy wildlife colony. I've seen coyotes on two hikes, and plum pit-studded coyote scat is commonly spotted on the trails in early summer.Wildcat Creek Trail  Red-tailed hawks and kestrels are also frequently spotted, particularly up on San Pablo Ridge, where there are views in all directions, including Mount Tam, Mount Diablo, San Francisco, San Pablo Bay, and eastern Contra Costa County.
     There is one main trailhead at Wildcat Canyon, and a few other backdoors into the park. Some people enter the park from the southeast, via Tilden Park's Inspiration Point Trailhead. Starting at Inspiration Point at over 1000 feet makes for easy hiking along San Pablo Ridge. It's an easy out-and-back under 5 mile hike to Wildcat Peak on Nimitz Way, a wide paved trail, that is part of the Bay Area Ridge Trail, and is heavily used by equestrians and cyclists as well as hikers. Continuing a little further northwest on Nimitz Way you'll cross from Tilden into Wildcat Canyon Park, but most trail users (except cyclists) don't go that far. Photo of Wildcat Creek TrailIf you have an East Bay MUD trail permit, you can hike into Wildcat Canyon from Kennedy Grove, at the edge of San Pablo Reservoir. Once you cross San Pablo Dam Road t's a pretty and quiet ascent to the ridgeline via Eagle's Nest Trail (another segment of the Bay Area Ridge Trail), and from there you can explore the San Pablo Ridge in either direction, before descending back on Eagle's Nest.
     From Wildcat Canyon's main trailhead, all loop hikes involve a climb from about 200 feet to the ridgeline at about 1000 feet, and then a descent back to the trailhead. I highly recommend that you ascend to the ridge via Havey Canyon Trail or Mezue Trail, thereby avoiding a climb on two excessively steep sections of San Pablo Ridge Trail. Most people can handle descending that grade (the Olmsted map shows them as hogbacks), but ascending them is brutal.Photo of Mezue Trail
     For the featured hike, start at the Alvarado Staging Area, on paved Wildcat Creek Trail. The multi-use trail climbs right out of the parking lot, although the grade is manageable. This wide paved road is lined with tall eucalyptus, young coast live oaks, toyon, coyote brush, and lots of broom. In spring you may see plenty of blooming plants in the pea family, including purple vetch, birdsfoot lotus, clovers, and lupines. Summer brings a profusion of invasive yellow star thistle, and cheerful pastel blossoms on sweet pea vines. After an initial brief climb, the trail levels out a bit, and passes through a variety of shrubs and trees, including blue elderberry, poison oak, willow, toyon, pine, coast live oak, coyote brush, and broom. There's a cute little picnic area (one table) off the right side of the road, practically in someone's backyard. Ignore an unsigned fire road ascending to the left at 0.24 mile, and continue straight on Wildcat Creek Trail. The trail drifts back and forth from old pavement to dirt. In summer when the broom seed pods rupture, the trail becomes liberally peppered with tiny black seeds -- it's easy to see how these invasive plants spread almost overnight. At 0.43 mile, Belgum Trail sets out uphill to the left at a signed junction. CoyoteContinue straight on Wildcat Creek Trail.
     The trail begins an easy climb, revealing a bit more of Wildcat Canyon's grassland. Springtime flowers include blue-eyed grass, baby blue eyes, and bellardia. Wildcat Creek Trail drops slightly downhill to parallel Wildcat Creek (dry some parts of the year). The trail makes a sudden turn right near a fallen tree. On one spring hike clover and birdsfoot lotus made a carpet of blooms off the right side of the trail. Poison hemlock, wild radish, and wild mustard are common, and you might also see monkeyflower and sagebrush. The pavement finally fades away for good, and the trail enters a nice stretch on the ledge of a canyon, with hills rolling up to the left, and California bays and oaks nestled near the creek on the right. Photo looking east, with Mount Diablo visibleAt 2.01 miles, Wildcat Creek Trail meets Mezue Trail at a signed junction. (If you'd like to extend your hike another mile, continue another 0.2 mile to Havey Canyon Trail, turn left, climb up to the ridge and then take Nimitz Way to San Pablo Ridge Trail.) Turn left onto Mezue Trail (it's the second gate on the left).
     After crossing through a cattle gate, you'll begin a moderate climb through grassland on a sometimes overgrown multi-use trail (usually brushed by summer). In spring, patches of wild mustard dominate the grass, turning large sections of the hills yellow. Thistles, particularly invasive plants, can be seen in sizes that range from small to large. If you hike in spring you may notice large cardoons, which are related to cultivated artichokes. Flowering in early summer, cardoons look like artichokes that have run away from civilization; the plant equivalent of sturdy bearded mountain men living in a desolate wilderness. The Ridge in summerMezue climbs steadily. The trail gets use from cows, so it's muddy in the winter, and cracked like an overcooked cheesecake in the hot, dry summer months. To the right an area prone to landslides is slumped and soggy in spring, when red-winged blackbirds enliven the air with their cries. As the trail continues uphill, views open up to the north, south, and west. Mount Tam, the Golden Gate Bridge, and downtown San Francisco can be glimpsed on a clear day. After a brief respite, Mezue Trail's grade steepens again, and the vegetation shifts from grassland to a mixture of coast live oak, California bay, coyote brush, poison hemlock, poison oak, and cow parsnip. On a summer hike here I saw a young coyote running with a rabbit in its mouth. The trail's course is visible uphill, and you'll continue to climb somewhat steeply, skirting one hill and then climbing another. The ridgeline seems close, but the trail veers right and drops down to a signed junction at 3.32 miles. Turn left onto San Pablo Ridge Trail.A view back to Wildcat Peak
     This broad dirt trail is open to cyclists, equestrians, and hikers. Mount Diablo rises up to the southeast, and continuing uphill on San Pablo Ridge Trail, to the east San Pablo Reservoir, and the grassy hills of Briones Regional Park come into view. Check the dirt trail for coyote and bobcat prints, especially evident the day after a rain. Hawks and vultures are often seen in the skies above the ridge. Along the trail look for bluedicks, scarlet pimpernel, scorpionweed, California poppies, fiddlenecks, and sunflowers in the spring. After the first crest, San Pablo Ridge Trail drops down and then climbs back to the hike's high point, at 1057 feet. It's a nice spot to sit, with views in every direction, but it can get awfully windy in cool weather, and if you're without a windbreaker, you'll probably want to keep moving. The first steep section downhill is right after the crest. Photo of the descent A trekking pole (or two) will help you to maintain stability, and at least there are inspiring views all the way down. San Pablo Ridge Trail flattens a bit as it continues slightly downslope from the contour of the ridgeline. A spur trail breaks off to the left; this path shortcuts the next descent, but is not a sanctioned trail.
     Your knees and hips may be screaming as you descend this steep grade. San Pablo Ridge Trail levels out and passes an unidentified trail at a signed junction at 4.50 miles. Stay to the left.
    You might see clarkia blooming along the trail in late spring and early summer. At 4.65 miles, San Pablo Ridge Trail ends at a signed junction. Clarke-Boas Trail departs to the right, on its way out of the park to Clark Drive, just off San Pablo Dam Road. Bear left (straight, really) onto Belgum Trail (the previously encountered shortcut and a dead-end fire road drift in from the left to meet Belgum near this junction).
      Winding through open grassland, Belgum Trail features great views to the west. The dirt multi-use trail splits at an unsigned junction at about 4.86 miles; stay to the leftBelgum Trail  (this junction's not shown on the park map). A bench sits off the right side of the trail. It's probably better appreciated by hikers on the way uphill, but it's a nice spot for a water break. As Belgum Trail sweeps downhill, a row of trees on a hillside to the right resembles a fuzzy dark green undulating caterpillar. The trail passes by a small pond and then through a former settlement. Palm trees look out of place. Cows sometimes ramble through a muddy stretch lined with eucalyptus trees. The trail passes some plum and walnut trees and reaches a gate. Belgum Trail leaves the cows behind as it turns to pavement and then meets Wildcat Creek Trail at a previously encountered junction at 5.51 miles. Turn right and retrace your steps back to the trailhead.

Total distance: 5.97 miles
Last hiked: Tuesday, July 23, 2002