For years I have been enamored with the idea of hiking the East Bay Skyline National Recreational Trail. The 31-miles, stretching from Richmond to Castro Valley, always seemed too long for a day hike (though some do it!). If there were places to camp along the way, perhaps it would be more do-able, but since the only campground along the way is Chabot Family Camp, only a couple of miles from the start, the challenge remained.
When I noticed that the 2011 Trail Challenge run by the East Bay Regional Park District (EBRPD) included this trail in its program, I decided to approach completing a hike of the trail in a different way. When I looked at the district’s map, I saw that they suggested that the hike could be completed in sections. Clearly that is one way to approach it. However, their suggested segments range from 2.74 to 7.14 miles. That means that you’d have to either hike twice that to get back to your mode of transportation or use two cars (or public transit).
I didn’t want to involve two cars, so I decided to modify their approach. I would start at various trailheads along the way, hike out 3-6 miles depending on the section, and then return on a different trail if feasible, or retrace my steps.
Here is how it goes on the northernmost section of the Skyline Trail:
We start in the Alvarado Park Staging Area of Wildcat Canyon. Hike up the paved road (known to locals as “the road to nowhere) .44-mile until a sign directs you uphill on the Belgum Trail. There are some informational signs as you approach the grounds of the former Belgum Estate. Palm trees indicate the area where the Grande Vista Sanitarium, where the rich sent their relatives who were alcoholic, drugs addicted, or mentally ill, during the early 1900s.
The trail begins a fairly steep ascent as it leads to an intersection where it becomes the San Pablo Ridge Trail. Be sure to turn to enjoy the views back toward the bay and across to the Carquinez Strait. You will also appreciate the benches where the trail flattens out for a while. Eventually you will pass some wooden pens for holding the cows that you have seen grazing along the way. Shortly after, you will reach a gate and the paved Nimitz Way.
This is your turn-around point. Pause to enjoy the views of San Pablo and Briones reservoirs and Mount Diablo if the skies are clear. Then you can either retrace your steps the entire way back (steep) or turn left shortly after the pens for a more gradual descent on the Mezue Trail. The generally-wide Mezue will take you all the way down to the Wildcat Creek Trail. There you’ll find drinking water (and a trough for horses) and picnic tables in a shade grove. Turn right onto Wildcat Canyon Trail and follow it approximately 2 miles back to your car.
- Hike is approximately 6.70 miles round-trip.
- No entrance or parking fees.
- Dogs allowed on leash
- Carry sunscreen and wear protective clothing – much of the trail is unshaded.
- Check for ticks when you finish.
- Hike is best when temperatures are moderate.
Next time we continue the Skyline Trail by completing the Nimitz Trail in Tilden Park, which is the next section to the south.