Homestead-Blue Ridge Trail at Stebbins Cold Canyon Reserve

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Sometimes people will ask me for recommendations on where to go hiking that’s close to Solano County but still moderately challenging with some great views. Almost always, I tell them to head over to Stebbins Cold Canyon Reserve, located near Lake Berryessa about 9 miles west of the town of Winters. This park, owned and maintained by UC Davis, encompasses a steep canyon and a portion on the Blue Ridge, a long ridge that extends much of the length of the Coast Range in Solano and Yolo Counties. The elevation gain on this loop hike is significant enough to be a challenge, but not enough to be overwhelming. Plus the views of the lake and surrounding mountains are sublime!

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I’ve been waiting to hike this trail for quite some time. I hiked it a few years ago with my wife and since I’ve been getting back into hiking I’ve been wanting to do it again. Unfortunately, that was not possible until recently. Last summer the Wragg Fire burned much of the preserve and as such it was closed until this past May. I finally had a free Saturday where the weather was tolerably cool enough, so I called up a friend of mine to see if he wanted to tag along and he obliged. We hopped in the car, drove to the trailhead and parked before beginning our hike. Follow the signs to the trailhead as the trail configuration has changed since the preserve reopened (this more applies for people who have done this hike before.)

The loop hike that most people do at Cold Canyon is a 5.5 mile loop called the Homestead-Blue Ridge Trail that follows the canyon floor for part of it, and climbs up onto the ridge for the other half. There are two ways to do the hike. You can either follow the mostly flat canyon floor and climb up the ridge slightly more gradually with stairs, or climb up the ridge immediately and then the rest is mostly downhill. We opted for the second one. Immediately we started climbing up the ridge, following the tight switchbacks in some places. What struck me almost immediately was how much vegetation had already started to grow back from the fire the previous year. Most of the trees were burned but a lot of the grasses had filled in already. As we climbed we admired the increasingly good views that were forming behind us of the nearby mountains, and eventually the Central Valley beyond.

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After about 1.8 miles, you’ll finally reach the top of the ridge and your first views of Lake Berryessa appear. Take a break, eat a snack, and soak it all in. These views will stay with you the entire time you’re on the ridge. As you hike farther south you’ll have to do some rock scrambling but nothing too difficult. Notice all of the vegetation that was burned out during the Wragg Fire. The last time I hiked this trail it was lined with chaparral type plants and manzanita bushes. Now, most of these are gone and the trail is very exposed. I hope you brought your sunscreen!

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As you hike farther south you’ll also notice that on your left, the trail is bare but on your right vegetation exists and has been cut in some places. It looks like this trail was used as a fire line in the efforts to fight the fire. This will also be evident if you look out along the ridge; the left side is burned but the right (towards Berryessa) still remains intact. Around the 3 mile point, you’ll reach the trail’s highest point, around 1500 feet. At this point it will begin to descend and eventually meet up with the Homestead Trail and Tuleyome Trail.

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Follow the Homestead Trail and you’ll start to descend steeply down stair after stair. At this point you might be glad you climbed the ridge first and now don’t have to climb these stairs. Near the 4 mile point you’ll reach the bottom of the canyon. Here the trail looks much more different than the ridge line; it’s shady and has a nice creek running along it (dry at the time we hiked). You’ll also pass by the old Vlahos homestead, though all that remains is a few stone foundations. They are worth a look though. You can see the foundations, an old retaining wall, and the cold storage. Among all this we saw an abandoned fire hose, no doubt left over from the fire the previous year. From here we hiked the last 1.5 miles along the canyon floor, admiring some of the plants both burned and not. We returned to our car and drove down to Winters where we had a great lunch at a local coffee shop downtown (highly recommend the Turkey Pesto sandwich at Steady Eddys!)

Trip Stats

Distance: 5.48 miles

Time: 2-3 hours

Elevation gain: 1260 feet

Fees: Parking and entrance are free, though a $2 donation is accepted, self pay at the entrance.

Directions: From the town of Winters, take CA-128 West towards Lake Berryessa. Pass by the Canyon Creek Resort and cross the bridge over Putah Creek and you’ll see a sign indicating you’re entering Solano County. Start looking to your right for the parking area as it comes up quickly. Park here and follow the signs to the trailhead.

Trail map from UC Davis can be found here.

Tips

– Bring lots of water. There is no shade for most of this hike and temperatures can be very warm here. Learn lessons from me; I ran out of water my first time hiking here.

– Wear sunscreen. As I said before there is little shade and now even less since the Wragg Fire burned out a lot of vegetation.

– Try not to go when it’s hot. You’ll hate yourself for it!

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Exploring the wilds of Wildcat Canyon Regional Park

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One of the best parts about living in the Bay Area is the multitude of micro climates that exist here. The saying around here goes, “If you don’t like the weather, go somewhere else.” That could not be more true than during the summer in the Bay Area. Where I live is much more inland and thus doesn’t get as much of the coastal influence as other parts of the Bay Area. That means it gets hot….really hot. On this particular day, our forecast was looking like temps nosing above 100 degrees (not at all uncommon in Vacaville). So, living up to the local saying, I went somewhere else for my hiking pleasures this weekend. I wanted somewhere still fairly close but with much cooler weather and great ridge line views. Heeding the recommendation of a book I have on Bay Area hiking, I headed to Wildcat Canyon.

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Wildcat Canyon Regional Park is located in the hills above Richmond and El Sobrante and is the  northernmost in a line of regional parks that protect most of the East Bay hills. It’s also the northernmost terminus of the San Pablo Ridge, which extends for most of the spine of this park and Tilden Regional Park, its more well known neighbor to the south. This was my destination as I pulled into the rather large parking lot and began my hike along the Wildcat Creek Trail. Parts of the WCT are paved and others are pavement crumbled into dirt. This was clearly at one time an actual road open to cars. The vegetation surrounding is enough to be interesting but not a lot of shade exists on this part of the trail.

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After 0.4 miles, bear left on the Belgum Trail. Shortly after you’ll pass the old Belgum estate, accompanied by an informational sign that was interesting to read. This trail is where you’ll do most of your climbing, winding your way up towards the top of San Pablo Ridge. At 1.3 miles you’ll come to a fork where three trails meet. Take the middle trail that heads slightly downhill and around a large hill in front of you (not the Clark-Boas Trail). This is the start of the San Pablo Ridge Trail and after a bit more climbing the trail will bear to the right and start following the ridge.

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If you hadn’t been looking back and enjoying the views starting to form, you’ll be enjoying them now. If the weather’s clear, you’ll have the whole expanse of the upper East Bay before you, from Richmond to Berkeley, San Francisco across the bay, Angel Island, and Mt. Tamalpais all to your right.

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To your left you’ll see the expanse of the East Bay hills with San Pablo Reservoir below you and Mt. Diablo in the distance. Scenes like this remind us how spectacular it is to hike in the Bay Area!

Enjoy the views as you walk along the ridge; a cakewalk compared to the climb experienced earlier. At 2.6 miles, turn left onto a small connector trail, then almost immediately turn right onto Nimitz Way. Round the hill and shortly after Nimitz Way becomes a paved multi use trail that continues all the way to Tilden Park. I opted to only follow it for 0.68 miles before turning right onto the Havey Canyon Trail at 3.4 miles.

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The Havey Canyon Trail was a completely different experience from hiking along San Pablo Ridge. Immediately the trail starts going downhill and enters into a lush, thickly vegetated canyon following a creek. This was a welcome change from the exposed ridge with no shade. The vegetation was so thick in fact that it was hard to believe I was still in the Bay Area. It reminded me of times when I’ve gone hiking in Washington State as a kid, where vegetation grows wild. Nonetheless, it was the smell of bay laurels hanging in the air that brought me back to home.

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Shortly after entering the canopy the trail crosses the creek, which was fairly low at this time considering it was late May. I followed the Havey Canyon Trail for 1.5 miles and turned right onto the Wildcat Creek Trail at 5 miles.

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The rest of the hike was relatively uneventful. The Wildcat Creek Trail is a wide multi use trail that follows the canyon containing its namesake, Wildcat Creek. It’s shaded in some spots and flat pretty much the whole way. It was fairly busy on this sunny Saturday and I had plenty of company as I hiked the last 2.2 miles back to my car. I did see a fox scurry across the trail near the end of my hike though, the one semblance of larger wildlife I saw on this hike.

Trip Stats

Distance: 7.24 miles

Time: 2.5-3 hours

Elevation gain: 900 feet

Fees: Parking and entrance are free

Directions: From I-80 Westbound, take the McBryde Ave exit in Richmond and turn left at the light. Head up the hill and go straight onto Park Ave as McBryde bears to the right. Follow Park Ave until the road dead ends at the parking lot.

Trail map from the East Bay Regional Parks can be found here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rolling Hills at Rockville Hills Regional Park

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Sometimes it’s good to have a place nearby home that has lots of trails and a variety of terrain/vegetation that will keep you interested without driving far. For me, that place is Rockville Hills Regional Park near Fairfield. The numerous trails that crisscross the low oak studded hills above Green Valley allow me to get a good workout under occasional shade only under 30 minutes from my home. What more could I ask for?

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Rockville Hills Regional Park, owned and maintained by the City of Fairfield, is 633 acres of oak woodlands and mixed broadleaf forests, along with grasslands among the hills between Suisun and Green Valleys. The city bought the property in the 1960’s intending to turn it into a golf course but push back from local residents killed the plan. Instead, it became a park popular for hiking, mountain biking, and picnicking. The best way to go hiking here is to come without a plan. Print out a map and bring it if you must, but it’s often better to just wander on the trails. The park is small enough that’s it’s quite difficult to get lost even when doing this. Bring out the inner explorer in you!

There are two main entrances to Rockville Hills. The main entrance and most popular is located off of Rockville Road on the north side of the park. There is a small parking area and pay kiosk, along with several picnic tables. The other entrance is located on the south side of the park and a little difficult to find. This is due to the fact that you can’t actually park right next to it. You’ll need to park on Emerald Bay Drive in a subdivision in Green Valley, then walk a quarter mile up a paved bike path to the actual entrance to the park. Though unsigned the trail is not too hard to find. On this particular day, I decided to use the south entrance.

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After entering the park I immediately started climbing a hill. It’s not insurmountable but the immediate elevation gain is a little unexpected at first. I hiked over the hill and after the first 1.5 miles reached the Upper Lake located in the center of the park.

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The starkness of the golden hills with the green grass surrounding the lake was a welcome sight. After spending a few minutes at the lake I hiked up into the hills west of the lake. I wound around on trails like the Outside Loop Trail and Upper and Lower Mystic Trails. Eventually the Mystic trails end up back at the Green Valley Trail that took me back to my car.

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Throughout my hike I enjoyed great views of Fairfield and the surrounding valleys. The rolling hills are a golden color this time of year and pretty against the backdrop of oaks and other broadleaf trees. However I apologize that this trip report is a bit more vague than others. There are two reasons for this: I am writing this trip report a bit delayed and often when at Rockville, I don’t have a set route planned. Thus some of my route is a bit vague to me. As I mentioned before I highly encourage grabbing a map and wandering this park as I do if you’re in the area! It’s a great place to kill a few hours (if the weather isn’t too hot).

Trip Stats

Distance: 4.72 miles

Time: 2 hours

Elevation gain: 700 feet

Fees: Parking is free, entrance is $3 per person, payable at the kiosk at the main entrance. If using the south entrance there is no kiosk, so the sign directs you to pay at the main entrance.

Directions: From I-80, take the Green Valley Road exit, and go,  north (left from eastbound, right from westbound). Turn right onto Westlake Road, then left on Lakeshore, and right onto Emerald Bay. Park at the second crossing of the bike path and hike north (to the left) towards the south entrance.

To reach the main entrance, go north on Suisun Valley Road from Interstate 80. Turn left onto Rockville Road and you’ll see the park entrance about a mile up on the left.