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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.