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Las Trampas Ridge

Las Trampas Regional Wilderness

April 5th, 2003

7.0 miles
2425 vertical feet
Total Time: 5:40

Rating: 6/10

Directions: Take Highway 680 to Crow Canyon Road. Drive west for a little over a mile, then turn right onto Bollinger Canyon Road. Continue all the way to the end to the staging area parking lot. As of 2003, there was no fee. There are portable toilets, maps, and a picnic table at the parking lot.   View Driving Map

About a month earlier, we'd hiked in nearby Briones Regional Park. I expected the terrain to be similar -- rolling green hills, oak trees, and more wildflowers. Mostly, that was correct, but there's something new on almost every hike.

It had rained a couple days earlier, but we were basically past the bulk of the rainy season. We drove to the park and arrived under partly cloudy skies. The fairly large parking lot (enough for maybe 40 or more cars) had only a handful of cars. After picking up a map, Cammy, Jason, Jean, and I headed off on the trail around 11:40am.

We started off on the hikers-only Creek Trail. It parallels Bollinger Creek for about half a mile. Because this part of the trail is mostly shaded, it was muddy for some stretches, but nothing really that bad. The trail then crosses the creek and emerges on the other side into the sunlight. We stopped briefly to look back at one of the widest trees I've ever seen, it's limbs stretching far out low to the ground. Then we turned left and continued along the Bollinger Canyon Trail, a wide dirt road.

Now the climbing began, pretty gently at first. Everywhere we looked were green hills. While we could sometimes see cows in the distance, we didn't actually run into any on the trail. If you've read my other hikes or done them yourself, you know that it's very common to run into cows on the trail in the East Bay.

Caterpillar tent in the trees

Caterpillar tent

More caterpillars

Jason mentioned that at this time of year in Michigan, he would see caterpillar tents in the trees. He wondered if we would see some here. Not very long after he said this, we saw a tree filled with caterpillars. The branches were right next to the trail, accessible at eye level. We stopped for several minutes to marvel at them and take pictures. I now wonder how many times I've walked past trees with what looked like thick cobwebs, never realizing all the life that was teeming inside.

A closer look at the caterpillars

Looking up at the caterpillar tents in the trees

We continued climbing gently until we reached the next trail intersection. Here, the main trail headed left and up toward Las Trampas Peak. That trail basically dead-ends at the peak, though, and we were doing a loop hike. So we took the right fork and started climbing up some steep single-track. I say single-track, but the trail is supposed to be hikers and horses only. Unfortunately not everyone follows the rules...

At the top, we rested briefly another intersection. A trail to the left goes back up toward Las Trampas Peak. We saw two women come from that direction and exchanged a few words. They took the right fork that we would follow moments later. A couple minutes later we met them on the trail again and we took each other's pictures in front of some reddish flowers. Those were just some of the many, uncountable wildflowers we would see on this hike. There were many more wildflowers than at Briones, but that could be because it was closer to peak wildflower season now.

Lupine bush

The trail is fairly level here, mostly under shade of tree. Through the trees, we saw a raptor or two soaring high above. We soon reached Vail Peak, though we couldn't tell because there are trees at the top blocking the view. We turned left and headed down the hikers-only Corduroy Hills Trail. There are steps here, but each step is about two feet high. After descending less than a hundred feet, we reached a small saddle where we stopped briefly to admire the first of many lupine bushes we would see on this hike.

Jean headed for the steep trail up

Close-up of lupine

Directly ahead of us now was a very steep trail heading up to some rock outcroppings. We clambered up, then settled down for lunch at the top. The sun played hide and seek with the clouds as we ate and enjoyed the views of Rocky Ridge to the south west. After lunch we explored the rock formations. I climbed up a small rock and saw that the views were much better, although it was much colder being exposed to the winds. From here I could see a wall of rocks running along the summit ridge, extending for about 150 feet in total length. It was good solid rock and fun to boulder on.

Cammy and Jason checking out the view

While we were at the top, we were passed by a small group of hikers, as well as 2 or 3 mountain bikers. We didn't get a chance to tell them that the trail is supposed to be off-limits to bikers. We were a little amazed that they even attempted to carry their bikes up that stretch of rocky trail we'd had to ascend to get there.

Rock at the top of the saddle, guarding the view to the south

After lunch we continued on the trail, reaching a small spur trail that heads right and up to Eagle Peak itself (elevation 1720). There's a bench here, pointed straight at Mount Diablo. From here, you can pretty much only look east, across the 680 valley to Mount Diablo. We stopped briefly, then continued the descent on the Corduroy Hills Trail.

This was one of the nicest parts of the trail, passing through open oak forest and fields of wildflowers. We began to see more and more poppies, soon passing more poppies than you can count. All the while we were descending the north east side of Las Trampas Ridge, knowing we would have to climb back up and over to return to the car.

Poppies in the field

Eventually the trail drops onto a wide dirt road that flows straight into the Madrone Trail. We turned right and continued heading down, steeply at times. We could see we were headed nearly straight for the Eugene O'Neill National Historic Landmark, whatever that is. We reached a trail intersection and turned right to stay on the Madrone Trail, then shortly turned left onto the hikers-only Virgil Williams Trail. This trail climbs, steeply at times, through a densely vegetated, shady forest. We followed it for about a mile, but without gaining much in the way of views because of all the trees.

Finally, we reached the Amigo Trail, a wide dirt road. It headed up, at a very imposing angle. This short 0.43 mile stretch of the Amigo Trail is not your friend -- it is very steep, and is especially painful near the end of a hike. We slowly made our way up, past more lupine bushes. I was surprised to see that some of the bushes had very thick branches. I didn't know they could grow almost, well, bush-like. I always thought of them more as wildflowers than as bushes.

After the steep haul up the trail, we reached another trail intersection. Cammy and Jean decided to head down the Sulphur Springs Trail. Jason and I headed up the Summit Trail. The Summit Trail is only slightly longer (0.77 vs. 0.61 miles), and I think the better route. It goes up and down, rather than down and up (as the other route does). If you reach this part of the trail and see the climb, don't be alarmed -- all that you see is all that there is -- as soon as you reach that, it levels off. When you reach the next intersection, don't take it -- go straight (bear left) for a few more yards to soak in some nice views of Rocky Ridge. The double back like we did and descend down the Las Trampas Ridge Trail.

We reached the Oak Circle, then the intersection with the Sulphur Springs Trail. Cammy and Jean shortly emerged from the forest and together we continued along the Las Trampas Ridge Trail. We climbed briefly before topping the ridge. While we enjoyed the views, a turkey vulture came at us, swooping down and coming within maybe 15-20 feet of us. It looked like he was right on top of us. It was pretty intimidating.

Oak tree at Oak Circle

We started our descent from the ridge. Rocky Ridge glistened in the afternoon sunlight across from us. At the next intersection, we looked north to see the distinctive saddle and rock formations where we'd had lunch a few hours earlier. From here, we could see tall rock columns leading up the south side of Eagle Peak.

View looking west

We turned left and headed down the Chamise Trail, then turned right and hiked down to a small parking area on Bollinger Canyon Road. We walked along the road the last couple hundred yards to our car.

While this was a nice hike, with the added treat of the caterpillar sighting, if I had to compare this hike with Briones I would have to give Briones the nod. I'm not exactly sure why that is, but I think the trails on the Briones hike afford better views as well as nice open oak forest. Several of the trails here go through denser forest which I find less appealing. That's not to say I won't return some day, to explore the other side of the park -- Rocky Ridge.

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