If you want to get in a hike that offers great views, a healthy dose of wilderness and the ability to get in more than 20 miles if you are so inclined without straying far from civilization then give Pleasanton Ridge Park a try.
The 8,800-acre gem that is off the radar for most people is part of the East Bay Regional Park District. If you have ever headed toward San Jose via the Sunol Grade on Interstate 680 you’ve passed Pleasanton Ridge Park. It’s part of the ridge to the west that is blanketed with oaks.
Although I’m usually not keen on sharing trails with mountain bikes or with dogs whose owners are allowed within the park’s confines to let them off leash, Pleasanton Ridge Park was a pleasant surprise.
The courtesy level compared to some I’ve encountered elsewhere is off the charts. And given the terrain, the ample ride trails, and short climbs of which some are on the relatively steep side I’m almost tempted to try a mountain bike on the park’s 25-plus miles of trails myself.
It is also a great place to try your hand at trail running. Several runners I encountered — including one from Tracy — said they travel to Pleasanton because of the rolling terrain and crisscrossing trails in a setting that isn’t too crowded or too remote.
I picked Pleasanton Ridge Park because I was getting a tad stir crazy. Every time I’ve tried to take a day hike in the Sierra or even on Mt. Diablo during the previous two weeks something came up at the last second.
I freely admit to being a mileage junkie not as much as to rack up the miles, but more so to get in a workout and to make sure that I get to an area where I can reflect on things with the only background noise at times being the fluttering of bird wings. I also have to have a bit of climbing on the hike.
I wasn’t in the mood to drive to trailheads to east and west of San Jose to get in what I wanted. That’s when I turned to Marc Soares’ book, “100 Hikes in the San Francisco Bay Area” from Mountaineer Books for $17.95. It offers 100 hikes all within an easy drive of the 209 with 2½ hours one way as the outer limit.
I came across the description for Pleasanton Ridge. The loop trail at 7.4 miles with an estimated hiking time of four to six hours and an elevation gain of 1,500 feet wasn’t quite long enough for me but I decided to do it after taking a RIPPED class in the morning at the 11th Street In Shape in Tracy.
It ended up being the best decision I could have made.
I ended up getting the workout I wanted for the day meaning I didn’t feel a need to kill myself hiking. With plenty of quick stops to snap photos of flowers and the views as well as trying my hand — unsuccessfully I might add — of videotaping the flight of numerous hawks as they swooped down among trees along the ridge the hike took me four hours.
I have my own pace when I’m by myself. That said given the layout of trails and the terrain the park is friendly to hikers of abilities across the spectrum. I came across parents with young children, people in their 80s, leisure walkers, relatively serious hikers, and hardcore trail runners.
The trail system makes use of various pre-existing dirt roads. That said the first chance I got to get off the main trail and take Woodland Trail (at 0.2 miles) on what is referenced by some as “the climbing footpath” I did. I wasn’t disappointed as I made my way up a trail through fairly heavy woods. When I reached Ridgeline Trail the live oaks gave way to massive valley oaks splattered among the open grasslands.
To the northeast I could make out Mt. Diablo and its slightly shorter cousin known as North Peak. I could still hear the slight hum, however, of the traffic on I-680 below. That’s when I decided to do the loop in reverse and head south to connect with the Thermalito Trail.
I’m glad I did.
Within minutes I was on the other side of the ridge. Instead of a panoramic view of hillside with urbanized Dublin and Pleasanton below, I got 360-degrees of nature where the only noise puncturing the silence was the sound of hawks in flight.
Thermalito Trail passes on one side of a stately abandoned olive grove as well as two ponds. The first pond had a cluster of cows and was pretty much in the open. The second was partially in shade and was jumping with frogs. This pond has been known to harbor western pond turtles and the threatened California red-legged frog. The frogs I saw frolicking in the water were the more plentiful chorus frogs.
When I met up with Ridgeline Trail again, I went a short ways into the City of Pleasanton’s 585-acre Austin Berna Park before turning around and heading back to the parking lot.
The elevations at Pleasanton Ridge range from 400 feet at the parking lot to 1,600 feet at the highest point.
You will find a few picnic tables as well as benches scattered sparingly throughout the park. There are also a few spots where you can secure drinking water. However, unless you are planning a self-supported 20-mile run, it is wise to bring the water you need.
A couple of precautions. There is poison oak, lots of it. You can easily avoid it by staying on the trails. Rattlesnakes are a possibility that you may encounter although it is fairly rare that anyone will.
Also the only one of 49 ticks in California known to be a potential carrier of Lyme disease — the Western Black-Legged Tick can be found in the grass and brush. They do not fly, jump or drop from trees.
Since cattle are grazing, follow the rules and close the gates as you pass from one section of the park to another.
From the 209, take Interstate 205 through Tracy and head over the Altamont Pass where the freeway turns into I-580. Take I-680 toward San Jose in Pleasanton. The most pleasant drive to the park is taking the Bernal Avenue exit and head west for 0.2 miles where you will turn left at the T-intersection that has traffic signals onto Foothill Road. You then head 3.2 miles on a pleasant tree-lined road past some nicer upscale homes to the parking lot for Pleasanton Ridge Park.
Parking and access are free.