LIVERMORE — Del Valle Regional Park — just a short drive away — offers arguably the best spot in the Coastal Ranges to enjoy boating, fishing, hiking, and an abundance of activities from picnics to flying radio controlled aircraft.
The route from Livermore — via Tesla Road and then onto Mines Road and ultimately Del Valle Road — is popular with cyclists for its nice steady rise from the valley floor and its wide shoulders. Those bicyclists more ambitious as well as motorists out for a Sunday drive to take in the wild flowers and mostly unspoiled scenery stay on Mines Road and climb up a ways more toward the ridgeline to reach Mt. Hamilton near San Jose or to turn back to the San Joaquin Valley via Del Puerto Road into Patterson.
The park itself is in a small valley focused around a five mile long lake popular with sailboat enthusiasts, and fishermen. While the lake is currently closed to swimming due to the presence of toxic algae it still lures water enthusiasts for its serene and idyllic setting. Its shoreline picnic spots are popular for picnics, family gatherings, and other celebrations. The lake is surrounded by 4,395 acres filled with wildlife ideal for nature study as well as trails for hikers and equestrians.
It is also the eastern end of the Ohlone Wilderness Trail stretching 28 miles from Lichen Park Picnic Area to the Stanford Avenue staging area near Mission Peak in the San Jose area. Along the way you pass through the Ohlone Regional Wilderness, holdings of the San Francisco Water Department, the Sunol Regional Wilderness and the Mission Peak Regional Wilderness. There is also plenty of wildlife including an occasional sighting of Tule elk and even mountain lions.
Those braving hiking all — or part — of the Ohlone Wilderness Trail are in for treats that relatively few partake.
Day use to enter Del Valle Regional Park is $6 with another $2 for the trail permit. You can also secure permits for overnight camping.
Your permit — that you must carry at all times — is a sturdy paper map that offers an excellent map of the easy to follow main trail and spurs as well as an elevation profile with a wealth of other information.
Much of the main hiking trail follows old dirt ranch roads. Don’t be fooled into thinking this will make the hike a walk in the park. The first segment from Lichen Park Picnic Area climbs rapidly gaining 1,200 feet in elevation. Other segments are typical trails that often narrow down to enough width for one person as well as having their share of rocks and fallen trees to bypass or go over.
The first crest gives you sweeping views of Mt. Diablo and its kissing cousin North Peak dominating the horizon above Livermore as well as views of the windmill-studded Altamont Pass, Tracy and beyond, the Northern San Joaquin Valley and the eastern side of the Coastal Range.
There are two easy to reach destinations for day hikes from Del Valle Park — Murrieta Falls and Rose Peak.
My most recent trip was the 11.5-mile round trip to the falls named after the legendary California outlaw Joaquin Murrieta. The hike offered sweeping green hills, wildflowers, woodlands and a scattering of oak trees on ridge lines and in mini-valleys.
Murrieta Falls at the 3,300-foot elevation is the Bay Area’s longest in terms of its drop. Besides the fact it is about dried up for the year, its wimpy scale isn’t the main appeal of the trip. Instead it is the sweeping views and relative isolation of the Ohlone Wilderness despite being snuggled up against the urbanized San Francisco Bay Area. The elevation gain for the hike to Murrieta Falls is 3,500 feet.
My goal originally was Rose Peak that — at 3,817 feet — is the Bay Area’s second highest peak coming in just 32 feet lower than Mt. Diablo. It involves a 20-mile round trip and 4,500 feet in net gain during the hike.
Between getting a late start — I didn’t reach the Del Valle Park entrance gate until 8 a.m. although it opens two hours earlier — and the fact the gate closes at 8 p.m. in April, I opted not to tackle Rose Peak. I may have been able to squeeze it in but one problem — a wrong turn or such — and I would have been spending the night in my Ford Focus.
In April the gate hours are 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. before increasing to 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. through Labor Day.
Seasoned hikers suggest that most people try to squeeze in either hike between September into early June due to the heat and exposure to the sun during summer.
Even though by May the grass will have turned golden, the falls dried up, and most of the ponds will be long gone, I’ll return to tackle Rose Peak. I’ve also done a 6.2-mile loop within Del Valle Park that has a high point of 1,300 feet and net elevation gain of 900 feet that most people can cover in three to five hours.
The trail — reported to be surprisingly remote — is on the lake’s eastern side yet rarely gets much use. It has an abundance of gigantic California Blue Oaks with canopies spreading up to 25 feet awaiting hikers on a long stretch along the lake’s eastern shore.
For more information on Del Valle Regional Park go to ebparks.org/parks/del_valle.
For more information on the Ohlone Wilderness Trail go to ebparks.org/parks/ohlone.