Lesser-Known Peak Hikes in the Bay Area

01.5.12


Peak Your Interest

Kick off the New Year by challenging yourself to reach new heights. Here are three less-traveled Bay Area summits that might just peak your interest.


Hood Mountain

Hood Wink

Slicing like a bread knife between Napa and Sonoma, the north-to-south Mayacamas Mountains divide the two valleys. The highest point in this range is Hood Mountain – a lofty 2,730-foot peak. With the closure of nearby Sugarloaf Ridge State Park, Hood Mountain Regional Park is the best place to climb to a view of this famous wine country. The 3.5-mile (one-way) hike to Gunsight Rock is no walk in the park. This is all about the climb—nearly 2,000 feet of it! Starting from the Pythian Road staging area, the Lower Johnson Ridge Trail gradually makes its way up the mountain. Occasional breaks through the thick forest give glimpses of the view you'll get at the top. About half way up, you'll pass Blue Heron Pond, which can have chunks of ice floating in it during the winter months. The final few hundred feet up to Hood Mountain are the most challenging. A steeply pitched fire road will test the grip on your hiking boots. The true summit has a commemorative plaque, but trees and shrubs obstruct the view. Continue on another .4-mile to Gunsight Rock Overlook. From this perch, a smattering of large boulders offer an amazing view of Sonoma Valley's crescent shape, the Santa Rosa (basin), and even out to the Bay and Golden Gate Bridge. Turkey vultures sometimes sun themselves on nearby rocks, scanning for food. Hood times!

Go south on Hwy. 12 for 9 miles from Santa Rosa or 13 miles north from Sonoma. Turn east on Pythian Rd. and follow it 1.5 miles to the staging area. There is a $6 parking fee. From the parking area follow the Lower Johnson Ridge Trail up the mountain. In 1.5 miles (just a couple of minutes after crossing a bridge) you’ll come to an unsigned fork in the trail; go left and uphill. You’re now on the Pond Trail. In half a mile reach the Upper Johnson Ridge Trail and go right. In about a mile the trail comes to a T-junction. Go right and up the steep fire road to the summit. At the summit, follow the signs to Gunsight Rock Overlook. Return the way you came. Dog-friendly!

Eagle Rock Big Basin

Eagle Eyes

The trail isn't well maintained, there isn't much parking, and you most likely won't see a soul. Still interested? Then the 1.5-mile (one-way) hike up to Eagle Rock is not to be missed. As the highest peak in Big Basin Redwoods State Park, Eagle Rock sits smack in the middle of the Santa Cruz Mountains and arguably has the best view in the entire range. It's such a good view that forest rangers placed a (now abandoned) fire lookout at the top. Even the road to the trailhead is an adventure. Go way back on Little Basin Road until you can't go any further (noted by the Hewlett Packard camp signs). Park and follow the signed but unnamed trail up and up and up. Because this neck of the woods doesn't see much action the trail can be covered in branches and leaves. You'll need to pay extra attention to where you're going, especially at the beginning, and don't go too late in the afternoon. Remember, it's all part of the fun! After ten minutes on the trail, you'll pass an old wood cabin. The half-way point is marked by a rickety bridge arching over a creek. At the top, there are two choices: hang out by the old fire lookout or scramble up the rocks to the south of the lookout. Either way, the views from 2,488 feet showcase much of the South Bay and beyond. Even Big Sur's Santa Lucia Range can be seen on clear days. The eagle has landed.

The trailhead is off of Little Basin Rd. To get there from the Big Basin Redwoods park headquarters, go south on Hwy. 236 for 3 miles and turn right onto Little Basin Rd. After about 2 miles you’ll reach the Hewlett Packard camp sign. There is a limited amount of parking here on the left (don’t block the fire road). Follow the trail up all the way to Eagle Rock. No dogs.

Las Trampas Peak hike

Tramping Trampas

When thinking of a summit in the East Bay most people default to Mount Diablo. But just west lies the vast Las Trampas Regional Wilderness and its namesake summit, with views galore and no crowds. Reach the peak on a 3.8-mile (round-trip) trek through a mix of woodlands, chaparral and grassland. Start on the Chamise Trail and hike 1.4-miles up moderate switchbacks bordered by coast live oak, showcasing views of Las Trampas Ridge to the east. At the junction with the Las Trampas Ridge Trail, veer left and enter the tree-cover of California bay, canyon live oak, and hillside gooseberry. Here you'll see the most notable foliage, stunning madrone and manzanita trees with smooth chocolate-colored bark growing over a canyon's edge. Continue up Las Trampas Ridge Trail as it converts to a fire road and passes spectacular vistas of Moraga Valley and the Berkeley Hills. When you reach a gate, swivel left for a quick 0.1-mile climb to the 1,827-foot peak of Las Trampas—360-degree views span Mount Tamalpais, Mount Diablo, Rocky Ridge, and the Bay, to name a few! Retrace your steps to the Las Trampas Ridge Trail junction and continue downhill on the Bollinger Canyon Trail—a gentle 1.5-mile descent among open, grassy hills. Tramptastic!

From Interstate 680 South in San Ramon, take the Crow Canyon Road exit and head west about a mile until you see Bollinger Canyon Road. Take a right on Bollinger Canyon and follow the road 4.5-miles until you dead end into a parking lot. The Chamise trailhead is located just outside the parking lot, back on Bollinger Canyon Road. Bicycles aren't allowed on the Chamise Trail or on the single-track portions of Las Trampas Ridge Trail, but cyclists can reach Las Trampas Peak by taking Bollinger Canyon Trail out and back. Dog friendly!

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