Plateau Perfection

Hike a loop of the Bay Area Ridge Trail at Vargas Plateau in the East Bay

Vargas Plateau withe cows in the background in the East Bay

Deep in the East Bay hills lies a spot that’s perfect for anyone who loves animals. Vargas Plateau Regional Park is a secluded grassland that’s home to several endangered and threatened species—and of course, the East Bay grazing cows. Bring some binoculars and explore this 4-mile loop of the Bay Area Ridge Trail.

Hiker on a trail at Vargas Plateau in the East Bay

Bay Area Ridge Trail sign pointing the way in Vargas Plateau East Bay

The trail begins at the Vargas Plateau Staging Area, where hikers, cyclists, and equestrians can get an up-close look at the historic Vargas family barn. Follow signs for the Bay Area Ridge Trail as they lead you through the golden hills. A shady eucalyptus grove is the perfect place to search for funnel spiderwebs on the hillside—slightly scary, yet fascinating! (As hikers emerge back into the sunshine, they should be on the lookout for gopher snakes, rattlesnakes, and even the rare Alameda whipsnake basking on the rocks.)

At the intersection with Upper Ranch Trail, turn right. Here, the plateau’s centuries-long history as a ranch continues, with grazing cows—including newborns—just be respectful by giving them all a wide berth.

Baby cow at Vargas Plateau in the East Bay

Turn left at the next intersection to visit the viewpoint. This flat hilltop has a picnic table that’s perfect for lunch with a view. Fuel up while soaking up sights of the Diablo Range, including nearby Mission and Monument Peaks. Bird watchers may want to spend extra time up here, as white-tailed kites, wild turkeys, and red-tailed hawks live on the plateau.

Continue along the Upper Ranch Trail as it descends to a small cow pond. Here, eagle-eyed adventurers can spot newts, salamanders, and frogs. (Be on the lookout for the rare California red-legged frog.) Continue on the trail as it steeply ascends back onto the plateau. As the Upper Ranch Trail merges with the Golden Eagle Trail (Bay Area Ridge Trail) retrace your steps back to the parking lot.

Vargas Plateau Regional Park can be found at 2536 Morrison Canyon Rd. in Fremont. From I-680, take exit 18A onto Vargas Rd. Turn right onto Morrison Canyon Rd., and after 0.4 mile, turn left into the park. Hikers, cyclists, and equestrians are welcome on the trails. Leashed-dog-friendly!

Story and photos by Heather Werner,

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