Opt for Oursan

Hike Along the Shores of Briones Reservoir in the East Bay

Here’s a hike to do right now or to keep in your back pocket for the holiday season. It’s ideal when you’re looking for space and social distance. The Oursan Trail in the East Bay is pure serenity on a wide hiking path alongside the northern shores of Briones Reservoir. It’s also got some seriously heavy mistletoe hanging from the oak trees, for some holiday season flair. The entire reservoir can be hiked in a loop that connects Oursan to the Bear Creek Trail, but that’s not recommended during fall with much less daylight. Instead, do an out-and-back ramble of about 5 miles (round-trip); hike for a set amount of time, then turn around and return the way you came.

Part of why the Oursan Trail is so lightly used might be that it starts at the Bear Creek Staging Area, on the opposite side of the road from the main entrance to Briones Regional Park. And you have to have an EBMUD permit, which is easy to get online ($3 for the day). At the start of the trail, sign in at the kiosk with your permit number and then head up the fire road, which levels off as it opens to views of the reservoir, a large and deep body of tranquil water that ripples only if there’s a breeze. Early on you’ll pass the giant oaks thick with mistletoe.

The oaks continue along the trail, canopying some parts before you come out to more expansive views of the reservoir. There are a few steep, but brief, uphill sections, just enough to work up a hunger and thirst for stopping to enjoy a snack. The trail could use more benches (we saw none!) so bring something easy to sit on and find a spur trail to take a break close to the water. Take a listen, too: the birdsong rings out beautifully here.

LISTEN TO THE PODCAST: In the episode "Post-election Outings" Weekend Sherpa co-founders discuss their adventure hiking at Briones Reservoir and why it's such a great meditative outing.

Directions to Bear Creek Trailhead: From Lafayette take Happy Valley Rd. up over the hill to Bear Creek Rd.  Take a right and then a quick left into the Bear Creek Staging Area. (This staging area is on the opposite side of the road from Briones Regional Park’s main entrance.) Dog-friendly!

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