Briones Regional Park

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If you’re looking for a wild and rugged place to hike, Briones Regional Park is not it (unless you consider cows to be “wildlife”).  The park does offer a substantial network of trails  within the heart of Contra Costa County.  Rolling grassy hills provide spectacular views of Mount Diablo, the Carquinez Strait and the surrounding suburbs.  Briones is one of the many parks managed by the East Bay Regional Park District.  At 6000+ acres, it’s easy to hike or run 10+ miles if you’re looking for a challenge.  The trails which are mostly wide fire roads, are both dog friendly and mountain bike friendly.  We walked a 6-mile loop through oak woodland, to the top of Briones Peak and back down over rolling, sometimes steep terrain.

Directions to Trailhead: There are many different access points to the park.  We began our hike at the Alhambra Creek Staging Area.  To reach this trailhead, exit Highway 4 at Alhambra Ave.  Follow Alhambra Ave south for 0.6 miles.  Turn right on Alhambra Valley Road (1.3 mi) then left on Reliez Valley Road (0.6 mi).  Turn right at the huge Briones Park sign (at Brookwood Drive) and follow the road to the end.  Google Map link to trailhead.

Red Tape & Miscellaneous Info: Parking is $3 when the kiosk is attended. When we were there, a sign read “No fee collected today.”  Additional fee information can be found on park’s website.  Trail maps are provided at the trailhead and also available (in PDF) on the park’s website.  All junctions are clearly marked so it’s difficult to get lost.

Distance: 6.7 mi | Elevation: +2200 ft / -2200 ft | Download gpx

Trail Description: It’s nice living halfway between the mountains and the coast. Everything (skiing, mountain biking, shopping in the City, walking on the beach, wine tasting, hiking) is about an hour and a half from our doorstep. The downside? Everything is about an hour and a half from our doorstep.  Sometimes we don’t want to spend that much time in the car. This last weekend, we were ready to get outside and do some hiking. The weather in the Sierras was looking less than ideal, and the long drive around Lake Berryessa deterred us from heading out to Berryessa Peak. We settled on Briones Regional Park – a mere 55 minutes away.

Neither Rob nor I had ever been to Briones, but it is (not surprisingly) similar to many of the other East Bay Regional Parks. A network of steep fire roads crisscrosses through oak woodland, dry creek beds and rolling grassy hills. And there are cows!

We arrived at the Alhambra Creek Staging Area shortly after 7am. Two other cars were already in the lot.

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We headed up the Alhambra Creek trail. Soon the road began climbing at a steady grade. We turned right on the Spengler Trail and continued upwards.

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Somewhere along the Spengler Trail we reached a gate. A cow and her calf stood on the other side, staring at us. We hesitated for a bit. After nearly getting charged by an aggressive herd in the Ohlone Wilderness, I’ve developed a slightly irrational fear of cows. But we certainly were not about to turn around, so through the gate we went. The cows here are far more used to people. As soon as we got over the next hill, we spotted other hikers, a couple of runners and some mountain bikers. The cows could not have cared less about all the people amongst them.

Little veal running away from another hiker's dog.
Little veal running away from another hiker’s dog.

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Looking north towards Martinez.
Looking north towards Martinez.
Trail to the top of Briones Peak.
Trail to the top of Briones Peak.

Somewhere near the Maricich Lagoons, we turned left onto the Briones Crest Trail. A half mile further up, a clear use trail ascends towards the top of Briones Peak (1483′). There is a bench and a couple of benchmarks at the summit.

The old topo map (and this benchmark) called this Hills Peak (rather than Briones Peak).
The old topo map (and this benchmark) called this Hills Peak (rather than Briones Peak).

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After a few minutes of rest, we headed down and continued along the loop. We followed the Briones Crest Trail to a spur of the Table Top Trail. At this junction (just below the Briones Peak summit), we found a bench with a great view towards Mt Diablo.  We sat and stared for a few more minutes, then slowly made our way down a very steep section of the Table Top Trail.

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Our hike back to the car had some steep ups and downs. We took the following route:

  • Table Top Trail (0.37 mi)
  • Spengler Trail (0.31 mi)
  • Blue Oak Shortcut (0.29 mi) – Shortcut to what…?  I don’t know.
  • Blue Oak Trail (0.45 mi)
  • Spengler Trail (0.52 mi) – Yes, the same trail but a different section.
  • Diablo View Trail (1.16 mi) – Back to Alhambra Creek Staging Area.

Yes, the map has some very specific mileages.

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More cows on the trail.
More cows on the trail.

We made it back to the car well before noon.  We had plenty of time to drive to Port Costa and have Sunday brunch at the Bull Valley Roadhouse – delicious after our 6+ mile walk.

Yes, that is indeed a piece of bacon in that Bloody Mary.
That is indeed a piece of bacon in that Bloody Mary.

1 thought on “Briones Regional Park”

  1. In the 1970’s, we used to do a lot of hiking there. Being that the old hiking club had leaders that really liked that place, I was stuck having to car pool, time after time, being pretty poor. There were bad droughts ongoing then too, so we couldn’t ski. I don’t think I’ve been back there ever since. If I’m going to burn gas, I’ll take Mount Saint Helena for the Bay.

Any thoughts?