Hiking — Regional Parks in the rain

by Beverly Lane

Seasonal rains bring green to the grasslands in the East Bay Regional Parks, with a promise of springtime wildflowers. But the rains also bring muddy trails that fill the lug soles of hard-to-clean hiking boots.

There’s a lot to be said for winter season hiking. The air is fresh, cool and energizing and the vegetation is lush. There are even winter blooms, like the delicately flowered manzanita and the magenta-colored Indian warrior that grows beneath it.

But if you want to avoid the mud, there are trails in the regional parks where this is possible.

For starters, the inter-park regional trails, such as the Iron Horse Trail, which parallels I-680 through the San Ramon and Diablo Valleys, are all paved, multi-purpose routes for pedestrians, equestrians and bicycle riders. The Lafayette-Moraga Trail is another example. It extends for more than seven miles from Olympic Boulevard in Lafayette to the Valle Vista staging area on Moraga Road.

There are paved trails within the regional parks as well. For a steep hill climb, walk up the Rocky Ridge Trail at Las Trampas Regional Wilderness in San Ramon. It leads up from the trailhead at the north end of Bollinger Canyon Road off Crow Canyon Road.

Nimitz Way at Tilden Regional Park in Berkeley is paved for the first four miles north from Inspiration Point on Wildcat Canyon Road. It’s open to all non-motorized modes of transportation. Dogs must be on leash, though.

And in the winter, Tilden’s South Park Drive is closed to vehicles to protect the newts, a variety of salamander that migrates across the road to mate in adjacent Wildcat Creek. So you can walk or bicycle there, too. South Park Drive connects Grizzly Peak Boulevard to Wildcat Canyon Road.

There are unpaved trails within the regional parks that tend to be less muddy as well. This is because they traverse sandstone bedrock. Check out the Old Stage Road Trail at Castle Rock Regional Recreation Area in Walnut Creek. You can access it from the staging area at the end of Castle Rock Road, a mile or two past Northgate High School. Be advised, though: between Castle Rock Park and the gate into Mt. Diablo State Park, there are four stream crossings that involve some rock hopping when the stream is running.

Another relatively mud-free hike is on the Chaparral Loop Trail at Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve in Antioch. The trail starts at the old Somersville town site, leads up a canyon to the ridge top, then descends again through another canyon. It’s a workout, but the views are worth it. You’ll see some of those manzanita blossoms, too.

Black Diamond Mines is located at the end of Somersville Road, five miles south of Highway 4 in Antioch.

For information on these and other winter hiking and bicycling possibilities, visit the park district web site at www.ebparks.org. You can download maps of almost every regional park. Or you can pick up maps at trailhead information panels. It’s always a good idea to do so. You will need to decide for yourself if you want to do some singing in the rain.*   *   *

Ardenwood Historic Farm in Fremont will recreate its annual Victorian Christmas Holiday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 7 and 8. Activities include live music, visits with Father Christmas, holiday crafts, a Yule Log hunt, and a cookie baking contest. It’s always a great show.

Fees for the event are $8 for adults, $6 for seniors ages 62 and older, $5 for children ages four and up, and free for ages three and under. Parking is free.

Ardenwood is located at 34600 Ardenwood Boulevard, just north of Highway 84 in Fremont. For information call 510-544-2797 or check the park district web site.

Tilden Regional Park’s antique merry-go-round celebrates Christmas, too. Its Christmas Fantasy takes place from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. nightly through Dec. 23, rain or shine, with holiday ornaments, gifts, gingerbread cookies, hot cocoa and apple cider all available for purchase, along with rides on the carousel animals, of course.