|Sunol Regional Wilderness|
Access: $5 per car entrance fee for Sunol Regional Wilderness
Sunol Regional Wilderness is a brilliant tract of East Bay countryside less than an hour from San Francisco or San Jose. In the park's rolling, oak-studded hills and verdant canyons, it's easy to forget that Silicon Valley and the bustle of SoMa aren't far off; with few exceptions, the views along this hike are confined to the green countryside of Sunol, with little hint of the metropolis just miles away. There are almost continuous views on this hike, which visits the summit of cliff-lined Flag Hill before following the open ridgeline of Vista Grande and visiting the open slopes of Cerro Este. The hike ends by visiting the pretty gorge at Little Yosemite before returning to the visitor center at the base of Flag Hill. While this certainly isn't a must-hike, visiting the many ridges of the Sunol Wilderness can make for a fun day with lots of views away from the crowds of Mount Tam or Mission Peak. The park provides a good map that makes finding your way on this loop quite easy.
I hiked this trail on a warm, beautiful January day with totally clear blue skies. I left San Francisco with my good friend from high school and college in the morning, with far-reaching, smog-less views as we crossed the Bay Bridge. Across the bay, we took I-580 east past Castro Valley and across the mountains to the junction with I-680, which we followed south to exit 21A for Sunol and Calaveras Road. We followed Calaveras Road south for a few miles until we reached Geary Road, which we turned left onto and followed to the park. We paid the $5 entrance fee and met up at the park with a former roommate who now attended Stanford, who had come with one of his friends.
The four of us set out on the hike by crossing the bone-dry Alameda Creek on a bridge next to the Visitor Center. We then headed left, following the Flag Hill Trail a quarter mile past the junction for the Shady Glen Trail. The trail then began a fairly steep and aggressive ascent up Flag Hill. Early on, we hiked past beautiful, gnarled old oaks growing amidst the verdant meadows. Flag Hill itself soon came into sight, its cliff-hemmed summit resembling ramparts of some old castle.
|Sunol Regional Wilderness|
Further uphill, the trees faded away and the landscape was dominated by grass and shrubs that had assumed their winter green on hills that would turn to yellow and brown by summer. The views improved dramatically as well: behind us, we could see the parking lot and a growing portion of the rolling hills, while to the east we could see the rounded summits of Cerro Este.
|Ascending Flag Hill|
We enjoyed the view at the top for a while. Even though this hike visited many ridges, Flag Hill was the only actual summit on the route, making its 360-degree view especially worthwhile.
From the summit, we took the Flag Hill Road north and east down towards the saddle between the hill and Vista Grande. This wide trail made a curving switchback down the east side of Flag Hill. On our way down to the saddle, we passed a picturesque pond set in a small basin, backed by the Maguire Peaks.
|Maguire Peaks and a pond on the slopes of Flag Hill|
|On Vista Grande|
|High Valley Camp from Vista Grande|
|Vista Grande Trail|
Past the bench, came to a junction with the Eagle View Trail. We took the right fork, which brought us onto the narrower, single-track Eagle View Trail heading south and east. This portion of trail was quite spectacular: the trail was set into a steep grassy slope with a drop-off to the right of the trail. As we hiked forward, we had continuously good views of Cerro Este. "Eagle View" was certainly appropriately named.
The Eagle View Trail dropped into a canyon as it approached the flanks of Cerro Este. Briefly leaving the grassy meadows, the trail entered a small gully lined with oaks and crossed the stream flowing through the canyon before climbing back out onto the grassy meadows along the west side of Cerro Este. At the junction with the Eagle View Road, we stayed on the left fork for the Eagle View Trail, which passed a number of pretty rock outcrops and continued along open slopes until reaching the Cave Rocks Road at about 4 miles from the trailhead.
|On the Eagle View Trail|
|Pond on Cave Rocks Road|
|San Francisco from Cerro Este Road|
|Cows along the Cerro Este Road|
|View into the canyon|
Hiking in the Sunol is a thoroughly enjoyable experience. Although the scenery is rarely jaw-dropping, there are more or less continuous views along the trail and the countryside that the loop traverses is very pleasant. Bay Area hikers should certainly not miss out on hiking in the Sunol Wilderness; however, while visitors would likely find this hike enjoyable as well, the scenery here is certainly not exemplary in Northern California.