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Livermore, California, United States

Murietta Falls via Ohlone Wilderness Trail

A tough-but-rewarding hike to the San Francisco Bay Area's highest waterfall.

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Difficulty: Difficult
Length: 11.9 miles / 19.2 km
Duration: Full day
 
Overview: It takes strong legs and an even stronger sense of humor to take on the trek to Murietta Falls.

If you can laugh off the prospect of hiking six miles one way with over 4,000 feet of ascent for a waterfall without any actual water in it, you have a strong chance of enjoying this hike.

Murietta Falls is a remote, rocky slit in the backcountry between Fremont and Livermore on the eastern edge of the San Francisco Bay Area. At an elevation of just under 3,000 feet, it's the highest waterfall in the region.

The East Bay hills are bone dry three-fourths of the year, except in the winter, when Pacific storms turn many dry creeks into wet gushers. One of those creeks pours over Murietta Falls.

Even at maximum flow, the waterfall is so-so. The hike, however, is excellent. Two beastly climbs top out on ridges overlooking some of the wildest country in this part of California. In late winter and early spring, the hills turn a shimmering green dotted with an impressive array of wildflowers.

Add in the ego boost from conquering one of the Bay Area's toughest hikes and you'll soon forget you came to see a waterfall.


Tips: This hike is not for rookies -- it's very strenuous.

Best time to see the waterfall is after several days of rain in mid to late winter. Note the storms will make the trails very muddy, so try to give the trails a couple days to dry.

Next best time is the peak wildflower season of March and April, when the hills are a shimmering green.

It's too hot in the East Bay hills to try this hike in the summer, but autumn is fine (of course the falls will be dry).

Fees, regulations: You must purchase an Ohlone Wilderness Trail Permit -- $2 at the gate of Del Valle Regional Park. Parking fee is $6 (prices as of summer 2010). Your permit -- good for a year -- is also a map of the entire Ohlone Wilderness Trail.

When you buy the permit, ask when park closes, and time your hike to finish before the park's gates are closed.

What to bring:
Clothing in layers -- it's often very blustery on the high ridges.
Rain gear in winter and early spring.
Water filter or purifier.
Snacks for energy
Sunscreen

Points of Interest

map

Lichen Bark Parking Area

From the Del Valle Regional Park gate, take the park road over the dam, turn right, and go to the Lichen Bark area at the far end of the parking lot.

Look for the Ohlone Wilderness Trail sign. With Lake Del Valle behind you, it will be up and to your left.

The trail starts climbing immediately, but not terribly steeply by the standards of this hike. As you climb, you can see excellent views of Lake Del Valle over your shoulder.
map

Sign-in board

After a mile you'll come to the sign-in board for Ohlone Wilderness Trail.

Write your name and departure time on the clipboard. (Don't forget to sign it on your way out.)

From here it's a very steep climb up to the Stromer Spring junction, about .8 of a mile away.
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Stromer Spring

Catch your breath at the T intersection near Stromer Spring (there's a water trough over to the right just past this trail junction). This water should be filtered just to be safe.

Bear left to stay on the Ohlone Wilderness Trail. An option is to take Stromer Spring Trail to Rocky Ridge Trail, a gentler climb that adds about another half-mile of hiking (turn left at Rocky Ridge if you go this way).

Ohlone Wilderness Trail climbs steeply for another half-mile -- there's a privy on the right about half way up. Boyd Camp is on the left side of the trail.
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East Bay backcountry overlook

This section of trail tops out at Marker 38 on the Ohlone Wilderness Trail, with an awesome view of the remote terrain.

Keep going straight here if you've stayed on the Ohlone Trail.

If you've taken Rocky Ridge spur, it'll be a right turn. This the last climb for awhile, just enough to rest up for the Big Burn.
map

Creek crossing

After a steep descent you come to a creek at Williams Gulch -- don't try to cross at the first obvious area: that trail dead-ends in the woods.

Take the narrow single-track up to the right, and stay on the trail till it returns to the creek.

Crossing will be dicey in high water -- be very careful as you look for rocks to cross.
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The Big Burn

Last major climb: over 1,400 feet of ascent in just over two miles. Take your time and enjoy the scenery.

Even with the grinding ascent, this single-track trail is one of the prettiest in the East Bay.
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Schlieper Rock

This large formation tells you you're almost done with the climb, but alas there's about 300 feet to go over the next quarter mile.

Stay on the Ohlone Wilderness Trail after it tops a ridge looking over a pond over to your right. Pause at the next trail intersection.
map

Right turn towards Murietta Falls

You get off the Ohlone Trail here (Marker 35): turn right, and go about a quarter-mile to the next trail junction. This trail is flat and practically restful compared to the rest of the trails on this trip.
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Left turn here.

Trail descends rather sharply in places, arcing to the southeast and crossing a creek after about .6 of a mile.

This creek carries the water over Murietta Falls. Step over it and follow the trail to your right.
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Approach trail to Murietta Falls

After you cross the creek, you'll see a narrow, rocky trail tracking a stony gorge that leads to the falls.

Eventually this trail becomes quite steep, requiring very careful footwork to get down to the falls.
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Base of Murietta Falls

Great place to break for lunch, take a few pictures and admire the falls, if there's any water running.

From here you can retrace your steps -- the return hike is much easier.
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Optional spur: Rocky Ridge

If you skipped Rocky Ridge on the way up, consider trying it on the way back -- if you've got enough time and energy.

Most likely you'll have the trail to yourself.

Turn left from Marker 38 and go about .69 of a mile on Rocky Ridge Trail.

Turn right at Stromer Spring Trail and follow it .43 of a mile to the junction with Ohlone Wilderness Trail.

Turn left there and return to the Lichen Bark Parking Area (don't forget to sign out at the registration panel).
Reviews
pranavdoshi83
Yes we did in August !!! The intent was to do the Mt Diablo hike, but since the Mt Diablo State Park opens at 8 am, we decided to change our course and did the Murietta falls hike. The detailed description here were really helpful. The hike itself was brutal. Uphill did get tiring at a point. Its a hike for those who like to stretch themselves a bit. Carry plenty of water, I almost finished 2 ltrs of water and 1 ltr of Gatorade to go along with some fruits and sport jelly beans.


Visited on Aug 04, 2013

by pranavdoshi83 on Aug 05, 2013
Sandman23
This is for sure one of the hardest trails in the bay area; harder than the 12 mile single track hike on the north side of Mt. Diablo. Super steep, super hot and super relentless. Going back down was pretty painful because it was so steep. I also ran out of water which was a first. Great hike though but not on my list of hikes to do again. Thanks for you detailed guide as it was really helpful.
Visited on May 12, 2012

by Sandman23 on May 13, 2012

Murietta Falls via Ohlone Wilderness Trail Trail Map


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tommangan
tommangan
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