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Fremont, California, United States

Sunol Wilderness

A great way to see the East Bay hills; nature abounds just minutes from civilization

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Length: 6.7 miles / 10.8 km
 
Overview: Sunol Regional Wilderness will make you forget you're just five miles from the nearest Interstate highway. The 6,858-acre park in the East Bay hills north of Silicon Valley has rolling hills, heart-healthy trails, remarkable rocks and abundant wildlife. To go there is to see what this part of California looked like before all the white people showed up.

Sunol is best suited for hikers, birders and naturalists, though the large corral near the park HQ attracts a fair number of equestrians. There are no easy paths to the tall hills surrounding the HQ, but if you're got the legs and heart for a god work-out, you'll find astounding vistas when your climbing''s done.

Winter and spring are the best times to go. It gets a bit too hot in July and August, but early autumn is a great time to see randy tarantulas on the hunt for mates (oddly enough, a spider the size of your fist in the wilderness is not nearly as frightful as the one the size of a dime in your bathroom).


Tips: Trails can be quite steep, which can be as hard on knees on the way down as they are on the rest of you on the way up.

Cattle are common. Generally they are harmless but keep your distance and don't scare them. Also: watch for their poop.

Poison oak is common along narrow trails.

Rattlesnakes often dwell in rocky areas: be extremely careful about where you put you hands, feet or fingers, especially on warm days when the snakes might be active. (I never saw a single rattler in over a dozen visits to Sunol, but that doesn't mean they aren't out there).

What to bring:
Sun screen -- Sunol is largely unshaded
Layers and especially a wind breaker.
Hiking supplies (especially water) if you're hitting the trails.
Camera
Binoculars

Driving directions:
From I-680, turn off at Calaveras Road exit and turn southeast on Calaveras Road (a left turn if you're coming from Pleasanton; a right turn if you're coming from Fremont). Take Calaveras for about four miles to Geary Road, turn left and go 1.8 miles to the park entrance.

Points of Interest

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Spring wildflowers

Winter rains and warming spring days bring wildflowers out in abundance: California poppies, blue dicks, shooting stars and many more. The flower show presents an excellent opportunity to learn how use your digital camera's "macro" function; if the breezes cooperate and allow the flowers to stand still, you can produce surprisingly good photographs (buy glossy prints at your local pharmacy and see for yourself). Check the East Bay Regional Parks site for the schedule of the annual Wildflower Festival, usually held in early April.
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Flag Hill

Fit hikers like to warm up on on the leg-burning thousand-foot climb to Flag Hill, where a wonderful view of the park's terrain awaits. Many more gradual routes to the hill are available: my favorite takes Indian Joe Creek Trail to Cave Rocks Road, turns left and goes to High Valley Road till it intersects with Flag Hill Road. A left turn there takes you to the hilltop. Get a park map to confirm your turns.
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Little Yosemite

Well, it's a little like Yosemite: it has canyons, big rocks and water tumbling through them every spring. Still, this is an essential stop on a Sunol visit: just couple miles of flat walking and a chance to clamber on rocks as the Alameda Creek pours through. Banish the urge to compare it to the real Yosemite and you'll do fine.

Use extreme caution on the rocks; a slip could put you in a world of hurt.
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Backpack Camp

Seven small backpacking sites are tucked into a hillside at the east end of Sunol. The sites are much prized in the springtime, so you'll probably have to reserve one months in advance for weekend outings (weekdays have much greater availability).

Note the four-mile hike to the camp ends with a very steep ascent to the backpack area; it's harder than you might suspect if you're carrying a full pack.

Backpacking fee is $5 per night, per person. Call 1-888-327-2757 (press option 2, then 1) to reserve a site.
Reviews
Badmusic
"before the white people got here"??? You disgust
me.


by Badmusic on Sep 26, 2010

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About the Author

tommangan
tommangan
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Sunol Wilderness 3 Day Forecast

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