“Next time I invite you to hike with me, please remind me of that moment and why we hate hiking,” I said, groggy, to my sister, Molly.
Molly holds the record among my three younger siblings for being the most likely to join me on outdoor adventures – albeit reluctantly. I had dragged Molly, whose favorite pronouns are they/them, on a last-minute backpacking trip to hike the Ohlone Regional Wilderness Preserve trail for a three-day weekend after canceling other plans. because of COVID.
We had just spent a night in the desert which had involved, for my part, not sleeping so much as closing my eyes for long periods and shivering on the cold ground. (Molly had forgotten their sleeping pad during this trip, and in an effort to spread the misery and bring them back for future adventures, I had agreed to give up the mattress for the night.)
With hips, shoulders and backs already sore, we packed up and started our longest day yet. We were less than halfway through the 28 mile hike from Fremont to Livermore, and by our third and final day, we were both sore and smelly. Worse still, we still had 16 miles to go.
I had underestimated this trail, thinking that the East Bay hills I had spent years longingly gazing at as I passed were nothing like the Sierra Nevada, Rocky Mountains, and Appalachian mountains I I had the chance to travel in the past.
In reality, the path through these “hills” was like a three-day workout on nature’s stair machine – a series of relentless, unyielding ups and downs that made the hike much longer than it was. Actually.
There wasn’t an easy mile the whole way.
Yet later that morning, after huffing and huffing up (yet) another vertical hill, we suddenly cleared it to see the sun rise on the horizon below us, lighting up the sky with a warm glow.
There was not another human in sight, just a crew of happy cows grazing in the distance and green meadows all around. Molly and I looked at each other and beamed.
“Worth it?” they asked.
“Worth it,” I replied.
Day 1 : 4 miles. From the Stanford Avenue staging area in Fremont to the Eagle Creek Backpacking Campground.
We began our adventure by meeting at the intended end of the hike: Del Valle Regional Park in Livermore, where we were able to pick up our hiking permit and Ohlone Wilderness Regional Trail Map.
We left a car there and then carpooled to the start – the Mission Peak Regional Preserve parking lot. After waiting a bit to mark a parking spot, we set off on the trail, which started off steep and didn’t stop until we were roughly at the top of Mission Peak.
We shared the campground, a lush little field in the shadow of the mountain overlooking the valley, with a courteous troop of Girl Scouts. Before settling in for the night, we watched the sunset from the top of the peak. From there, the lights of civilization seemed small and distant.
Day 2: 8 miles. From Eagle Creek Backpacking Campground to Cathedral Campground in Sunol Wilderness Area.
After a slow start to the morning, we finally hit some downhill sections heading into the Sunol wilderness area. About halfway the trail opened up to a huge parking lot and the Sunol Visitor Center, where we had lunch.
The second half of the trail more than made up for the downhill respite by going straight back up. This section included part of “Little Yosemite” in the Sunol Wilderness Area, and the scenery was lush and scenic, when we were able to pause to look around.
Our campsite was about a five minute walk from the trail and although it had its own outhouse – which seemed to fall into an abyss – the water promised to the campsites was a good 10 minute uphill hike, a fact we didn’t. Were not thrilled at the end of an already long day.
We arrived and set up camp with just enough time to see the hill become crowded with newts, for a few night gallops. We cooked dinner and had a tete-a-tete over my favorite camping cocktail, a hot chocolate with whiskey.
Day 3: 16 miles. Sunol Wilderness Area Cathedral Campground at Del Valle Regional Park.
It was a hard day. In retrospect, we probably shouldn’t have planned to do more miles on day three than the first two combined. Oops. Luckily, Molly had a pair of AirPods that we shared, which kept us from spreading too thin and getting into some “angst-ridden” pop punk as we thrust our aching legs forward.
I can’t even count the number of times we’ve dragged along the trail, seen a mountain ahead of us on the horizon and said “Surely not…!” only for the trail to go there precisely.
Along the way we summited Rose Peak, Alameda County’s highest publicly accessible peak at 3,817 feet.
In our delirious efforts to move forward at all costs, we made increasingly silly puns, talking about how we “make moomeries,” in homage to our cattle trail mates who graze along the way.
Did we ever cry into our peanut butter and Nutella dough sandwiches when we saw another mountain we had to climb before the trail ended? Maybe. We’ve also invented a new descent swear word: “Kneezus Christ”. (I was pretty proud of that one.)
Eventually we reached the finish, finding a reserve of energy we didn’t know we had to run the last 100 meters to Molly’s vehicle, nicknamed the Ratmobile because her engine had to be repaired earlier this year there after a rat made a nest under the hood. The Ratmobile had never been so adored as it was now.
Hungry, we headed to downtown Livermore for a hot meal, crusty and all. Luckily the restaurant staff at the First Street Alehouse said nothing about our filthy appearances as we dug into what I’m pretty sure were the best burgers ever.
Looking back and my legs no longer aching, I can now say that the Ohlone Regional Wilderness Trail was a remarkably accessible and affordable adventure that physically challenged us, inspired awe, offered great wildlife sightings and was finally doable in three days. The trip turned out to be one of my favorite experiences of the year so far.
After completing the hike, I spoke with Ashley Adams, naturalist in charge of the Sunol Wilderness and Ohlone Wilderness Reserve.
A great thing about the Ohlone Trail is that it’s a “choose your own adventure” type of trail, she said. Because there are so many campsites along the trail, beginner backpackers can start at any park entrance to cover shorter distances rather than the full hike.
Meanwhile, more experienced backpackers have used the trail to practice for longer hikes like the Pacific Crest and Appalachian trails. The trail is home to some of the steepest trail segments in the Bay Area, she said.
“It’s a little bit of hiking here in the Bay Area,” she said. “It’s a pretty cool thing to have all this wilderness here in the East Bay.”
Unlike much of the rest of the region, which has been developed and altered since Spanish colonization and the gold rush, the wilderness traversed by the Ohlone Trail has not been developed, she said. . As a result, some of the oldest and largest oak trees in the region are found in this wilderness, she added.
On the trail now, people can catch special wildflowers called “fire followers” that have rarely been seen in the area and sprouted in the aftermath of the 2020 SCU Lightning Complex wildfires.
In general, she says, she advises people to hike in the opposite direction, from Del Valle Regional Park to Fremont, because the steepest climbs occur near the beginning. Also, the ascent to Mission Peak from the Sunol side is much less steep and more gradual, she added.
If you’re considering hiking the Ohlone Trail, here’s what you need to know.
Distance: 28 miles
Altitude change: about 7,000 feet
You will need: * A hiking permit. The Ohlone Regional Wilderness Trail permit will be your best friend when planning this trip. Each $2 permit includes a detailed map of the hard-to-access trail elsewhere.
You can collect your permit and card in person at the entrances to Del Valle Regional Park, Sunol Visitor Center and Entrance Kiosk (when staffed), Visitor Center Coyote Hills in Fremont, Park District Administration Offices in Oakland), or order it a week in advance to have it shipped to you.
One thing the map won’t help you with is understanding what type of elevation you are registering for. The elevation map scale is spread across the map by 3 feet, meaning every little jump up the map is an epic climb. Dogs are allowed during the day but not at night, so don’t bring a backpack with your pup.
* Overnight camping reservations. Call the East Bay Regional Park District Reservation Office at 1-888-327-2757 to make reservations at least two days before your planned trip. Permits will include an overnight parking permit which you will need to display on your vehicle.
* A shuttle plan. For this hike, there are no shuttles, so you will have to find your own routes to and from. We left a car at the Stanford Avenue staging area in Fremont, with our parking permit posted, and another at the end at Del Valle Regional Park in Livermore. Cell reception is spotty at Del Valle Regional Park, so make sure you have a way to communicate if you need a pickup after you’re done.
* Lots of water. There are a few spots to fill with water along the trail, but you’ll need to deal with that first. There are also long stretches of unshaded trails which can get very hot during the summer, so making sure you don’t get dehydrated is essential for your own safety.
* Fire season awareness. During fire season between May and October, trails are assessed on a daily basis for fire safety and may be closed due to extreme fire danger. If you plan to be on the trails this season, be sure to call 1-888-327-2757, option 2, then 4, for the latest updates.