Thursday, May 14, 2020

High Ridge Loop (SF Bay Area)

Loma Prieta, Umunhum, and the Quarry Lakes from the High Ridge Loop
5.8 miles loop, 1100 feet elevation gain
Difficulty: Easy-moderate
Access: Paved road to trailhead, free parking lot

The High Ridge Loop traverses a ridgeline in the hills above Hayward in Dry Creek Pioneer Regional Park and provides nice views of the San Francisco Bay Area. The grassy hills of this hike provide wide views of the San Francisco and Oakland skylines as well as the Bay itself and the Santa Cruz Mountains. Hikers share the slopes of these hills with cows. This hike forms a loop by following a high and then a low ridge above the East Bay suburbs, with a climb and descent connecting the two. Dry Creek Pioneer and Garin Regional Parks are popular and parking can be a bit difficult, though the High Ridge Loop itself is usually a little less crowded as many visitors opt for easier outings. The views from the hike are somewhat similar to those from Mission Peak, just south of here, making it a good alternative if you're looking for a similar (though easier) experience with thinner crowds.

There's a choice of two trailheads for this hike: while I started at the free parking lot for Dry Creek Pioneer Regional Park, it's also possible to start from the Garin Barn parking lot in Garin Regional Park, which charges a fee.

I started hiking the High Ridge Loop early on a May weekday morning. The trailhead lies in the suburbs at the foot of the hills: the East Bay developments extend all the way to the very base of the Diablo Range. The trailhead is just off Mission Boulevard in Union City; it can be reached from I-880 by taking Whipple Road east from exit 24 all the way to its end at the Dry Creek Staging Area.

From the parking area, I walked just a little farther along the road to an access trail into Dry Creek Pioneer Regional Park. This trail connected with the wide gravel path of the High Ridge Loop in about a tenth of a mile; I turned right at the junction to hike the High Ridge Loop counterclockwise. The trail followed the contours of the base of the hills, with the grassy hills rising above to the left and forest at the base of the hills on my right. Cows were grazing the hills, raising their heads to look warily at passerbys. Coming in early May, I found a landscape about to transition from the greenery of spring to the brown hills of summer.

Grazing cows in Dry Creek Pioneer Regional Park
Grazing cows
A quarter of a mile into the loop, the High Ridge Loop Trail peeled off to the left at a marked junction, leaving the wide gravel path that continued towards Tolman Peak. This trail quickly became another former gravel road and began ascending gently through an oak forest along the bottom of a ravine. While the oak woodlands were nice, this section of the hike was quite buggy. I passed an intersection with the Pioneer Trail on the left but stuck with the High Ridge Loop Trail.

Oak tunnel along the climb to the ridge
The trail steepened substantially as it began to climb out of the ravine and into the open meadows. Views of the Bay almost immediately began to open up. Soon the trail reached a ridge leading up towards the High Ridge crest, just over a mile from the trailhead. Views opened up across the entire bay, with especially nice views of Umunhum, Loma Prieta, and the other peaks of the Santa Cruz Mountains across the Bay. The slopes of the hills were beginning to turn brown for the summer, but I did spot a few remnant spring wildflowers and a lizard soaking in the morning sun.

Lizard perched on a rock along the trail
From here, the trail began a fairly aggressive climb up the ridge. As the trail was out in the open, views improved continuously and soon I could see Mission and Monument Peaks to the south as well. The suburbia of East Bay was spread out below me, punctuated only by the pretty Quarry Lakes in Fremont.

Mission Peak, Loma Prieta, Umunhum, and Black Mountain rise above Santa Clara Valley
After a half mile ascent along the ridge, the trail leveled out. The following stretch of trail felt far from the hustle and bustle below, winding among the gentle grassy hills without views of the suburbs near the Bay. Mission Peak and Umunhum were still visible in this almost-wild stretch, which ended as the trail approached a cattle pen at the junction with the Whipsnake Trail and the suburbs came back into view.

Mission Peak from the hillsides of the High Ridge Loop
A little bit of smog covered the Peninsula side of the Bay, but I could still make out Black Mountain, Windy Hill, and Russian Ridge along the crest of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Stanford's Hoover Tower barely cut through the haze, as did the Dumbarton and San Mateo bridges flanking either side of the Coyote Hills.

Coyote Hills, the Bay, and the Peninsula
Looking ahead, I could see the San Francisco skyline rising just above the haze. The recent addition of the Salesforce Tower with its shiny glass top has made the city much easier to spot from far away. Mount Tam rose behind the city. The Oakland skyline was buried in haze nearby.

Mount Tam and the San Francisco skyline
The trail began to descend with the ridge, passing a turnoff for the trail to Myers Ranch. Across the valley to the right of the trail, I spotted a residential development on the high slopes of the hills, a reminder of why land preservation is necessary. The descent became steeper as the trail made a bend back towards the Bay. The trail passed through some pretty wildflowers as it dropped down to Garin Barn.

The last blooms of spring in the hills of Dry Creek Pioneer Regional Park
Arriving at the flat bottom around Garin Barn at 4.3 miles , I took a left and continued following the High Ridge Loop, which passed small Jordan Pond. At the far end of the pond, at the intersection with the Dry Creek Trail, I took the right fork that wrapped around the pond; here, the High Ridge Loop began climbing up a lower ridge that defined the south side of Dry Creek's drainage.

Jordan Pond
At the intersection with the Ridge View Trail and the trail down to Myers Ranch, I stayed on the High Ridge Loop once more. Over the next mile, the trail alternated over following either side of the ridge, providing views first of the hills that I had been hiking earlier and then of Union City directly below. As the ridge ended, the trail descended to the bottom of the valley and met up with the Myers Ranch Trail. Just a little farther, I arrived at the Dry Creek access trail on which I had entered to complete the loop.

Trail along the lower ridge of the High Ridge Loop
This is a nice hike with good views of the Bay throughout. There's not much shade, so it can be a bit unpleasant on a hot, sunny day. The park is busy but the loop itself is not too crowded, making it a reasonable alternative to the Bay's ultra-popular Mission Peak.

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