About the Author: Elizabeth “Steady” Sanders is an avid hiker/trail runner, backpacker, and world traveler. She resides in Mill Valley, California where she owns and operates a small horticultural business. Her main interests are environmental and indigenous studies, urban agriculture, and forever planning her next adventures. She has logged many miles in many countries, yet still dreams of wild places. Instagram: @shewalks_softly. You can see some of travel and hiking photos on Trover.
The ‘wilderness’ is such an alluring term. When it is mentioned my mind wanders to mountain tops and desert floors, wide lakes and canyon slots. Wilderness evokes imagination and a life-long desire to explore. The solitude of the less travelled trail has a special place in my heart. It is even more special to find such a place close to home.
Enter Ohlone Wilderness. I hadn’t heard of this place before. I was poring over google maps looking for “green spots” yet to explore and came across this jewel in the East Bay (SF Bay Area). Upon further research, I found a myriad of trails connecting three different parks (I’ll leave that description for another day… check out Ohlone Wilderness Trail)! I set my sights on the Murietta Falls Trail. I’m a sucker for a waterfall, especially after such a rainy winter. The mileage and trail description looked perfect for what I was trying to accomplish: A sense of exploration, challenging elevation gains and mileage just above my average day hike.
The scenery on this trail is amazing but what I liked most about, what sets it apart, is that you travel up and over different ridge lines as opposed to following parallel. Your legs may burn a little by the end of the day from those ups and downs but the dramatic scenery changes make it worth your while.
The trailhead starts in Del Valle Regional Park in Livermore, California. Pay the park staff for day use parking ($6.00) and ask for an Ohlone Wilderness Permit ($2.00, good for one year!). Permits are not limited in number but are required for hikes in and around the wilderness. Bonus is that it is also a really nice map complete with numbered waypoints. Continue driving to the far end of the west parking lot and look for signage indicating Ohlone Wilderness Trail.
You will start on a well marked trail across from the parking lot (away from the lake). Be sure to top off those water bottles before you get started and prepare for lots of uphill right from the get-go. Follow this trail, which is more of a fire road, for a mile or so until you reach the Ohlone Wilderness sign in station. Write your info and start time on the clipboard. This is in case a park ranger or SAR has to find you, they don’t collect info or use it for any other purpose.
Hooray! You are now officially in the wilderness! Continue on the trail walking up up up (check out that beautiful view!) until you see the waypoint sign labeled 39. Hang a left and continue onto Ohlone Wilderness/Rocky Ridge Trail. Continue and then turn right at signpost 37. By now you’ve seen some great east bay views, get ready to travel back down down down through a beautiful canyon with a seasonal creek. Here’s your first creek crossing. It was small and easy when I was there though I have read that it can be wide and slick right after a rain. Yes, you see it there in front of you… Time to walk back up and out of the canyon already. Continue straight when you get to signpost 36. Take a break at the pretty little pond on your right, walk a little further and turn right at signpost 35 towards Stewart’s Camp. You’re almost there! Take a left at the next intersection (look at your map!) towards Stewart’s Camp/Murietta Falls. Travel uphill a little bit and the downhill again. You’re at your second creek crossing. Again, you might get your feet a little wet but it was a small and easy crossing when I was there. After crossing, walk 100 yards or so and keep your eyes peeled for the unmarked spur trail on your right side to go to the waterfall.
Up until this point I consider the trail to be strenuous but relatively easy to follow. Watch your footing on this next section as you walk down to the waterfall. Be sure you step lightly and carefully through this important habitat. This area of California is known to be very hot and dry with very little rainfall. That makes areas like Murietta Falls a very special oasis for wildlife. Please be respectful as you enjoy its beauty (and a lunch break!).
Now it’s time to turn around and hike it out. I hiked this trail as an out-and-back though it looks like there are opportunities to take different routes on small sections of the trail. On your way out you might sign yourself ‘off trail’ at the Ohlone Wilderness board. I noticed some people do and some don’t. I tracked myself with Alltrails for this hike, and with a little extra wandering around, the mileage came out at 13 miles with 4,301ft elevation gains. I felt very rewarded at the end of the day and can definitely see myself coming back to spend more time exploring and possibly tackling the whole Ohlone Wilderness Trail. Don’t get me wrong, by the size of the parking lot, this place gets very busy. However on the overcast mid-week winter day that I visited, I didn’t pass a single person on the trail… That’s pretty wild to me ☺ . Happy Trails!
Tom Stienstra, Outdoors Writer for the S.F. Chronicle, calls this hike a real “butt kicker,” and I totally agree. You did the most difficult part of the hike. If you had continued from where you turned around, you would have found it much more manageable–until you neared Mission Peak. There are a couple of places where you can camp overnight. Maggie’s Half Acre is about half way between Del Valle and Sunol Regional, and Eagle Spring is between Sunol and Mission Peak. Only problem is transportation–when we do this, we plant one car at each end, which entails a lot of driving! https://www.ebparks.org/parks/ohlone/default.htm