All-day Car-free Hike: East Bay National Skyline Recreational Trail
It always frustrates me to read about some amazing-sounding hike and then see the words “this hike requires a car shuttle.” There is something incongruous to me about doing a bunch of driving and using extra gas in order to access some beautiful trail through nature. Unfortunately, short of hitchhiking, there is no easy way to do most of these thru-hikes otherwise. With 2-3 miles of extra walking on each end to and from a BART station, the 32-mile East Bay Skyline National Trail is a rare one-way hike in the Bay Area that is possible without any cars involved.
The East Bay Skyline Trail links several parks and trails, allowing a continuous hike across the ridge of the connecting ranges along the Hayward Fault known as the Berkeley and San Leandro Hills (or informally, the East Bay Hills).
Places visited: East Bay Skyline National Trail, running through Wildcat Canyon, Tilden, Sibley, Huckleberry, Redwood, and Chabot parks.
Length: 38 miles
Hiking time: 11-13 hours
Terrain: moderately steep
Transit schedule: BART
Start point: El Cerrito del Norte BART station
End point: Castro Valley BART station
- The most important thing to know about this hike is that it is very, very long. Although there are a few steep sections, overall the hike is moderately hard elevation-wise. But you really need to decide before going if you have the endurance to be out walking for 11-13 hours.
- Because this hike takes a long time, summer is best due to the long daylight hours and (usually) mild weather. If you go in the winter, you will need to bring a headlamp for the end of the hike.
- East Bay parks close at 10 pm. Start this hike as early as you can. I took the first BART train on a Saturday, which got me to El Cerrito del Norte at about 6:30 am. BART starts running later on Sundays, so that is a less ideal day.
- This would not be a good hike to do immediately after a period of rainfall. Some of these trails, especially those on cattle-grazing land, get extremely muddy and unpleasant. This hike is challenging enough without also having to navigate mucky trails.
- Bring lots of food with you. Food is only reliably available at the end of the hike on the way down Redwood Road to the BART station. Right before you exit Chabot, there is a golf course with a restaurant (limited weekend hours) and a bar.
- There are a few places to refill water along the way, but bring plenty of water with you.
- If you would like very detailed descriptions of natural features along these trails, you may want to look at the book East Bay Trails (David Weintraub). For navigation, however, I would recommend using the East Bay Parks maps (available as PDFs online, or in print at several places along the route), which indicate the Skyline Trail with a triangle symbol.
- If you have Google Maps on your phone, use it as a reference as needed for checking your location. Most of the trails are visible with Bicycling selected. And as an aside: if you have a phone that supports it, please do get (and know how to use) Google Maps. I helped two groups of people on this trip who were lost, all of whom had smartphones which would have helped them find their way again very quickly.
- Exit El Cerrito del Norte BART station, and walk north on the Ohlone Greenway path.
- After passing through the Wildflower Area, turn right onto Conlon Ave.
- Cross Key Blvd and make the next left onto Mono Ave.
- 2nd Right onto Poinsett Ave.
- Left and then right towards Rosalind.
- Left on Hillside Ave., then and immediate right on Yuba St.
- After several blocks, turn right at McBryde Ave.
- Entering Wildcat Canyon at the Alvarado picnic area to the official start of the Skyline Trail, you have two choices: turn right immediately and walk through the very long parking area, or go straight into the picnic area and follow the trails to the right to eventually connect back to the parking area. The second option is more interesting but a little confusing (some misleading signs).
- At the end of the parking area walk straight onto the Wildcat Creek Trail.
- Left at the Belgum Trail to climb up to the ridge. Here and throughout Wildcat Canyon you will pass unmarked human- and cattle-made trails.
- Right at the San Pablo Ridge Trail.
- Merge onto the Nimitz Trail, a paved multiuse path.
- Continue on Nimitz Way into Tilden Park.
- At Inspiration Point, take the Curran Trail to your right just past the restroom and before the gate to parking and the road.
- Very shortly turn left, following signs for the Seaview Trail.
- Cross the road, and continue following the Seaview trail as it heads up to the ridge again.
- Follow the Seaview Trail the rest of the way through Tilden Park.
- Just past Vollmer Peak you reach the Steam Trains parking area. Refill water here.
- Continue carefully along the entrance road (busy here on weekends) and the straight on the trail through EBMUD land.
- Carefully cross Fish Ranch Road to continue on the Skyline Trail.
- Continue on the Skyline Trail as you enter Sibley Volcanic Preserve.
- Continue on the Skyline trail through the preserve. The Sibley Staging Area is another good place to refill water.
- Continue following the Skyline Trail into and through Huckleberry Botanic Preserve. Some steep downhill sections here. You will pass some markers along the way for a self-guided nature trail.
- Carefully cross Pinehurst Road and continue on the Skyline Trail to Redwood Regional Park.
- Right at the trail intersection towards Skyline Gate.
- At the next intersection, follow signs to the West Ridge Trail.
- Follow West Ridge for a long ways, almost all the way through Redwood Regional Park.
- Right at the Golden Spike Trail (single-track, sign was hidden by plants on my visit), then stay right at fork.
- Left at MacDonald Trail to MacDonald Gate Staging Area.
- Continue on the MacDonald Trail into Chabot Regional Park.
- Approaching the Bort Meadow Staging Area, follow signs for the Skyline Trail and Brandon Trail.
- Follow the Brandon Trail the rest of the way through Chabot to Willow Park Golf Course. Depending on the time, you may be able to get food here. There is also a bar at the golf course.
- Continue past the golf course on the trail alongside the Redwood Road until you reach Proctor Staging Area and leave the park.
- Continue down Redwood Road through a residential area, then a commercial strip (many places to get food here), and finally to Castro Valley BART station.