When I have time to myself, one of the things I often prioritize is exercise. Over the past year and a half I have tried to incorporate it into my life in efforts to lead a healthier lifestyle. I think I walk a fine line between priority and obsession. Sometimes the desire to burn calories competes with the need to slow down my mind and take care of the most important muscle in my body. This inner battle caused Huckleberry Botanic Regional Preserve to move down the list of places to visit in recent months; the 1.7 mile loop known as Huckleberry Path didn’t seem challenging enough. The word “path” almost seems to denote leisure, as opposed to “trail” which feels more conducive to a stint of cardio. It took a bit of convincing but I eventually told myself that time in nature IS part of the healthy lifestyle I have worked to adopt. It doesn’t need to be a 5-mile hike; deep breaths of fresh air, fun with my camera, and a leisurely walk down into the forest and back up again were the perfect respite at end of the week.
I was surprised by Huckleberry Botanic Regional Preserve; it is such a lovely combination of cool, forested stretches and barren areas of manzanita covered knolls. Pocketed views of the East Bay Hills are a pleasant surprise throughout the loop. Since it is located right next to Sibley Volcanic Preserve, I expected more exposure which isn’t my favorite condition when hiking. One of the reasons I have always loved Redwood Regional Park is the trails that wind through the shaded sections of forest which dominate much of its acreage. I think this is why I found Huckleberry so enjoyable.
The entrance to Huckleberry is on Skyline Blvd., just south of the entrance to Sibley. I connected to Skyline by coming up Snake Road from Montclair Village; you then turn left on Skyline and go about a 1/2 mile. I grabbed a map from the kiosk, headed down the path, and chose to start the loop by turning left, following the signs to the lower trail which descends down a staircase into the forest.
If you grab the trail map that is on hand at the start of the loop you can follow the markers which take you on a self-guided tour of the unique ecological finds in this 241-acre jewel. While most of the 17 markers are along the upper trail, the dense forested area along the lower trail is home to different species of fern as well as examples of the natural stages of succession this area will see over time. Sitting due east of the Golden Gate Bridge, Huckleberry Botanic Regional Preserve is exposed to moisture which allows plants to thrive, creating an environment where succeeding species develop upward, thus shading over other species and causing them to die off. According to the literature supplied, this is eventually going to turn the preserve’s land into a forest of bay laurels and live oaks, overtaking the chaparral and manzanitas which currently thrive here on the barren knolls.
I found the turn in the trail by marker 3 to be one of those spots that allowed me to slow down both physically and mentally. It was a section of trail that dips and darkens, where you feel the air cool several degrees and the trickle of water coming down the hillside is the only sound. A breeze was coming through that caused the wide green leaves of nearby foliage to wave up and down, and I found myself spending a bit of time enjoying the solitude.
Due to the unique and fragile ecosystem in Huckleberry Botanic Regional Preserve, horses and bikes are not allowed. Dogs are only allowed on the section of trail that is shared with the Skyline National Trail/Bay Area Ridge Trail. Shortly after marker 5 you will see a connector trail on your right that will take you back to the upper section of Huckleberry Path. I chose to stay on the trail for another 1/3 of a mile and then connect to the upper section at the very end of the path. If you chose to do the same, it does extend the overall distance of the loop to about 2.3 miles.
As you wind your way back along the upper loop trail, I recommend a stop at marker 6, which requires that you turn off the main trail and go up a slight incline, following the path through the Manzanita. You will find yourself on an exposed section of rocky soil with a bench set among the Manzanita shrub. It’s a nice spot to take a short break, have a snack, and a sip of water. Afterwards I continued on along the upper trail which is full of markers such as coast huckleberry, live oak, and varieties of manzanita.
My visit to Huckleberry Botanic Regional Preserve was just what it needed to be; a time to slow my pace for a couple of hours and enjoy fresh air and a bit of a hike without the inner pressure I often feel to “go the extra mile.” There is no doubt that time spent in nature is good for mind, body, and soul. It’s a theme that seems to keep popping up in my life these days, one which I need to devote more attention to with a healthier mindset focused on the senses and not the calorie burn. I look forward to a return visit to Huckleberry Path when a slower pace is what I need.
More information can be found about Huckleberry Botanic Regional Preserve on the East Bay Regional Parks website here.
If a longer hike is what you are looking for, you can connect to the Skyline National Trail/Bay Area Ridge Trail along the lower loop section of Huckleberry Path; they actually overlap for just under a mile.
All photos by Adrienne Schell; do not use without permission