Yesterday was the day to honor what we are grateful and thankful for. Today is a day when you may be thankful for elastic waistbands. As I have spent the past few weeks trying to make sense of the changes our country has voted for I have never felt more grateful for the wonderful bubble we live in here in the Bay Area. On the East Bay hills within that bubble are beautiful forests that offer respite and fresh air; space to breath. The smell of a cool, damp forest floor in late fall is glorious. The added benefit of a few calories burned is perfect to calm the guilt of those two pieces of pie; the one last night and the one you will enjoy this evening. So pack a turkey and cranberry sandwich, drive up the hill to the Skyline Gate of Redwood Regional Park and enjoy time alone, or with family and friends. Tis the season to appreciate how lucky we are to call Oakland home.
The French Trail of Redwood Regional Park stretches for about 4 miles deep in the redwood forest groves. The trail was named for an early local environmentalist Harold French, who was an associate of John Muir and an instrumental figure in the development of public land in the Bay Area. The best way to access the trail is from the Skyline Gate entrance on Skyline Blvd. From the parking lot, head to the right to the West Ridge Trailhead to begin your hike. After about a half of a mile, you will see the start of the French Trail on the left. The trail is a single track dirt trail; bikes are not allowed.
The trail will start to drop away from the ridge; a gradual decline that will soon take you into the redwood groves. While the original old growth coastal redwoods are no longer standing due to the logging boom in the 1800’s, the ones that now stand in their place are 2nd and 3rd growth relatives. At this point the trail will take you on some steep inclines and drops as it twists around the valley floor. You will cross paths with Tres Sendas Trail, followed by Redwood Peak Trail and Starflower Trail. The goal during my recent visit was to hike the entire stretch of French Trail, but some of these intersecting trails offer you the ability to shorten your loop if needed.
As you continue along you will then intersect with Mill Trail, Fern Trail and finally Chown Trail. All of these will take you to Stream Trail which is a straight shot back to the Skyline Gate parking lot. Chown Trail is your last option before the final 1 mile stretch to Orchard Trail, which intersects with French at its end. While patches of sunlight peak through here and there, the redwoods offer a canopy for the majority of the walk; padded dirt paths are soft underfoot while twisted roots require the occasional hop or sidestep. This area of Redwood Regional Park is a yearlong gem; cool relief in hot summer months and a foggy umbrella to catch the rain in the winter.
Once you reach Orchard Trail you are officially at the end of French Trail’s stretch. Take a left and you have a steep drop down Orchard Trail for about 1/3 of a mile before it hits Bridle Trail. You turn left and are parallel with Stream Trail on the other side of the stream bed for less than a 1/4 of a mile. It then joins up with Stream Trail and you have a 3 mile trip back to Skyline Gate. The entire loop is 8 miles. I completed it in about three hours with stops for photo taking and a short snack break. Be prepared that the last 1/2 mile or so is an incline back up to Skyline Gate, perfect to offset that pie guilt :o)
If today doesn’t allow for a half-day visit to the hills of Oakland, I encourage you to schedule it in soon. As the coming weeks will bring holiday preparation that often comes with stress and chaos, time spent in the forested hills of our blessed bubble is the perfect relief; time to breath, time to appreciate, and time to find the waistband relief we will all need.
Trail maps were in abundance during my visit; available in the kiosk on the left side of the Skyline Gate parking lot near the bathrooms. In addition, you can download a PDF version to your phone, available here. You will find directions and other details about Redwood Regional Park in the same link.
Keep in mind that the ladybugs are in abundance at this time of year along Stream Trail; another wonderful treat of this loop! I saw signs marking their primary locations on my recent hike. You can learn more about this local phenomenon from my post last year.