I am lucky to live where I do. Oakland has endless spots where I can simply take a turn and be transported from pavement to dirt. The sound of birds chirping may be accompanied by the drone of a leaf blower but as my feet carry me further into the hills their song becomes a cappella. The namesake giants of Redwood Regional and winding trails of Joaquin Miller are second homes; a curve or bend in a trail is as familiar as a corner of my hallway. The wildland parks and trails of the Oakland Hills are sought after spots for many to escape urban daily life. However, there are times when I feel like my escape does not deliver the solitude I need. Trails such as Stream and Sequoia-Bayview can become nature’s version of a highway. Three weeks ago, in a quest for quiet on a particularly difficult day, I turned to the lesser traveled Leona Canyon Regional Open Space Preserve to be alone with my thoughts.
Named for the female mountain lion that once roamed here, Leona Canyon is a 290-acre woodland area tucked between Merritt College and Keller Avenue. Elusive access points keep traffic on the trail that traverses it somewhat sparse. Leona Canyon Trail stretches approximately 1.3 miles between the two trailheads; one located in a parking lot on the Merritt College campus and the other tucked at the back of an apartment complex off of Keller. On a cool and overcast Friday morning I started from the Keller Avenue trailhead to spend some time exploring this quieter corner of the Oakland Hills.
While exposed at both trailheads, the majority of the trail in between the two starting points is shaded as it meanders along Rifle Range Creek. I wandered and found my eye was drawn to some of the interesting shapes and textures found in the wooded areas along the wide dirt path.
Leona Canyon Trail allows dogs to be off-leash. However, both dogs and people should not trample through the creek as restoration is in process to limit erosion and protect the existing ecosystem. Many plants in the area were once used by the local Native American tribes that occupied the East Bay Hills. A self-guided tour brochure is available at the start of the trail; 15 markers will teach you about everything from edibles to basketry to shrubs once used to make musical instruments.
If you start from the Keller Avenue side, expect a slight incline as the trail takes you upward. About 3/4 of a mile in you will see the Artemisia Trail wind uphill to the right; another 250 feet or so and you will see Pyrite Trail on the left. Both of these will take you on steep inclines to the top edges of the canyon; they deposit you in the neighborhoods that crest each side.
The EBRPD website cautioned about storm damage on Pyrite so I chose to explore the Artemisia side; a way to stay lost just a bit longer. The 1/2 mile steep climb delivered pocketed views of the canyon and East Bay beyond. I eventually reached a gate which noted the edge of the park so I turned around and carefully came back down.
Back on Leona Canyon Trail I continued up the moderate incline that ends just over a 1/2 mile later; a parking lot on the Merritt College campus is where my feet hit pavement. I turned around and took in the June gloom views before heading back through the canyon to my starting point on the other side. My feet moved quicker on the way back, anxious to get home.
The couple hours I spent exploring this quieter pocket of the Oakland Hills were what I needed. During my time here I only encountered a few other people, a handful out to walk their dogs. The resulting lump in my throat had me jump in my car and drive home to spend a final quiet afternoon with our dog Maggie. Sick with cancer, she passed on at home the following day, my husband and I by her side.
I am grateful to my city for giving me this meandering canyon to spend time with my thoughts; to process through feelings of nostalgia, sadness, fear, and the impending change to our family. Our house is a bit quieter now, a set of footsteps removed from the daily clatter. As time goes on my family and I adjust to our “new normal”. I continue to hit the trails of Oakland to find solace; it helps…always.
You can read more about Leona Canyon Regional Open Space Preserve on the EBRPD website here.
All photos by Adrienne Schell. Do not use without permission.