East Bay Parks: Where the wildflowers are

Photos by Scott J. Hein, www.heinphoto.com

CONTRA COSTA COUNTY, CA — This year’s wildflower season is well under way, and while the displays aren’t as spectacular as in some past years, there’s still plenty to see. If you can arrange it, go on a weekday. Weekends tend to be very crowded in the parks.

I haven’t visited all of them yet, but here are some suggestions for wildflower viewing:

Sunol Regional Wilderness in southern Alameda County is a good bet. Walk the Camp Ohlone Road to Little Yosemite, climb a short distance on Cerro Este Road, then return to the start on the Canyon View Trail.

Sunol is at the end of Geary Road off Calaveras Road south of I-680. There’s a parking fee of $5 per vehicle and Sunol is alcohol-free.

Poppies and Red Maids

Also off of I-680, Vargas Plateau has great displays of poppies and red maids right now. Take the Vargas Road exit from I-680 between Sunol and Fremont and drive up the hill. But be aware that there are only about 23 parking spaces plus two disabled spaces at the trailhead, and there’s no parking at all on Vargas Road. So try for off-peak hours.

Pleasanton Ridge Regional Park in Pleasanton is another possibility. Start at the Foothill Staging Area on Foothill Road south of Castlewood Drive. Head up the Woodland or Oak Tree Trail to the top of the ridge. From there you can go on the Ridgeline or Thermalito Trail for wildflowers and panoramic views.

One of the best places for wildflowers in the regional parks is Rocky Ridge on the Ohlone Wilderness Trail starting at Del Valle Regional Park south of Livermore.

It’s a two-mile uphill climb to the ridge from Del Valle’s Lichen Bark picnic area. Of course it’s a two-mile descent going back. The payoff is lots of beautiful wildflowers on the rocky soil of the ridge. Sometimes the goldfields are spectacular.

Del Valle is at the end of Del Valle Road off Mines Road about nine miles south of I-580. There’s a basic parking fee of $5 per vehicle. And the Ohlone Wilderness Trail requires a permit that costs $2 and is good for a year from date of purchase. It’s available at the entrance kiosk.

Bollinger Canyon

Farther north in the park district, check out the Rocky Ridge View Trail or Las Trampas Ridge Trail at Las Trampas Regional Wilderness in San Ramon. The trailhead for both is at the north end of Bollinger Canyon Road off Crow Canyon Road.

Another good park for wildflowers is Sobrante Ridge Regional Preserve. There’s limited parking at either end of the preserve, off Castro Ranch Road in El Sobrante. Early in the season, check out the Manzanita Loop for lots of magenta-colored Indian warrior blooms.

Hillside poppies are the attraction at Briones Regional Park. Walk up Old Briones Road from the Bear Creek staging area on Bear Valley Road about five miles east of Camino Pablo Road in Orinda.

At Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve in Antioch, walk the Chaparral Loop or Manhattan Canyon Trails. The soils there favor shooting stars, buttercups, blue dicks, and paintbrush, among other varieties.

Black Diamond Mines is at the end of Somersville Road, 3½ miles south of Highway 4. There’s a parking fee of $5 per vehicle when the kiosk is staffed.

Morgan Territory

Farther afield, check out Morgan Territory Regional Preserve on Morgan Territory Road about nine miles south of Marsh Creek Road near Clayton.

Drive carefully; the road is narrow and winding. Once there, take the Volvon and Prairie Falcon Trails for wildflowers and great views of Mt. Diablo.

This is just a partial list. There are wildflowers everywhere. You can access maps with detailed driving directions to all these regional parks and more by visiting the park district website, www.ebparks.org.

For wildflower information, go to www.ebparks.org/WildflowersinYourParks. Also see www.ebparks.org/SunolVirtualWildflowerSeason. You can find all the wildflower-related activities on Activenet by going to http://ebparksonline.org, clicking on “Activities,” and searching for “wildflowers”. And the park district website has some helpful, illustrated, wildflower identification brochures.

When in the parks, please remember to observe social distancing and have masks available to wear when crowding is unavoidable. We’re still in the pandemic.

And of course please don’t pick the wildflowers. Leave them for everyone to enjoy.

Ned MacKay writes a regular column about East Bay Regional Park District sites and activities. Email him at nedmackay@comcast.net.