The Sunol Regional Wilderness is one of the best places to hike in the coast mountains. There are places in the park that feel very remote, despite its proximity to Livermore and Fremont.
From the highest summits you can see San Francisco Bay shimmering off in the distance. Alameda Creek flows through a steep canyon in the park, creating a series of cascades known as "Little Yosemite."
You can enjoy all of these wonders on a moderate 4.5 mile round-trip hike. Late winter through early May is the best time to go. On my hike last weekend there weren't any wildflowers yet, but the hills are green and by mid-March the wildflower show should be in progress.
Ask for a park map when you pay your entry fee. You can use it to hike the Cero Este -- Little Yosemite Loop that I enjoyed last weekend. Some of the park's trails are narrow and open to foot traffic only.
Wider trails that also serve as maintenance roads are open to horses and bikes. All trails are open to dogs. Although leashes are required in developed areas of the park, dogs may be off-leash while on the trail as long as they are under voice control.
Horseback riding trips in the park are offered by Western Trail Riding Services. For more information, go to http://www.westerntrailriding.com or call (925) 862-9044. You can learn more about the park by visiting the Old Green Barn Interpretive Center just inside the entrance station. Ranger-led activities are offered throughout the year.
To make a loop that includes the cascades of Little Yosemite and views of San Francisco Bay from the slopes of Cero Este, start at the first parking area after the entrance kiosk. Cross Alameda Creek on a footbridge and turn right on the Indian Joe Nature Trail. In about 0.4 miles, turn left on Indian Joe Creek Trail.
The path climbs gradually, but steadily for about 1.25 miles. Turn Right on Cave Rocks Road toward Cero Este. After another mile of gradual climbing, you'll have expansive views that include the Bay and a wide panorama of hills.
Several well-placed benches along the way invite you to enjoy the view and catch your breath. The trail has many exposed sections. It's good for views, but not for a hot day. Wear layers so you can get more comfortable once you start to work up a sweat -- by the end of the hike I was wearing only a T-shirt and shorts.
Continue along the Cero Este trail to drop down to Little Yosemite. Before using the Canyon View Trail to return to the parking lot, take the short side trail to Little Yosemite.
If you want to see the creek and the cascades up close, you'll have to do some careful scrambling -- the official trail stays a bit shy of the creek. Once you've enjoyed the water, your return hike to the parking area is just over 1.5 miles downhill.
If you aren't up for the whole loop hike, you can make an easy hike to Little Yosemite by driving to the locked gate at the end of the parking area and following the Camp Ohlone Road Trail along Alameda Creek. It's 2.5 miles round-trip to the cascades with very little elevation gain or loss.
The Sunol Wilderness had been on my list of "places to go" for several years and now it's one of my nearby favorites. I was intrigued by the idea of a "Little Yosemite" and completely surprised by the views from the Cero Este Road. Both are worth the trek. Although this can be a popular place to hike later in the season, we saw few people.
The Sunol Wilderness is less than an hour west of Modesto. From Highway 99, take 120 and 205 west to 580. In Dublin, head south on 680, exiting at Calaveras Road / Highway 84 (note: this is the second 84 exit -- don't take the one in Livermore).
Turn left under the freeway onto Calaveras Road. The park entrance is on the left after 4 miles. The entry fee is $5 per car and the park is open from 8 a.m. to dusk daily. Permits for overnight backpacking can be obtained in advance for $5 per person per day. For more information about the park, go to http://www.ebparks.org/parks/sunol or call (510) 544-3249.
Adam Blauert is an avid outdoorsman who enjoys fishing, backpacking and exploring the western states. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org