Del Valle Regional Park in Alameda County just 10 miles south of Livermore offers arguably the best spot in the Coastal Ranges to enjoy boating, fishing, hiking, and an abundance of activities from picnics to flying radio-controlled aircraft.
Before going further, like a number of outdoor recreation areas in the Bay Area, the most recent storm has created the need for a temporary closure. Updates are posted on the East Bay Regional Park District website; visit ebparks.org for information.
That said, now is a good time to pencil in a visit to wander the hills or stroll along the lake in the coming weeks.
The series of atmospheric rivers of the past few months means the period of green accented with wildflowers that starts fading away by the time April starts likely will stretch into May.
That means more daylight than normal to enjoy what normally is at it optimum during the fading weeks of winter.
The route from Livermore — via Tesla Road and then onto Mines Road and ultimately Del Valle Road — is popular with cyclists for its nice steady rise from the valley floor and its wide shoulders.
Those bicyclists more ambitious as well as motorists out for a Sunday drive to take in the wildflowers and mostly unspoiled scenery stay on Mines Road and climb up a way more toward the ridgeline to reach Mt. Hamilton near San Jose or to turn back to the San Joaquin Valley via Del Puerto Road into Patterson.
The park itself is in a small valley focused around a five-mile lake popular with sailboat enthusiasts and fishermen.
There are two swimming beaches that have lifeguards during posted hours typically from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., when they are open. Dogs must be kept away from the water.
The lake lures water enthusiasts for its serene and idyllic setting. Its shoreline picnic spots are popular for picnics, family gatherings, and other celebrations. The lake is surrounded by 4,395 acres filled with wildlife ideal for nature study as well as trails for hikers and equestrians.
It is also the eastern end of the Ohlone Wilderness Trail stretching 28 miles from Lichen Park Picnic Area to the Stanford Avenue staging area near Mission Peak in the San Jose area.
Along the way you pass through the Ohlone Regional Wilderness, holdings of the San Francisco Water Department, the Sunol Regional Wilderness and the Mission Peak Regional Wilderness. There is also plenty of wildlife including an occasional sighting of Tule elk and even mountain lions.
Those braving hiking all — or part — of the Ohlone Wilderness Trail are in for treats that relatively few partake.
Day use to enter Del Valle Regional Park is $6 with another $2 for the trail permit. You can also secure permits for overnight camping.
Your permit — that you must carry at all times — is a sturdy paper map that offers an excellent map of the easy-to-follow main trail and spurs as well as an elevation profile with a wealth of other information.
Much of the main hiking trail follows old dirt ranch roads. Don’t be fooled into thinking this will make the hike a walk in the park.
The first segment from Lichen Park Picnic Area climbs rapidly gaining 1,200 feet in elevation. Other segments are typical trails that often narrow down to enough width for one person as well as having their share of rocks and fallen trees to bypass or go over.
The first crest gives you sweeping views of Mt. Diablo and its kissing cousin North Peak dominating the horizon above Livermore as well as views of the windmill-studded Altamont Pass, Tracy and beyond, the Northern San Joaquin Valley and the eastern side of the Coastal Range.
There are two easy to reach destinations for day hikes from Del Valle Park — Murrieta Falls and Rose Peak.
On my last trip last year in late March, I opted for the 11.5-mile round trip to the falls named after the legendary California outlaw Joaquin Murrieta. The hike offered sweeping green hills, wildflowers, woodlands and a scattering of oak trees on ridge lines and in mini-valleys.
Murrieta Falls at the 3,300-foot elevation is the Bay Area’s longest in terms of its drop. Besides the fact it will be drying up in the next month or so, its wimpy scale isn’t the main appeal of the trip. Instead, it is the sweeping views and relative isolation of the Ohlone Wilderness despite being snuggled up against the urbanized San Francisco Bay Area. The elevation gain for the hike to Murrieta Falls is 3,500 feet.
My goal this year when I head to Del Valle and the Ohlone Wilderness will be Rose Peak. At 3,817 feet it is the East Bay Area’s third highest peak coming in just 32 feet lower than Mt. Diablo. It involves a 20-mile round trip and 4,500 feet in net gain during the hike.
Seasoned hikers suggest that most people try to squeeze in either hike between September into early June due to the heat and exposure to the sun during summer.
Even though by May the grass will likely have turned golden, the falls dried up, and most of the ponds will be long gone, it is still a good time to soak in the solitude as those tackling the trails do so in smaller numbers.
When June rolls around, I’ve tackled shorter trails that are loops to the north and east of the lake.
Of the two, the 6.2-mile loop within Del Valle Park has a high point of 1,300 feet and net elevation gain of 900 feet that most people can cover in three to five hours.
The trail — that is surprisingly remote — is on the lake’s eastern side yet rarely gets much use. It has an abundance of gigantic California Blue Oaks with canopies spreading up to 25 feet awaiting hikers and has a long stretch along the lake’s eastern shore.
Parking is $6 per vehicle.
For more information on Del Valle Regional Park go to ebparks.org/parks/del_valle.
For more information on the Ohlone Wilderness Trail go to ebparks.org/parks/ohlone.