High on the Ridge

Redwood and Anthony ChabotRegional Parks
Trail at a Glance

Length: 8.3 miles.

Location: In Alameda County east of Oakland and Piedmont between Skyline Blvd. and Pinehurst/Redwood roads.

Trail Characteristics: West Ridge and MacDonald trails are wide, unpaved service roads, in shade part-way. Occasional fog, often strong sunshine in summer on open ridgetop sections. West Ridge Trail climbs 200 feet, drops 900 feet. MacDonald Trail climbs 500 feet, drops 300 feet to Bort Meadow.

Ridge Trail Accessibility: Hikers, equestrians, and bicyclists.

Trail Management: East Bay Regional Park District (EBRPD):(510) 635-0135.

Rules: Open from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. or as posted. Fee for group picnics, camping, parking, and dogs (allowed on leash only).


Through second-growth forests and along open grasslands, this segment stays on the ridgeline except for a quick descent and subsequent rise halfway to Bort Meadow.

This segment of the Bay Area Ridge Trail route continues southeast on the EBRPD's 31-mile East Bay Skyline National Recreation Trail (EBSNR Trail). Redwood Regional Park, midway on the Skyline Trail, was once the site of a magnificent redwood forest. Trees in this primeval forest measured more than 20 feet in diameter, larger than the greatest redwood of the North Coast. It is said that ships entering the Golden Gate, 16 miles away, used two of the tallest trees to steer their course across San Francisco Bay.

Sadly, this majestic redwood forest, part of early nineteenth century Spanish land grants, was felled to the last tree between 1840 and 1860 in the rapid building of Bay Area cities — San Francisco, Oakland, and the more distant cities of Benicia and Martinez. Even the tree stumps were rooted out for firewood. The new redwoods that sprouted from the remaining stumps were later cut to rebuild structures devastated by the 1906 earthquake. Finally the logging ceased. Today, some redwood trees tower above the ridges, reaching 100-foot heights, and former mill sites for the logging operations serve as picnic areas in the park.

Hikers, equestrians, and bicyclists, begin your trip through Redwood Regional Park by setting off from the park's Skyline Gate on the West Ridge Trail. You tread a wide, level path frequented by a variety of trail users — strollers, bicyclists, runners, and local residents escorting their toddlers or walking their dogs. The first half mile is quite open, although oaks, madrones, pines, and many eucalyptus trees fill the canyon below. On your right, after rains, there is a rivulet trickling down an assemblage of smooth, sandstone boulders.

When you reach the first clump of redwoods, the trail surface is sprinkled with soft duff, composed of redwood branchlets and small cones. These tall, second-growth redwoods, intermixed with luxuriant bay trees, support an understory of ferns and shade-loving, spring wildflowers in white and blue.

Rounding a bend, you pass the French Trail taking off to the left. If the day is very hot, the French Trail, for hikers and equestrians, offers a cool, though longer, alternate route which contours midway between the high West Ridge Trail and the Stream Trail on the canyon floor. (The Stream Trail, too, is open only to hikers and equestrians.)

Continuing for 0.5 mile on the West Ridge Trail, hikers, equestrians, and bicyclists pass the Tres Sendas Trail on the left, a footpath which descends east to join the French Trail. Then, just beyond a short spur on your right that leads to the Moon Gate at Skyline Boulevard, you begin a steady climb around the flank of a hill dominated by communications equipment and a water tank. At the outer edge of the flank is a bench overlooking some of Redwood Regional Park's 2,000 acres north and east of here.

For the next half mile you follow the trail through an extensive forest of eucalyptus trees, turned brown from the severe frosts of 1990, yet now recovered. You may wonder about the origin of these trees. It seems that an Oakland real-estate developer planted vast eucalyptus forests in an ill-fated timber-harvesting scheme. At the same time, he built Skyline Boulevard to take investors to his project.

However, eucalyptus wood was financially unprofitable for the developer and ecologically disastrous for this former redwood environment. Eucalyptus, a fast-growing and invasive import from Australia, inhibits the growth of native plant species, such as redwood and oak trees.

Yet, some native plants are springing up in the tangle of litterfall in dense, shaggy eucalyptus forests. Today, you can find robust toyon bushes on the hillside and wild huckleberry bushes flourishing in ravines where moisture is sufficient. You can recognize the huckleberries by their small, shiny green, oblong leaves on long, graceful branches. In late summer you may see their blue-black berries, much-favored by deer and bluejays. To the right of the trail, and much more noticeable than the huckleberries, are seven maple trees planted on Arbor Day, 1986, to commemorate the seven astronauts lost on the Challenger. A wooden plaque marks the site.


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