Strawberry Canyon is a great walk, a beautiful view, good exercise, and less than twenty minutes from the house. But for some reason, we hadn’t visited since it started raining heavily in October. OK, that reason was a very steep section that bipedal members of the Bill-Klondike team didn’t feel like dealing with when covered with mud. But still, four months is way too long without a visit, so Klondike and I took advantage of a ‘paws’ between showers to show up yesterday.
Perhaps because he hadn’t been there for a while, perhaps because the cool air and light sprinkle may have reminded him of his ancestral home in the Pyreneese mountains, Klondike was in a fine mood, brimming with energy.
There were tons of fallen trees along the trail, victims of prolonged drought and then torrential rains.
An underappreciated benefit of these rains is the opportunity for Klondike to put on black fashion socks (which can also decorate the interior of the car and house), and me to appreciate my waterproof hiking boots.
Of course, one of the best parts of these walks is making new friends. Klondike has high standards and only hangs out with the really cool dogs, but Willow, a nine-month-old puppy, clearly made the cut. Enjoy!
What’s even better than a dip in the Pacific Ocean followed by a dirt bath on an unusually warm November’s day? Here’s an idea!!! Not falling off a 15-foot vertical drop onto rocks while doing it!!! And yet again, Klondike’s recall training saved everyone from a very bad day. Of course, Klondike utterly unaware of his close brush with gravity or mine with cardiac arrest.
And here’s some pure dogish joy on a Wag ‘n Trails hike in Wildcat Canyon. And this time without any major drama, though the rain left everyone muddy and soaked. The slender white dog you see to Kondike’s right is Barney, who is half Pyranese.
Klondike, Mieko (holding camera) and I heading out to Lake Merritt.
Lake Merritt is not a bad way to walk a paved 3.5 miles. It’s beautiful, convenient, and is broken into sections, all feeling very different. Since it’s often crowded with people, bikes, skateboards, we don’t go very often, but our walk today was great. That’s Mieko and Klondike underneath the sign for Fairyland. Built in the 1950s, Fairyland is a small amusement park located by the side of the lake and aimed exclusively at young kids. Apparently, when first built Fairyland had a small train that went around part of the lake.
There is a MeetUp based dog hiking group calls Wags n Trails Klondike and I have been wanting to join. This past Sunday morning Klondike was able to make some time and we joined Wags n Trails for one of their easier walks, a 3.72 mile, 105 minute medium paced loop through Fernandez Ranch, a public recreation area maintained by John Muir Land Trust, between Hercules and Martinez, roughly 25 miles north east of Berkeley.
A Good Walk
It was great to be out walking with a ten other devoted dog owners and their well cared for, well trained, much loved dogs
At less than two hours and just under four miles, this was a nice, medium sized hike accessible to most people and their dogs
There was a serene quiet and sense of space hard to get at even the best walks closer to the city
Lots of flora and fauna and a good mixture of environments – open plains, hills (nothing too outrageous), switchbacks and swimming opportunities, which of course Mr. Klondike did not waste. The park brochure promises:
Breathtaking views await at the top of the Whipsnake Trail and kids can have a giggle rambling the hills and meadows looking for a variety of bugs, beetles and animal tracks. You may even catch a glimpse of a rare animal or two, including the endangered Alameda whipsnake, the California red-legged frog and maybe an American badger. But keep a keen eye out for the whipsnake — despite the two bright yellow stripes on its back, it is shy and hard to spot.
At dawn and dusk, the meadows at Fernandez Ranch come alive! Deer emerge from the woods and coyotes howl to one another. Oak-studded slopes and freshwater wetlands give way to Rodeo Creek, whose banks are cloaked in Coast live oak. In the springtime, poppies, lupine and the threatened Mount Diablo sunflower — which only grows in Contra Costa County — blanket the ranch in vibrant color.
Dogs officially allowed off leash
Trails are well marked – you shouldn’t get lost
Parking is not an issue
Of Course, It’s Not Perfect
The flora and fauna include lots of ticks, and we saw a rattlesnake. Neither was a problem – the rattlesnake was happy to get away from us and, probably due to his thick fur, Klondike only got one tick which was easily removed. Still, you definitely want to be aware of both. For ticks, by the way, consensus on the trail was that this is the product to get.
With traffic on a weekday, Fernandez Ranch can be 90 minutes from Berkeley, and possibly as much as two and a half hours from San Francisco. Without traffic it’s just 25 minutes from Berkeley. On a weekday, I’d skip the drive and head for the more accessible Inspiration Point , Strawberry Canyon, or the always awesome Roberts Recreation Area. On a weekend, absolutely, yes, worth it.
Bicycles and horses are allowed on the trail, though we didn’t see any
Little or no cell phone reception except in the parking lot
Klondike Walk Score: 84%
Water is not available on the trail, there is no trash disposal on the trail and there are no restrooms on the trail. I would absolutely suggest bringing water for you and your dog. We went on a fairly cool morning (low 70’s) and really wanted it.
Printed maps weren’t available so I’d definitely suggest downloading the map below and printing out. Thanks Jenny B for pointing this out!
Here is a Google link for driving directions. The official address is 1081 Christie Road, Martinez, CA, 94553. For those of your who enjoy such things, here‘s the Google Earth satellite view
Strawberry Canyon is a wonderful place. It doesn’t offer quite the wide variety of walks as Roberts Recreational Area but it’s beautiful, very convenient to Berkeley and features enough up hill climbing to be a lot of walk in a little time.
Difficulty is moderately challenging – most people and their animals can do it fine, though The Connector (100+ yards, 13% grade) will be a bit of a slog for some.
Strawberry Canyon is a Great Place to Walk
Hilly enough to give you and your beast a really meaningful walk in 60-90 minutes, but easy enough to be accessible for most people and dogs.
Beautiful trail with Redwood, Eucalyptus, and (at least at the trail base) wild turkey (no, the birds, not the bottles) and stunning, panoramic bay and city views
One main trail with some side routes so you will not have to worry about getting lost.
It’s an out-and-back walk so make it as long or short as you want
No bicycles or other vehicles allowed (though I did see a mountain bike once)
Dogs allowed off leash
Tucked right behind the UC Berkeley stadium, it’s pretty much in the middle of Berkeley
There are enough other people and dogs around to feel safe and provide some four footed socializing, but never does it feel crowded
Surprisingly good cell phone reception in most places
Of Course, It’s Not Perfect
Beautiful though it is, this walk doesn’t have the variety of some of the other Bay Area parks and some points on the trail feel just like a dirt road.
Parking lot (see below).
This is definitely a daylight only trail. There are steep, sheer drops off some trail edges. It would be a long way down
The parking lot is small, rough and often too crowded. Also, in some places the lot surface is tilted off camber, meaning a car door can shut itself so be very sure to hold your car door when loading and unloading.
You might want to bring water on a hot summer day, especially if you plan on going all the way to the top
Update 3-23-16: The Strawberry Canyon Lower Parking Lot is temporally closed. The sign said due to seasonal flooding risk. However, I was able to park in the Strawberry Canyon Recreational Center lot with no problem. See Access below for details.
Score: 85% (Would love to give it more, but looses 5 points for parking and 10 points for relative lack of walk options)
The Strawberry Canyon Lower Parking Lot (Google map and directions) on Centennial Drive, between the stadium and botanical gardens, is very convenient and free, though often crowded and a bit crude. It’s also possible to use paid parking in the Strawberry Canyon Recreational Center lot (Google map and directions) and walk via a trail to the Strawberry Canyon trailhead, but I’ve never done it.
Our basic walk is a 90 minute out-and-back, turning around at Marker 33, and this is what I recommend for most people. It’s plenty of walk and you’ll see most of the best parts.
If you want something longer go all the way to the top at Grizzly Boulevard and back. This six point three miles took us close to three hours, but we explored some side trails before heading back to the main trail.
The first mile goes up a relaxed 300 feet. Then you hit The Connector, a thigh-burning hundred plus yards that (if the numbers I pulled of some random running blogs are right) goes up about 80 feet for a very challenging 12-13% grade. After that it’s a slow and gradual climb up to the top, and then of course a nice decent back.
In the parking lot. Mr. Klondike wishes to exit the motor vehicle and commence his constitutional.
Klondike returns from some off-trail exploration
Klondike just loves flying down The Connector on his way back. And by the way, there were no tricks used in making the image above – he really was running that fast, and enjoying every second of it.
Advanced Option – Woodbridge Metcalf Grove
This shortcut is for people who love giant Redwoods (and there’s a lot to love) and don’t mind a steeper and less clear ascent then The Connecter. You’ll come to the below marker about half a mile from the trail head. It will be on your left.
I’ve been saving this for last since it looks a little intimidating but doesn’t matter much – to do this walk all you need to do is stay on the main trail, avoiding small side trails, and you will be fine.
Beautiful, large and well maintained, Robert’s feels like it’s well outside the city, even though it’s not
Dogs are allowed off leash twenty feet and further from any trailhead.
Convenient to most of the Bay Area – 30 to 45 minutes from downtown San Francisco (depending on traffic), 20 minutes from downtown Berkeley, 15 minutes from Oakland
There are enough other people and dogs around to feel safe and provide some four footed socializing, but never (outside the gorgeous picnic and pool areas) does it feel crowded.
Large and crisscrossed with trails so you can pretty much pick a route that suites the length and challenge you want. Walks with big hills, small hills, almost no hills – pick what you want. Ditto on the length of the walk. Just make sure you look at a map (they give them out) or ask a friendly ranger for advice
Trails have a great mixture of shade and sun
Lots of safe, convenient parking
Surprisingly good cell phone reception in most places
Of Course, It’s Not Perfect
$4 to park and a $2 dog fee. However, as far as I can tell they never actually ask for the dog fee
Mountain bikes are allowed on most, maybe all, trails. It isn’t the kind of place where people whip around fast, but you do need to be aware
Park service maps are a bit hard to read. But then again, the rangers are great and most of the trails seem to be on Google maps
Score: 90% (would be 95% without the bicycles)
Here’s a recommended walk
This route is about two hours with lots of sniffing. You could probably do it in as little as 90 minutes with brisk walking. I don’t think it’s absolutely necessary to carry water for either you or your dog, but if you don’t mind the weight it wouldn’t hurt.
Start at the lower parking lot fire gate. To park near there, just go in the entrance, pay your parking fee and drive to the far end of the upper parking a lot. A very short road connects it to the lower parking lot.
Here’s a bad picture of the firegate taken from the side (not the front, where you’d go through). And no, the actual firegate doesn’t have an arrow and the words “Enter Here” suspended in midair. Just in case anyone was wondering.
Hit Graham trail (there is a sign) and turn right
(Sorry, no pic. But it is clear, you won’t have any problems)
Hit Dunn Trail and go to the left
Follow Dun trail and you will come to a fork with Montiero Trail on the right. Ignore it and stay to the left (which is pretty much straight) to stay on Dunn trail.
Take a hard left to get on Baccharis Trail
Baccharis hits West Ridge Trail. Go LEFT on West Ridge Trail
Stay on West Ridge Trail. This means staying to the left after passing Madrone trail
Make new friends. Remember, everyone loves you!
Keep following West Ridge. You will go past a picnic area.
Remember it’s not polite to take food from the table, especially belonging to people you don’t know. I think Klondike briefly wondered about this, but good manners prevailed.
Take a left on Robert’s Ridge
Roberts will take you back to the parking lot. You’ll know you are almost there when the sign tells you to leash up your dog
That little path takes to the upper parking lot, which connects to the lower parking and bam! Your walk is done!