Have you ever wondered what it would be like to hike a roller coaster ride? Look no further than the Briones Reservoir Loop! This is a beautiful 13.6 mile hike around a deep blue reservoir with great birding, crazy cows, ups and downs to keep your muscles guessing and your mind entertained beyond just the gorgeous views!
We started out at the Overlook trail head and headed toward the dam to do the sunny part of the hike before the heat of the day started. The fire road crosses the dam and heads up the hill on a gravel road. Watch for birds around here hanging out along the edges of the water. We were lucky enough to see 3 blue herons! One of them was hiking on the trail with us. Beyond the views of the reservoir this part of the hike is fairly boring. Once you start climbing up you begin to see views beyond the reservoir. The San Pablo Reservoir is off to your left and Mt Diablo is off to your right.
After reaching the peak on this side of the reservoir you will stay along the ridge top for a bit enjoying views of the San Pablo Bay in the distance and the Briones Reservoir down below. Humming power lines jut out above you and crisscross the reservoir trail. Enjoy the breeze up here as there is very little shade. The trail has been used by the cows during the muddy season as there are still several lumps in the road which may cause you to take your eyes off the view and focus on the trail…especially if you are a klutz like me.
The fire road heads up, then down, turns (a lot!) and you find yourself in and out of shade. This definitely keeps you entertained on a long hike! The cows were a bit scared of us as we headed down one of the hills just passed the Hamilton cutoff. They were headed toward the creek and heard us then started running the other direction. I always seem to have thoughts out loud of what they are thinking. These cows were unpredictable yet when they found their safe place acted like they were in a gang. “I got your back if the one in pink comes any closer” is what I imagined they were saying.
Stay on the roller coaster ride of a trail and head back uphill to find yourself in golden grasslands with lonely oak trees popping up along the trail. At this point, around mile 9, the hubs and I were worried this reservoir was going to go on forever. We were so tempted to put the cameras in the dry bag and swim across to the other side. Please don’t do this. Apparently it is not allowed and also, you never know if there is some reservoir monster in the water just waiting for a tired hiker to jump in! I have a healthy fear of lakes, not oceans, just lakes. Things can’t escape and therefore may grow to be giant monsters. Don’t judge…just keep reading.
When we finally reached the Bear Creek staging area we knew we were only a few miles away from the car. Unfortunately no one was in the parking lot or we might have tried to hitch a ride with someone back to our car! We haven’t done a long hike in a while. We needed to but jumping into this one was a little difficult. Cross through the deserted parking lot and head through the gate on the other side for the Bear Creek Trail. You will immediately come across a creek crossing. Some nice person left a log across the creek you can balance walk across and head up the hill. From here you will be out in the wide open and hear all these cars go by that could have possibly given you a ride. Don’t fret, you are only 3.6 miles from being done.
The trail here is paved and boring except for an odd Christmas tree out in the middle. Not far after this you will dive into a dense mixed forest and single track trail. Careful of all the poison oak trying to reach out and grab you! The oaks mixed with the ferns and the evergreens and all the bugs make this a very nice stretch of the trail. It is mostly shaded for this last push of the hike. Make sure and stay on the trail and don’t take the “not open to the public” fire roads that cut off part of the mileage. You will be well rewarded with views of the reservoir (as if you haven’t had enough of it already). It truly IS beautiful.
The most beautiful part of the hike is when we had views of the dam again! This let us know we were close to our starting point. I was walking slower at this point, the hubs and I had run out of conversations and I felt like this was really never going to end…and then I saw the parking lot! I didn’t pick up my pace, well because my legs wouldn’t let me, but our spirits were lifted! There was this lovely bench that people were sitting and enjoying the views. I must have looked like a zombie to them at this point because I think I said “hello” but I just got a funny look in return.
Sitting down in the car with my shoes off was just about the best part of the day. Today, as I write this post, we are a bit sore and tired still but look back on this literal roller coaster of a hike with fond memories and strong minds to not do hikes over 10 miles for a while!
Parking=free, you do need a permit from EBMUD ($10 per year and printable that day), pit toilet at each staging area, 75% sun, 13.6 miles, 1,309 ft elevation gain, no dogs. Nearest food area was the cute town of Orinda. We used the TrailStompers trail description but went the opposite direction.