Distance (round-trip)

7.9 mi

Time

4 hrs

Elevation Gain

1230 ft

Season

Spring
Summer
Fall
Winter

Weather

Redwood Regional Park, twelve miles east of downtown Oakland, is filled with giant second growth redwoods, an anomaly among the sun-drenched, flax-colored East Bay hills. The West Ridge-Stream Trail route loops clockwise through the park, traversing the mostly sunny West Ridge Trail and then descending on the cool Stream Trail beside Redwood Creek, with lots of redwood groves in between. There are win-wins in multiple seasons: In summer, it’s a great option to get a hike in AND relief from heat. In winter, ladybugs cluster and Redwood Creek’s water level rises with the rain. 

Tall coast redwoods provide shade on the Stream Trail beside Redwood Creek.

The West Ridge-Stream Trail Loop begins at the Canyon Meadow Staging Area on the southeastern end of the park. This side of the park opens at 8:00 AM and it is free to park on weekdays and weekends between November and March. Between April and October, there is a fee to park on weekends. If you prefer an earlier start, other staging areas open at 5:00 AM as of this writing; check the park’s website for details. I began from Canyon Meadow because of its low elevation; I could get my climbing done first no matter which direction I started from. 

The Stream Trail picks up from the northwestern edge of the Canyon Meadows Staging Area.

Heading northwest from the Canyon Meadow parking lot, pick up the signed Stream Trail beneath shady live oak, bigleaf maple, and willows. A wooden kiosk on your left has free topo maps, and just beyond it are outhouses and a water spigot. The paved Stream Trail is wheelchair accessible and stroller friendly for the first 0.9 miles to Trail’s End—which is a picnic area, not the literal end of the trail. Dog walkers, trail runners, families, redwood enthusiasts, and mountain bikers love this park for its challenging, enriching, peaceful, and approachable feel, all rolled into one package. It feels like a neighborhood park that just keeps on going for miles.

A wooden kiosk at the start of the trail has free trail maps.

At the 0.4 mile-mark, cross a bridge over Redwood Creek and then turn left onto Bridle Trail, hiking southeast towards the Orchard Trail. A wooden fence lines the dirt trail beside Redwood Creek, with feathery sword fern, trailing blackberry, and shady coast redwoods. When the creek swells with rain, you may see coastal rainbow trout swimming up the creek to spawn, descendants of a pure strain of rainbow trout named by Dr. William P. Gibbons, a former Curator of Geology & Mineralogy at the California Academy of Sciences, in 1855. The story has a twist; it turns out a German naturalist, Johann Julius Walbaum, had identified the same species in 1792, so Walbaum’s scientific name for rainbow trout held (Oncorhynchus mykiss) while Dr. Gibbons’s chosen scientific name (Salmo irideus) was assigned to a subspecies called coastal rainbow trout (fun fact: irideus means rainbow in Latin). Since the trout in Redwood Creek are descendants from a pure, wild strain of trout, without any breeding from other species, they hold a special scientific value; therefore, we must fish elsewhere.  

In 0.2 miles, turn right onto the Orchard Trail next to a wooden signpost. The narrower dirt path heads west into a leafy forest of hazelnut, brambles, poison oak, and thimbleberry. Tall redwoods appear as the trail steepens, gaining a stiff 480 feet over the next 0.6 miles. Two-thirds of the way up, bear left at a signed T-junction to stay on the Orchard Trail. To the right is the French Trail, a shady trail that runs mid-range through the park for 4.2 miles and then links up with the West Ridge Trail. A regular I ran into described it as the “most beautiful trail in whole park.” If you do decide to take the French Trail to West Ridge and then return on the Stream Trail, it comes out to roughly 8.8 miles for the whole shebang. 

Tall coast redwoods appear just as the Orchard Trail steepens.

The French Trail is an optional loop for a full-shade hike.

At the end of the Orchard Trail, turn right onto West Ridge Trail at 1.2 miles, heading northwest. A mix of sun and shade washes over this sandy fire road, straddling the western ridge of Redwood Canyon. West Ridge is open to hikers, horses, bicycles, and off-leash dogs under voice control, so expect company in the form of happy yips and wagging tails.

The West Ridge Trail is a multi-use fire road that is mostly sunny, with many shady patches too.

As you hike northwest, you will notice the Chown and Fern Trails on your right. Both trails connect to the Stream Trail and are options to shorten your loop if you run out of steam. While there are some views of Mount Diablo from West Ridge, mostly it is surrounded by tall trees and shrubs—madrone, coffee berry, manzanita, live oak, and eucalyptus. The climbing here is steady, gaining 460 feet over the next 1.6 miles.

Passing through a tall eucalyptus grove on the West Ridge Trail.

At 2.8 miles, arrive at Redwood Bowl, a picnic area with towering redwoods and picnic tables. Follow signs for West Ridge Trail through the junctions here, passing PAL cabins on your left. Oakland’s Police Activity League hosts Oakland youth at the cabins, giving them a chance to get away from the city. To the right, 500 feet past the cabins, is a delightful wooden deck and a brand new exhibit about the redwood forest. The deck has a peaceful viewpoint of the redwoods and overlooks a giant redwood stump; you get a feel for just how big the redwoods are that once grew here. This is a nice spot for a snack break, just over a third of the way through your loop.

An interpretive display next to a deck with benches is a nice spot for a snack break.

Technically, this part of the loop is in the Roberts Regional Recreation Area, a tiny, 82-acre East Bay park known for its redwoods. If you are up for more redwood exploring, you can take the signed Roberts Ridge Trail south for about 1.25 miles past the PAL cabins. A historical monument near the Madrone picnic area commemorates two redwoods that were so tall and distinctive, they served as navigational aids to ships passing through the San Francisco Bay in the early 1800s. In 1826, Captain F. Beechy in the Royal Navy recommended aligning the northern end of Yerba Buena Island between the two redwoods to avoid scraping against Blossom Rock, a hazard hidden beneath the bay between Alcatraz Island and San Francisco. The trees were 16 miles east of the ships, so you can imagine how tall they must have been! Those redwoods are long gone, as is the old growth redwood forest here, logged between 1845 and 1860 to support a growing San Francisco.

Once you have gotten your fill of the West Ridge redwoods, continue northwest on the West Ridge Trail towards the Chabot Space & Science Center (open Wednesday-Sunday 10:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m., fee applies). Carefully cross an access road—yep, you can easily add on a side visit to the center—following signs for the West Ridge Trail. Descend sharply on the sandy fire road towards the Skyline Gate Staging Area, passing a residential area through a mix of sun and shade. Occasional views open up northeast towards Briones Regional Park.

 

 

 

Chabot Space & Science Center from the West Ridge Trail

A mountain biker zooms by on the West Ridge Trail as it passes a residential area.

At 4.8 miles, reach the Skyline Gate parking lot and turn sharp right onto the Stream Trail, heading southeast towards Trail’s End. The Stream Trail starts out sunnily on a wide dirt trail beside eucalyptus and brushy shrubs. Then, it slowly transitions into a second growth redwood forest beside Redwood Creek—a pure highlight of this hike. Crisscross over Redwood Creek on wooden footbridges, passing trails on your left leading to the East Ridge.

Reach the Trail’s End picnic area 6.9 miles, staying straight on the Stream Trail. Trail’s End is one of three group campsites in Redwood Regional Park; the other two are Girl’s Camp and Fern Dell. All three have a shelter, fire circle, water spigot, picnic tables, and restrooms at the camp or nearby. The paved portion of the Stream Trail begins here, heading east towards the Canyon Meadow parking lot. This paved portion is a really nice option for families or those with limited mobility, passing through pretty redwoods on a mostly flat, easy-going slope.

In 0.5 miles, visit Old Church on your left, a picnic area with an amphitheater and pew-like benches that feel like you are sitting beneath a redwood cathedral. Old Church is reservable and it is not hard to imagine a rustic wedding or special event here. Beyond Old Church, in 375 feet, reach the end of the loop portion of your hike at 7.5 miles, turning left cross the bridge over Redwood Creek back to the Canyon Meadow parking lot.

Notes:

  • The Canyon Meadow Staging Area is open from 8:00 a.m.-8:00 p.m. Other staging areas in the park that touch this loop, like the Skyline Gate Staging Area, are open from 5:00 a.m. – 10:00 p.m.
  • Parking is $5 per vehicle on weekends at the Canyon Meadow Staging Area between April and October.
  • Dogs are allowed at Redwood Regional Park, and some trails allow dogs off-leash, under voice control. Dog fees are $2 per dog. Guide/service dogs are free.
  • There are restrooms just north of the Canyon Meadow Staging Area on the Stream Trail and throughout the loop at picnic areas.

West Coast hiker, writer, and photographer. Author of "Moon 75 Great Hikes Seattle."





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