An hour escape from San Francisco, Sunol Regional Wilderness is 6,859 acres that boast a host of plant life and trails of varying difficulty across diverse terrain. The park has been used as ranch land for the past century, and under a multi-use land management policy is still used for grazing, meaning you’ll likely pass herds of peaceful cows on your hike. Today, you’ll find campers, picnickers, backpackers, and equestrians enjoying Sunol’s many looped trails. Many of the trails feel tougher than average due to sleep stopes and high temperatures in summer, making it a good choice for those looking for a more difficult hike.
What Makes It Great
Sunol Regional Wilderness feels like a world away, but is easily accessible for a weekend hike. In addition to a series of looped hikes that ensure your views are never repeated, the Cave Rocks off Indian Joe Creek Trail offer a unique section to explore before hitting the trail again. The massive basalt outcrop invites rock climbers to top rope and boulder on formations up to 40 feet tall. Inexperienced climbers can easily access the formations via several smaller paths and scramble their way to more impressive views than you’ll find on the trail. The vibrant crusts of lichen clinging to the smooth basalt makes for a beautiful piece of natural artwork.
Depending on the trails you choose, you’ll be rewarded with a harmonious hike through oak woodland and swaying grasses, and take in views of the Calaveras Reservoir, San Antonio Reservoir, and Mt. Diablo. On your way, keep watch for raccoons, skunks, black-tailed deer, and dozens of birds, including yellow-billed magpies, red-tailed hawks, turkey vulture, and even golden eagles.
For those looking to extend their journey through Sunol, the preserve borders the Ohlone Regional Wilderness, allowing hikes to be extended all the way to Del Valle Regional Park, and west to Mission Peak Regional Preserve with the proper permits.
Who is Going to Love It
Those looking to learn more about the area’s natural history will be especially delighted with Sunol. Stop at the Old Green Barn Visitor Center to learn about offered naturalist programs and the self-guided Indian Joe Nature Trail. Available for checkout from the Visitor Center is a wildflower identification kit, to help find poppies, mustard, goldfields and lupines, and many families if trees, including alder, willow, sycamore, oak, elderberry, madrone, and gray pine.
Even if you choose not to stop at Indian Joe Cave Rocks, you’ll still get several views of bedrock mortars used by Sunol’s first inhabitants to pound acorns.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
Regardless of which direction you’re coming from, once you’ve exited on Calaveras Road, drive about four miles to a left turn onto Geary Road, which leads directly into the park. The Old Green Barn is the first left after the park entrance, otherwise proceed until you find a spot in the ample parking lots. Note the gates and unlocked and locked at varying times throughout the year. If you return to your car after the park has closed, your vehicle will be locked in. Check exact times on at ebparks.org. Dogs are allowed on all trails, but must remain on-leash at all time. Also remember to bring your own water as there is no drinking water available in the park.