The very popular Lafayette Reservoir Recreation Area gets a million visitors per year, which is pretty impressive for a relatively small park. It's easy to see why; the park is big and scenic enough to make you feel like you're getting out to nature, but small enough that it still feels friendly and approachable. It helps that there aren't any cows, horses, or bicyclists and that the trails are usually in great condition. There's a nice mixture of wooded and open areas; the outer loop is mostly exposed while the inner loop is mostly wooded.
This hike combines the park's two most popular loops, starting with a clockwise circuit of the challenging 4.7-mile outer loop (the Rim Trail, actually a dirt road), followed by a counter-clockwise walk of the much easier but still somewhat hilly paved 2.7-mile inner loop. The middle part of the Rim Trail has quite a bit of up-and-down, but if you've had enough you can always cut the hike short by dropping down to the inner loop.
Given how steep parts of the outer loop are, it's surprising how popular it is. At peak times expect to see about a group every 1 or 2 minutes on the outer loop and about 2 or 3 groups per minute on the inner loop. Traffic on the outer loop seems to drop off quite a bit in the late afternoon, while the inner loop stays busy.
Here's the trailhead location in Google Maps.
Start from the main parking lot off Mount Diablo Boulevard. It costs $7 to park here all day (or $1.50/hour if you?re planning to be here less than 2 hours), but at least it's generally easy to find parking. You can also park for free at the Rim Trail entrances on Campolindo Drive or Meadow Park Lane; the disadvantage is that the hike will end with a climb.
Facing the lake, go left to pick up the start of the paved trail. After a few yards, just after a playground, take the first dirt road to your left and climb through an oak grove to a ridge with a nice view over the lake.
The Rim Trail winds its way gradually uphill along the open, grassy ridge, offering some nice views of Mount Diablo. The gradients are pretty easy for the first 2 miles, but then the real climbing starts at Campolindo Drive, where the trail heads straight up an intimidatingly steep, scrub-covered slope. When it rains this slope can get so slippery that it's almost impossible to climb.
This is the biggest and steepest climb of the hike, but there's still lots more climbing to come as the trail goes over a series of three more hills, one right after the other. The trail finally settles into a gradual descent after the Westview Trail. There's some traffic noise from Highway 24 even though you can't see the highway.
At the end of the trail, turn onto the paved road that leads to the Visitor Center parking lot, cut through the lot, and pick up the paved Lafayette Loop Trail. The trail is pleasantly wooded for most of its length. There's some up-and-down but not nearly as much as the outer loop.
© 2018 David Baselt