Length 3.9 mi · Climbing 750 ft
The Wildcat Peak Loop one of Tilden Regional Park's best hikes. This mostly-wooded route climbs to a knoll with great views and then descends through a wooded canyon. Along the way it passes through two eucalyptus groves, Tilden's nature center, and the Little Farm. There's quite a lot of variety for such a short hike.
There's a lot of poison oak in the wooded sections of this loop and it normally can't be hiked in winter because the singletrack trails get very muddy.
This hike is similar to the nearby Seaview Loop, but with more of a backcountry feel and more singletrack trail; on the other hand the Seaview Loop is sunnier, more open, and more of a carefree stroll.
Start at Tilden's main parking lot and take the dirt road that leads past the visitor's center. Just for fun, take the boardwalk, which starts to your left a short distance pas the visitor's center and rejoins the main road shortly before the Peak Trail turnoff.
The trail passes a little pond. Just afterward is the intersection with the Peak Trail, marked with a little pictograph of a hill. The well-worn trail climbs into the eucalyptus grove and is heavily lined with poison oak, although the trail is well-used enough that there's always a clear path through. The grove has a very distinctive look and on a breezy day is filled with odd clattering noises.
The trail leaves the eucalyptus and enters more typical Bay Area woodland. The woods aren't especially attractive; the trees are very small and despite the presence of ferns the groundcover has a dry, disheveled look. Soon, though, the trail breaks out into open chaparral. The hike improves dramatically as the trail switchbacks up the hill and views of the Berkeley Hills and San Francisco gradually open up.
The trail ends at a dirt road. Turn left to climb the short distance to Wildcat Peak. The views of San Francisco Bay are clear, but views in other directions are partly obscured by tall brush. Nontheless a little walking around yields nice views of the lumpy green hills of Tilden Park, with Mount Diablo and San Pablo Reservoir prominently visible.
Retrace your steps on the dirt road, passing the Peak Trail. The road descends steeply and passes the Rotary Peace Grove, a grove of oddly squat giant sequoias. Continue to Nimitz Way and turn right.
Since it's level and paved, Nimitz Way is one of the most popular trails in Tilden, with lots of cyclists, joggers, and people walking their dogs.
Nimitz Way proceeds through a peaceful, dense ridgetop eucalyptus grove. After exiting the grove continue along Nimitz Way for a few more minutes and take the first dirt road to your right. Descending on this road, look for the Laurel Trail to your left.
The Laurel Trail dives into dense woodland. After descending into a little ravine, there's a 100-yard stretch that's usually overgrown. There's some poison oak among all the other plants, so step carefully. The vegetation opens up a little as the trail rounds a bend and continues descending through an attractive forest.
As it re-enters the lower eucalyptus grove, the trail jogs left at a dirt road and then passes through a dense thicket of poison oak. Continue straight at the next dirt road to reach the visitor's center, or turn left and walk just a few steps to reach a trail that descends past the pastures of the Little Farm, with its black rams and cows and little red barn among a backdrop of dark conifer-clad hills.
© 2013 David Baselt