The road across the dam is closed weekdays from 8 am to 5 pm until September 2022. An alternate route is available that adds about three-quarters of a mile to the hike. The loop can still be hiked normally on weekends.
This is a very pretty loop around Briones reservoir that, like most EBMUD trails, feels a lot quieter and more remote than the typical East Bay park. Briones Reservoir is also one of the few EBMUD properties to have a substantial length of singletrack trail — about a quarter of the loop. The loop is long for a day hike, but it’s relatively easy and fast for its length.
The loop has a nice progression of typical East Bay environments: the trail climbs up into open grass-covered hills, where there’s almost no tree cover; then it meanders along the shore of the reservoir, a mostly flat stretch of trail that’s partially under oak woods; and finally it climbs into dense, shady woods on the south side of the reservoir.
The Oursan Trail, on the northern side of the reservoir, gets few visitors. The Bear Creek Trail, on the southern side, is much more popular, with a lot of people taking short out-and-back hikes from the staging areas.
The three miles between the dam and the Hampton Trail get unpleasantly muddy any time it rains; even light rain creates clay that aggressively sticks to and weighs down your shoes.
A $10.00 annual permit is required to use this trail. The permit can be purchased online and printed out on your printer.
The first mile of the hike is the least scenic part, as the route follows a dry, dusty gravel road over the dam. Also, for a while the trail follows some less-than-scenic sets of electrical lines that radiate out from a nearby substation. But the scenery gradually improves as the trail climbs and views open up over the reservoir and the East Bay hills. The trail then descends, passing through a wooded area before reaching the shore of the glittering reservoir.
The scenery improves dramatically as the trail passes the intersection with the Hampton Trail; in fact, the next five miles is by far the best part of the hike. In this area the road turns into an overgrown track. Hugging the reedy shore, it passes through oak woods and grassy fields with scenic views of the dark lake. This part of the trail is mostly level, although as it approaches the Bear Creek Road staging area there are a series of up-and-down undulations. There’s a lot of shade in this section, so it’s comfortable even on warm days; in winter, though, it gets muddy.
After the Bear Creek Staging Area the trail briefly passes through dense woods, then emerges onto a disused paved road. The road is flat and straight, running toward the reservoir and then along the shore. Although there are some glimpses of the reservoir, it’s mostly hidden by the trees.
The road changes into a singletrack trail that dives into the woods and begins to climb. At first the woods are dense and dark bay laurel stands, but as the trail climbs it gradually changes to brighter stands of oak. There’s also a lot of poison oak here, although the trail is well-used and generally clear.
The trail runs alongside Bear Creek Road for a bit but eventually dives back into the woods. It crests at a viewpoint where there are two benches within a pure stand of oaks. Although the view of the reservoir is limited by the trees, this point makes a nice short hike from the parking lot and seems to be the reservoir’s most popular destination.
The woods aren’t as dense and the scenery isn’t quite as nice as the trail descends back to the parking lot, but there are some nice views of the reservoir. There’s a second bench where you can listen to the sounds of the waves lapping at the shoreline below and the wind blowing through a little pine grove that surrounds the bench.
© 2012, 2013, 2017, 2022 David Baselt