Fernandez Ranch is the largest last trust property in the Bay Area that’s open to the public. It’s something of a showpiece for the John Muir Land Trust; everything from the trails to the parking lot and even the trail maps have been developed to exceptionally high standards.
The park gets a steady stream of visitors on nice spring weekends. Some of them are actually here to visit the neighboring Pinole Valley Watershed, since the Watershed’s other entrances either don’t have any parking or have steep or poorly-maintained access trails.
The trail loop described below combines several wooded singletrack trails, a bit of a rarity in the East Bay, climbing to an open ridgetop and then crossing into the Pinole Valley Watershed.
Fernandez Ranch is free, but to complete this loop you’ll need a $3 Watershed permit that can be bought online from EBMUD.
From the parking lot, take the dirt road across the large steel bridge, and continue along the road as it climbs through a shallow valley. Near the little steel windmill, turn right onto the Woodland Trail, which switchbacks up a hillside.
After crossing over a ridge, the trail enters a wooded area. The woods aren’t anything special at first, but near the end the trail briefly climbs through an open oak grove that’s quite attractive.
The scenery continues to improve as the trail emerges onto an open, grassy ridgetop. Turn left onto the Canyon Loop Trail.
At the Franklin Ridge Trail, you can turn right and continue a few yards to reach the Paul's Peak Trail (formerly the Vista Trail), which climbs to a viewpoint with a bench on top of a little knoll. The view isn’t especially exciting, though.
Otherwise, turn left onto the Franklin Ridge Trail to reach the gate for the Pinole Valley Watershed. Continue into the Watershed, where the trail winds past some nice views of rolling, oak-studded hills.
When the trail descends to an intersection, turn left and go through the gate to re-enter Fernandez Ranch. Immediately turn onto the Woodrat Trail, which winds downhill through oak woodlands. The woods are dominated by oak and are much more open and attractive here than the woods on the Woodland Trail.
Reaching the bottom of a valley, stay to the right to pick up the Woodrat Trail, which switchbacks uphill through oaks before breaking out into a ridgetop meadow.
The trail switchbacks downhill into a wide, flat valley. Continue along the Black Phoebe Trail to the parking lot.
© 2018, 2023 David Baselt