Since the popularity of Mission Peak’s Hidden Valley Trail has upset local residents, the park district has been trying to get visitors to use the Peak Trail instead. Both trails are about the same length and both end up at the peak, but the Peak Trail has Ohlone College’s nice big parking structure right at the trailhead, where anyone can park for free on Sundays, $4 on other days.
The problem is that the Peak Trail isn’t nearly as scenic or enjoyable. Admittedly it does have more variety, curving around to the back side of the mountain where there’s a short stretch of woods and views of the endless rolling brown hills to the east before the grand view of the Bay Area is dramatically revealed near the end, but for the most part the views are somewhat mundane. A few years ago it wasn’t that busy and had a certain backcountry charm, but now there’s about two or three groups per minute on a nice weekend. On average the Peak Trail gets about a quarter the number of visitors that the Hidden Valley Trail does, but on really crowded weekends the two trails feel about equally busy.
The trail starts at Ohlone College. Drive up Pine Street and park in the big parking structure (there’s only one). If it’s a Saturday or a weekday, pay at the machine, which somewhat inconventiently is all the way in the back of the structure. For your $4.00 you’ll get a nice cool covered parking spot right next to the trailhead. Or, you can park for free on Mission Blvd, which adds 12 minutes and a half-mile to the round trip hike.
Across the street from the parking garage, the trail immediately starts climbing an open hillside. From below come the sounds of team workouts on the college’s playing fields. This part of the hike gets very hot in the afternoon; on the way back, trudging down the hot, dry trail, the nearby Ohlone College swimming pool looks incredibly inviting, but sadly it’s not open to the public.
Although the altitude is still pretty low, there are some pretty nice views west and north of Fremont and the Fremont Hills from this part of the trail. Curving around the hillside, the trail enters a ravine and passes under the welcome shade of a few trees. The trail then continues to climb through the ravine without the benefit of any shade.
After passing a pond that’s dried-up in summer but that sometimes covers the trail in winter, the dirt road becomes a singletrack trail that runs through a longer and very welcome wooded stretch. This part of the trail also runs alongside a road, but the trees are such a welcome change that it hardly matters.
Soon the trail breaks out of the forest cover, though, and becomes a dirt road again, climbing incessantly over a bare, treeless, grassy slope. It’s common to hear gunshots or other noise from the properties below.
The best part of the hike is the high-elevation loop. At the beginning of this loop, the route joins the western route and the wide, heavily-worn trail begins a steep climb up the peak. After reaching the summit, where there’s almost always a small crowd, continue down the other side; the crowds immediately drop away and you find yourself in a much quieter, more relaxing environment.
Turn left at each trail intersection to circle back around the long, narrow peak. The trail descends, then gently ascends, through sun-baked grasslands with some nice views to the west.
After reaching the end of the loop, return the way you came.
© 2011, 2012, 2017, 2022 David Baselt