On summer days when the East Bay is hot and dry, a river of fog flows through the Golden Gate and washes up against the Oakland hills. There it supports a remarkably lush strip of redwood forest that contrasts dramatically with the miles of brown hills around it, looking like a little patch of the Santa Cruz Mountains transplanted into the East Bay.
Most of the East Bay redwoods are in Redwood Regional Park, although the neighboring Joaquin Miller Park and EBMUD property also have significant amounts of scenic redwood trails. The redwoods in all three properties have been completely logged, and the second-growth redwoods that remain today are all very small. However, since very few stumps are visible the forest doesn’t have the dismal look so common to second-growth forests.
Redwood Regional Park is very popular with hikers, joggers, and mountain bikers. At peak times you’ll encounter at least 1–2 groups per minute on just about every trail, increasing to maybe 3–4 groups on the more popular trails.
There are a lot of free parking areas on Skyline Boulevard and Redwood Road, but they should be avoided because of frequent midday car break-ins. The pay areas — Canyon Meadow or Roberts — seem a little safer since they usually have a staffed entrance kiosk.
The loop described below keeps as much as possible to the redwoods, which are the most enjoyable part of the park. Although there may be patches of mud, especially on the Stream Trail, this route can usually be hiked in winter. Other parts of the park, which aren’t covered by redwoods, tend to be much muddier.
Start at the Canyon Meadow Staging Area at the end of the access road. The trail starts off as a paved road that passes by green lawns and picnic tables. Some redwoods start to appear, but the trail doesn’t really get started until the "Trail’s End" picnic area, about three-quarters of a mile in. The picnic areas come to an end, the trail becomes a dirt road covered with redwood needles, and the redwoods become much denser and more scenic.
The trail climbs gently, passing an attractive grove of redwoods at the Chown Trail intersection. There are a few breaks in the redwoods, but overall the redwoods become denser and more lush as the canyon narrows.
The Tres Sendas Trail marks the northernmost extent of the redwoods. After this point the Stream Trail abruptly breaks out of the forest and becomes much less interesting; so instead, turn left onto the Tres Sendas trail. The trail climbs, quite steeply at first, through a ravine that’s very densely carpeted with small redwoods. This is the darkest and densest part of the park’s redwood forest.
Turn left onto the singletrack French Trail, which climbs through a small side ravine and crests a little hill before descending to the Redwood Peak Trail. This section of trail, especially the descent, is the most attractive part of the entire hike and also the most challenging. There’s an extensive understory of light-green ferns and huckleberry under the light-colored redwoods. This section of trail also seems to be purpose-built singletrack rather than an old logging road, which adds to its appeal.
(The Redwood Peak Trail can be hiked as an optional side trip. It climbs to the underwhelming Redwood Peak, starting in attractive redwood forest but then breaking out of the redwoods. The trail is a little steep in places and somewhat rough. The peak itself is more of a small knoll and doesn’t have any kind of view since it’s covered in small redwoods.)
After the Redwood Peak Trail the French Trail once again becomes an old logging road. Around the Starflower Trail intersection there’s a very open pure redwood grove, one of the more striking sights of the hike.
After the Madrone Trail intersection, the scenery becomes rather mundane. The foliage seems denser and there are fewer redwoods, making it harder to see and appreciate the redwoods. However, the trail winds through several ravines with dense stands of redwoods.
The obvious route would be to continue on the French Trail all the way to its end. However, the redwood-dominated forest ends just after the Chown Trail, and the forest as a whole becomes less lush and less attractive. Although small patches of redwoods appear whenever the trail crosses a ravine, each ravine has fewer redwoods than the last, and in between ravines the redwoods become less common and finally disappear altogether. So, instead of taking the French Trail all the way to its end, take the more scenic Chown Trail, which switchbacks down through an attractive stand of redwoods. You can then take the Stream Trail back to the staging area.
© 2014, 2018 David Baselt