This full-day hike loops through the suburban east side of Briones Regional Park. It’s a challenging hike with lots of ups and downs, but it’s really quite rewarding, with striking panoramic vistas, attractive oak woods, and a nice variety of scenery. Parts of the hike are slick with mud and can be nearly impassible in winter.
The hike starts in an attractive, open glen at the end of Springhill Road. The narrow road is marked “Private”, but it’s OK to park in the pullout at the trailhead. Unfortunately the pullout sometimes fills up on weekends, in which case the closest place to park is Springhill Elementary School, 1.4 miles down the road.
Take the level trail to the right through the meadow and into the woods. Cross over to the Buckeye Ranch Trail using the shortcut trail to your right, or continue to the official creek crossing 300 yards further up (the shortcut is now so eroded that it’s not really safe anymore). The road leads into a scenic oak grove and then breaks out into grassland as it starts to climb.
The trail climbs for about a mile along an undulating grassy ridge. Reaching the crest, turn right onto the Briones Crest Trail, which climbs through oak woods, then turn onto the Spengler Trail.
The Spengler Trail has a lot of steep climbs and descents; most people seem to think it’s not worthwhile, since it’s one of the least-used through trails in the park. But the ups and downs are short and the woods are quite pleasant, with scenic glimpses of the Reliez Valley and the Walnut Creek suburbs below. The scenery is also different from most of the park’s other trails, adding variety to the loop.
Near the beginning, the trail dives into the woods and begins a steep descent down a slope that, in winter, is covered in deep mud churned up by cows. This is the most troublesome part of the entire hike. The trail then ascends through chaparral. After a right turn the trail enters dense woods and begins another steep descent. Around the Blue Oak Trail there’s a very attractive grove of blue oaks; like most such groves, it’s quite open, with the trees growing over a grassy lawn.
The two biggest climbs are the steep ascent before the Diablo View Trail and the ascent to the Maricich Lagoons.
At the Maricich Lagoons, the trail breaks out into open grassland with scenic views of the Carquinez Strait. The views improve as the trail climbs. The Table Top Trail after the Antenna Farm has the best views of the hike, of Walnut Creek, although you then pay for it with a series of annoying small but steep up and downs.
The final stretch of the Briones Crest Trail is very nice, passing through open oak woods with great views south along the I-680 corridor. There?s a very steep descent on the Lafayette Ridge Trail with excellent views of the dramatically undulating trail.
Turn left onto the Buckeye Ranch Trail, which descends very steeply into the woods before finally flattening out for a pleasant final half-mile. Alternatively, you can reach 3000 ft of elevation gain by continuing along the ridiculously hilly Lafayette Ridge Trail for another half-mile, then turning left onto the Springhill Trail.
© 2018, 2023 David Baselt