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The Los Vaqueros Watershed

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The Los Vaqueros Reservoir, seen from the Vista Grande Trail


The Los Vaqueros Watershed is a huge property in the foothills at the far eastern edge of the Diablo Range. It’s a popular destination for fishing and boating, but it also has an extensive network of trails. However, in comparison to the neighboring preserves, where the trails are really busy, Los Vaqueros’ trails are little-used. This is probably because the other preserves offer hiking for free, while Los Vaqueros has a $6 entrance fee ($4 for Contra Costa Water District ratepayers).

Although there’s some very attractive oak woodland within the watershed, most of the trails are dirt roads over open grassland with few or no trees.

Overall the trail system is a bit too sprawling, with a lot of trails but not many interesting destinations. However, there are a few easily-reached spots with great views, most notably the Vista Grande Trail in the north part of the watershed and the Valley View Trail in the south.

The entire watershed is heavily grazed, mostly by cows but sometimes by sheep. When you pass a herd of cows they’ll almost always start following you around, sometimes galloping to get in front of you. It seems like they’re looking for handouts, since they usually give up after a few minutes.

Most of the trails are still being used as ranch roads, so they tend to be kind of wide and dusty. Some of them are surfaced with gravel, while others are rough from being trampled by cows.

The Grassland Trail

Many of the watershed's trails are unfortunatley closed from March through June, which are the best hiking months. The closures vary from year to year, but in recent years only a few trails along the shore of the reservoir have been left open.

The hills are small compared with the rest of the Diablo Range, but the trails are still surprisingly hilly, with plenty of steep climbs. There’s one exceptionally challenging climb, the Black Hills Trail to Morgan Territory, which climbs 3000 feet over just 5 miles.

The watershed has two entrances. The north entrance, near Brentwood, is not connected to the south entrance, near Livermore, except by a circuitous drive on Vasco Road. There are some really nice facilities, including a shiny new visitor center in the north and a marina in the south.


*** Eagle Ridge and Vista Grande (5.4 mi, 1150 ft)
This hike of big vistas and wide-open spaces runs along two ridgetops with superb views of the rolling, blue oak-sprinkled hills around the reservoir and the endless plain of the Central Valley.

** Peninsula Crest and Oak Savanna (10.2 mi, 1900 ft)
The quiet, little-used hike to the Los Vaqueros peninsula has a nice backcountry feel, with lots of wide open spaces, and is one of the few all-day hikes in the watershed that’s usually open in the spring.

* Los Vaqueros and West Loop (5.6 mi, 530 ft)
Starting with a walk a busy gravel road that runs along Los Vaqueros Reservoir, this route ends with the scenic West Loop Trail (formerly the Danner Trail), which climbs into an attractive blue oak grove with some nice views of Los Vaqueros Reservoir.

* The Valley View Trail (4.2 mi, 940 ft)
The Valley View Trail, at the south end of the park, climbs to a ridge with some really nice views over the Livermore Valley.

The Black Hills Trail climbs 3,000 feet to Morgan Territory


© 2015 David Baselt