Summer hikes in the East Bay can be challenging if you hike mid-day. Even the birds grow quiet, prefering to hang in the shade and watch weary hikers walk on by. One way to avoid the fatigue and dust of a hike in the heat is to start out early. It's also a great way to observe the beautiful morning light. Dawn is when the birds start chattering, and you'll have an opportunity to see them hunting for their breakfast.
This hike is a beautiful combination of rolling, oak studded hills, canopied trails and spectacular views. It starts at the Reliez Valley Staging Area, in Lafayette. (Just up the street, opposite, is the serene and welcoming Buddha Gate Monastery, well worth a visit.)
Mileage: 6.33 miles
Ascent: 2821 feet
Descent: 2817 feet
The parking area at the Reliez Valley Station is small, so get there early enough to grab a spot. Start out on the Blue Oak Trail, just past the gate.
The trail splits, but reconnects later. I took the single track trail on the left to avoid any bikers.
The early morning sun gave a golden glow to the hills and Oaks as I climbed up the Blue Oak Trail.
The trail here opens to a wider fire road. You'll have views of rolling hills and the local suburbia, and even though this trail gets busier during the day, at this time of the morning it was peaceful and quiet. In the high grasses, I saw a family of Wild Turkeys, and they scattered as I moved past them.
Self Portrait on the Blue Oak Trail:
At 1.26 miles - Take a Left on to Spengler Trail. Spengler splits here, but keep left for this trip to Briones Peak.
1.57 miles - Right on to Table Top Trail - On your climb to Briones Peak
From Table Top Trail, you'll see expansive views of the Carquinez Strait, and the Benicia/Martinez Bridge. You'll see this view again at the top of Briones Peak.
1.94 miles - Keep Right on to Briones Crest Trail to Briones Peak
2.14 miles - On your Right is an unmarked little path to Briones Peak. Follow this path for a short bit to a fence. On the other side of the fence is a nice bench with a view of the Carquiniz Strait. If you're up to it, climb over the bars, sit and have a nice meal/snack/beverage.
Return back down and head back the way you came. At the Table Top/Briones Peak intersection, take a right on to Table Top Trail. This will take you on a nice, senic loop, but eventually leads back to the staging area. Or, you could call it a day and return the way you came. If you rested at Briones Peak, and had a snack, take the loop. It's great exercise.
Scenes from the Loop:
Follow Table Top, and keep bearing left as you hike back. This loop is going to take you back to the Table Top/Spengler split. You'll follow Table Top on this loop, and eventually take a Left back on to Spengler.
At about 4.72 miles, you'll be back at the Table Top/Spengler split. Continue Right on to Spengler. Follow Spengler until you get back to the first split.
Take a Right here, on to Blue Oak Trail. This will take you back to the Reliez Valley Staging Area.