The Pinole Watershed Ridge Trail follows a horseshoe-shaped ridge around a broad, grassy basin, with nice ridgetop views throughout.
The trail has always been something of a backwater since it didn't really go anywhere. This has gradually changed, beginning in 2010 when connecting trails were opened in neighboring Fernandez Ranch. In 2013, the eastern half of the Ridge Trail was rerouted over the top of a prominent knoll, which is more scenic but also has some ridiculously steep slopes. In 2018 a much easier alternate route was opened for bikes, although it can also be used by hikers. As a result, almost all of the ranch roads in the northern end of the Pinole Watershed are now open to the public, and some nice loop hikes are possible.
Nonetheless, the trail is still little-used with, according to EBMUD, only 2–3 people per week. The beginning and end of the trail are often faint and overgrown.
A $10.00 annual permit is required to use this trail. The permit can be purchased online and printed out on your printer.
Start at the prominent gate at the intersection of Alhambra Valley Road and Castro Ranch Road. There’s space to park on the shoulder just past the gate. A nearby windmill squeaks away.
The trail is almost completely invisible at first; it’s obscured first by a firebreak and then by a thick mat of grass. As it starts to climb the hill, the grass gets a little thinner and the dirt road a little clearer.
There’s a long climb up a grass-covered ridge with views over the Pinole Watershed. The trail then descends to the floor of the Pinole Watershed’s central basin, where it meets up with a much better-maintained dirt road. Turn left onto the road, which gradually ascends the gently-sloping basin with a few houses visible nearby.
The trail climbs through a little canyon to reach the ridge again. When it reaches the ridge there’s a nice level stretch of trail with some nice views of the Pinole Watershed on the right side and scattered suburban developments and distant San Pablo Bay on the left. Ahead is a prominent knoll with a dirt road going over it; this is where you’re headed.
The trail descends to a four-way intersection and an entrance to Franklin Canyon. This intersection is where the 2013 reroute begins, with a singletrack trail that climbs a hillside, passing through a sparse copse of trees. The trail turns into a dirt road. The road climbs over a knoll, descends, and then makes a steeper climb up the prominent knoll that’s been visible for the past few miles.
There are some nice views over the Pinole Watershed’s central basin and Alhambra Valley Road from the top of the knoll.
The trail then makes a short but very steep descent off of the knoll. At the bottom of the hill there’s a turn onto a singletrack trail that makes a pleasant and enjoyable descent. Near the bottom, the trail becomes increasingly overgrown with grass.
The trail ends at Pereira Road. From here you can double back on the trail or walk back along Alhambra Valley Road. It’s actually a pretty scenic walk, although there’s a lot of trash by the side of the road. Walk on the left side so that you can see the cars as the approach, and also because for most of the way the road has a gravel shoulder on the left side.
© 2018 David Baselt