The challenging Ramage Peak Trail is the Oakland Hills' most remote trail, meandering for miles through wonderfully peaceful green and gold hills with no signs of suburban development. There's a nice mixture of woods and open grasslands throughout the hike, but the first half is mostly singletrack through dense bay laurel woods, while the much hillier second half is mostly dirt roads through open grassland. There's a lot of up-and-down throughout the entire hike, which makes this an unusually difficult route but also provides lots of scenic views.
Most of the route is grazed by cattle. Cows are everywhere and the sound of their bellowing echoes over the hills. After it rains the cows churn up the dirt roads and the trail can become almost impassable; it takes weeks to dry out.
Until September 2016 the sound of gunfire from the Chabot marksmanship range could be heard along almost the entire trail, but the range is now closed.
For the most part the trail isn't very busy; there are usually a few hikers on the first half, and you usually get the second half to yourself until you reach Rocky Ridge. The last mile into Bollinger Canyon is quite popular. The trail requires an EBMUD hiking permit, which you can buy online and print out.
The trail starts at a parking lot off of Redwood Road. The singletrack begins just a few yards down a gated dirt road and starts climbing gently through dense woods. There's a lot of poison oak throughout the wooded sections; although it's easy to step around, you have to keep watching for it. The first five miles of trail roughly follows a set of power lines. The sound of traffic from Redwood Road emanates over the hills.
The trail briefly runs next to a Christmas tree farm, then continues through a broad valley before climbing up a grassy hillside and out of the valley. Leveling out, the trail re-enters the woods for a long stretch. This is one of the more scenic parts of the trail.
The Old Mendoca Dairy Ranch is about 5 miles into the hike; the sign that used to mark the location is now gone. If you step off the trail, following a cow path, you can see a dilapidated shed, but little else remains of the ranch. After the ranch site the trail begins to climb through somewhat dry, scraggly-looking woods, gradually becoming steeper. After breaking out of the woods, the climb becomes very steep before it reaches a gate leading to a ridgetop dirt road.
Looking back from this ridge, you see the heavily-wooded Oakland Hills; in contrast, ahead of you are the grassy open hills of the East Bay. Ramage Peak is the distinctive small peak that looks like a mesa from this angle; it's on private land and can't actually be reached from the (somewhat misleadingly named) trail. The long ridge that rises up like a wall in front of you is Rocky Ridge. The trail changes from singletrack to dusty ranch roads and it gets a lot hotter and more difficult, with more up-and down than before.
The road descends into a heavily-grazed grassy hollow, then climbs and passes right by a cow trough located directly under Ramage Peak. There's usually a herd of very relaxed cows hanging out by the trough.
A singletrack trail climbs away from the trough to a low ridge, then enters an attractive bay laurel grove. There's a steep descent into a deep, shady canyon followed by a steep climb out of the canyon. As annoying as all the extra climbing is, this is actually one of the most scenic parts of the trail.
The singletrack ends at another ridgetop dirt road, which descends and then begins a long and difficult climb up to Rocky Ridge. The climb is so steep that in places it's difficult to keep your footing. The views are great, though; the ridge is higher than any of the other nearby hills, with views of San Francisco Bay in the distance.
The Sycamore Trail runs parallel to this section of the Rocky Ridge Loop Trail; it's much more interesting, but it adds an extra 0.8 miles and 300 feet of climbing.
The trail finally starts to level out after passing through a gate; sweeping vistas of Mount Diablo and Bollinger Canyon come into view once the trail reaches the ridge. The road runs along a fence with the singletrack Rocky Ridge View Trail on the other side; for eventually there's a gate that lets you cross over into Las Trampas. The trail descends to the popular paved trail, which descends steeply into Bollinger Canyon and the Las Trampas trailhead.
© 2016 David Baselt