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).
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 open flatlands along Kellogg Creek at the northern end of the watershed are also exceptionally attractive; most Bay Area parks are in the hills and it’s unusual to be able to hike in undeveloped flatlands.
The entire watershed is heavily grazed, mostly by cows but sometimes by sheep. The cows here are really excitable; when they see you, the entire herd will either stampede in some random direction or start following you around. 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.
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. The few trails that do pass through or near woods are closed in the spring so that hikers don’t disturb nesting golden eagles.
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.
* The Valley View Trail (4.2 mi, 940 ft)
This hike at the south end of the park climbs to a ridge with some really nice views over the Livermore Valley.
© 2015 David Baselt