By Beverly Lane;
If you’re looking for a regional park that’s convenient to urban areas, but nevertheless has a wild and remote sense to it, Briones is the place to go.
With more than 6,000 acres of grassy ridgelines and forested canyons, Briones Regional Park is a nearby wilderness surrounded by the towns of Central Contra Costa County. Although the park is close to Orinda, Lafayette, Walnut Creek, Pleasant Hill, and Martinez, there are high points within it from which you can see only park and watershed lands for miles in every direction.
There are six entrances located around the perimeter of the park. You can download a brochure, which includes a trail map, by visiting the East Bay Regional Park District web site, www.ebparks.org.
Briones Peak is the highest point in the park at 1,483 feet. But you can get a better panoramic view from the nearby Table Top Trail. From that vantage point you can see Martinez, Suisun Bay and the dwindling Mothball Fleet, Concord, Pleasant Hill, Walnut Creek, Mt. Diablo, Las Trampas Regional Wilderness, and the Berkeley Hills. On a clear day the snow-capped Sierra Crest is visible to the east.
Wildlife is abundant though elusive. The list includes birds of prey, snakes, deer, coyotes, raccoons, and occasional mountain lions. During the rainy season, Briones’ small ponds swarm with newts, a variety of salamander. Spring wildflower displays can be lovely, when poppies carpet the hillsides. Shady oak-bay woodlands offer relief on hot summer days.
The park’s trails are open to equestrians, hikers and cyclists, with restrictions as indicated on the trail map. Both hikers and cyclists should yield the right of way to equestrians, and cyclists should yield to hikers. In general, cyclists are supposed to stay on the wide track trails and fire roads, which make up most of Briones’ trail system.
Amenities within Briones include two overnight camps which will be reservable by organized groups, starting April 1. There are also picnic sites with tables and barbecue stands, and an archery club range. To reserve group picnic or camping sites, call 888-327-2757, option 2. For information on the archery club, visit www.brionesarchers.org.
One of Briones’ trails is featured in the 2016 Trails Challenge, the park district’s free, self-guided program designed to encourage healthy outdoor exercise. Challenge is the right word for the hike – it’s a 10½-mile loop around the park’s east side, starting at Gloria Terrace in Pleasant Hill.
Challenge participants are given a free Trails Challenge t-shirt, while supplies last. Complete five hikes or log 26 miles by Dec. 1 to earn a Trails Challenge pin, again while supplies last. For more information about Trails Challenge, go to www.ebparks.org.
An inter-park trail system links Briones to other regional parks. From the Lafayette Ridge Staging Area on Pleasant Hill Road near Acalanes High School you can take the Briones to Mt. Diablo Regional Trail east over the hill past Acalanes Ridge Open Space to Larkey Park in Walnut Creek and beyond.
From Larkey Park the trail leads through Walnut Creek, Borges Ranch, and Diablo Foothills Regional Park into Mt. Diablo State Park and on to the summit. You might want to pack lunch if you’re attempting that trek. The Briones to Mt. Diablo Trail also crosses the Iron Horse Regional Trail, which extends more than 30 miles from Concord to Pleasanton.
So there’s a whole network of parks and trails to explore out there, and Briones is a great place to start. The park district web site, which contains information, maps, and program announcements, is your key to nearby outdoor adventure in all the regional parks.