By Beverly Lane;
If you’re looking for public parkland that offers peace, quiet, natural beauty, and panoramic views, you don’t have to drive great distances to find it. Search no farther than Briones Regional Park in central Contra Costa County.
Although Briones is bordered by the communities of Martinez, Pleasant Hill, Lafayette and Orinda, its location and topography create the sense that you are many miles removed from the hustle and bustle of urban life.
Its 6,255 acres make Briones one of the largest regional parks. And 67 miles of trails offer routes from easy strolls to challenging treks for hiking, bicycling and horseback riding.
Before the arrival of Europeans, Briones was hunting and gathering ground for the Native Americans whose villages were on the shores of Carquinez Strait. The park’s name derives from Felipe and Maria Briones, who obtained a Mexican land grant and established a rancho in the area.
After passing through several ownerships in subsequent years, including water companies and Contra Costa County, the core acreage was transferred to the regional park district in 1964. Land acquisitions since then have expanded the park to its present size.
The park is home to abundant wildlife, including birds of prey, coyote, deer and mountain lions.
Briones is a favorite of hikers, equestrians and mountain bikers. The park has several entrances, of which the two most developed are the Bear Creek entrance on Bear Creek Road east of Orinda, and the Alhambra Creek Valley entrance on Reliez Valley Road south of Martinez.
There are picnic areas at both entrances, some reservable by groups and others first-come, first-served. Briones also has three group campsitesavailable by reservation. Though closed from Nov. 1 of this year through March 31, 2015, the sites will reopen after that for the spring and summer seasons.
Highest point in the park is Briones Peak at 1,483 feet. But one of the best viewpoints is nearby on the Table Top Trail at the junction with the Spengler Trail. From there you can see the Diablo Valley, Mt. Diablo, the town of Martinez, the Delta, and even the Sierra Nevada crest on a clear day.
A unique feature at Briones is the Briones Archers range, which is open to the public during general park hours. For information on the club, visit www.brionesarchery.com.
Briones is fun to explore on your own. But if you’d like a guide, several free, naturalist-led hikes are scheduled this month:
There’s a moonrise hike from 5 to 7 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 6 starting at Briones’ Bear Creek Staging Area on Bear Creek Road about five miles east of Camino Pablo in Orinda. Bring a flashlight, layered clothing, water and a snack. Rain cancels it.
A “canine capers” six-mile hike for people with pet dogs will be from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 16, starting at the Alhambra Creek Staging Area. The staging area is off Reliez Valley Road south of Martinez. Bring water and dog treats.
Bird watchers will enjoy a bird walk scheduled from 9 a.m. to noon on Monday, Nov. 24, starting at the Bear Creek entrance.
For information on the moonrise hike and canine caper, call 510-544-2233. For the bird walk, call 510-544-3260.