It’s a little silly that we have been writing posts on this blog for four months now and not addressed Wildcat Canyon. We’ve mentioned before that this is our “go-to” trail, the place we spend the MOST time outside, the place our daughter has had two of her three birthday parties, the place that we know in every season. It feels a little like sharing one’s favorite, well-worn hoodie. But it’s also a great place to take kids hiking (and hoodies are the bestest), so we really should share the wonders of Wildcat with you.
Wildcat Canyon is the northernmost end of the series of East Bay Regional Parks that start in Lake Chabot, almost exactly 30 miles away. You can start in Wildcat and cross pavement maybe twice on your way to Lake Chabot. Now, with the latest opening of the North Garin Ridge Trail section, I think you can add another 18-20 miles of continuous trail– making it possible to do close to 50 miles, point-to-point! But I digress.. this is not a great plan for small people. (Although I would LOVE to organize a family-friendly Ridge Trail backpacking trip in the next couple of years– let me know if you would like to be in on this endeavor!) It is a mix of grasslands and oak, and the riparian corridor of Wildcat Creek runs along the western edge of the park.
The main entrance to the trails is the Alvarado Staging Area. It’s just past the entrance to Alvarado Park (the “park” part of the park, with BBQs and a play area– also worth checking out). From here, you can take Wildcat Creek Trail, which is very flat for the most part, all the way to Tilden– it runs right into Jewel Lake. However, this trail, while flat (great for a baby jogger– our toddler spent many an hour on this trail), is not the best Wildcat has to offer, in our opinion. For a great hike with the kiddos, head left at the Bonita trail until you get to the Monte Cresta trail. Along the Monte Cresta trail, right now you can find seasonal ponds with tadpoles! Continue along Monte Cresta (enjoy the view of the Bay as you go through the gate) until you reach Belgum trail. You can go left and continue along the ridge if you have hearty hikers, coming down to Wildcat Creek Trail at Mezue or Havey Canyon, but if you have smaller hikers who do not want to do more hills, take a right turn down the hill at Belgum trail.
However, one spot not to be missed is the remains of the Belgum Sanitarium. As you come down Belgum, you will see a sign and small trail to the left of Belgum trail. Read the sign and then take the very short trail to the ruins of the sanitarium. Depending on the season, you might see blackberry plants, roses-gone-wild, wild plum trees, or apples. If you continue past the ruins to a meadow (look for an old apple tree and a huge wild plum to the left) that offers beautiful views of the Bay– one of our favorite weeknight picnic spots. After exploring the sanitarium, head back to Belgum or go through the gate at the meadow and make your way down the steep section to Wildcat Creek Trail, from whence you can head left back to the parking lot.
Another favorite entrance of ours is Rifle Range Road (which is currently closed due to a landslide, but keep checking back)– there is very little parking here, but it’s a good place to explore the creek. Once you park, the trail heads straight down to Wildcat Creek, about .75 mile from the parking lot. It’s a climb back up, but kids & creeks are always a magical combination. This is another favorite short, “let’s get outside for an hour” hike. You could also get some hearty hikers to head up Conlon trail from Rifle Range (jump on Wildcat Creek trail for just a few minutes) to see some of the best views of the entire East Bay, in my opinion. (I think they’re better than the much more populated Sea View trail in Tilden, but I’m a little biased, it’s true.)
Once you’ve exhausted the trails (or your hikers), Alvarado Park is a beautiful place to take a moment to picnic and learn about the park’s history– in the 1920’s, it had a dance hall that later became a roller rink! The WPA stonework remains, but they’ve added a modern playground. Additionally, like most of the East Bay Regional Parks, Wildcat Canyon is dog-friendly!
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