The Blue-Collar Guide to Running in the East Bay

The Best Climbs of the East Bay

Looking east from Grizzly Peak Boulevard. Photo: Daniel Parks

In Part I of our blue-collar guide to the East Bay, we reviewed some of the most scenic trails in the area. This next installment surveys some of region's best climbs! From sustained mountain ascents, to punchy hills, these quad-busting runs will get some vertical into your training.

As in the first installment, we've included Strava routes, directions, and bathroom advice. There are also post-run food and drink recommendations...on a blue-collar budget, of course!


1) Mt. Diablo

Contra Costa County

Mt. Diablo.  Photo: WindandFire

Standing over the East Bay is Mt. Diablo, a 3,849-foot mountain protected as a state park. When approached from the west, the mountain is a striking feature, rising up above the city of Walnut Creek and the surrounding environs. For those seeking sustained uphill running in the East Bay, Mt. Diablo provides a number of accessible options.

There are several different upward approaches. From the south side of the mountain, Summit Trail will lead you up to the top. There are some really neat rock formations on this trail, but the climb is more exposed and, arguably, a bit less scenic.

Eagle Peak Trail. Photo: Redwood Hikes

I prefer starting from the mountain's north side at the Mitchell Canyon visitor center, where there are reliable toilet and water facilities. I usually take the steady ascent up the Mitchell Canyon fire road, however more punchy climbing on the lower slopes can be found on the Eagle Peak trail. Both routes hit the Meridian Ridge fire road, which curves around the west side of the mountain into the Juniper Campground area. It can be a wee bit difficult to pick up the “Juniper Trail” as it heads up the hill. The single-track is on your left as you head through the campground. If you hit the paved Summit Road, you’ve gone too far.

The last section of climbing on Juniper Trail is exposed. It can be windy and chilly, even in summer. You’ll run through a parking lot before you can see the beacon tower at the top. Make sure you tap the door at the base of the beacon tower or the summit does not count! There are water fountains and bathrooms near the summit. You can take an alternative route down: North Peak trail descends and intersects with Eagle Peak, which returns down to the Mitchell Canyon trailhead.

The visitor center and beacon tower at the summit. Photo: Mountain Forecast

Bathrooms: There are plumbing bathrooms and water fountains at the Mitchell Canyon trailhead. There are bathrooms and water at the mountain summit. There are seasonally open bathrooms at the Juniper campground. There is a parking fee at Mitchell Canyon, which requires cash or check.

Strava Route - (for the Mitchell Canyon fire road out & back): 13.5 miles. Vertical gain: 3,360 feet. Average grade: 5%
How To Get There
Mt. Diablo State Park Website.

Post-Run Lunch: Ed’s Mudville Grill - Located near Mitchell Canyon in the town of Clayton, this spot is a local favorite with a sports-bar ambiance.  The menu is an extensive array of pub food—burgers, sandwiches, BBQ, etc. It’s a good place to indulge in a burger and a beer. The outdoor patio seating has a leafy Main-Street-America atmosphere.   ~$15-20



2) Claremont Canyon

Berkeley, CA

The view midway up Claremont. Photo: Redwood Hikes

Located south of UC Berkeley’s campus, the Claremont Canyon path is a remarkable urban fire trail that winds up a steep spine of ridgeline. Featuring pitches up to a 30% grade, Claremont Canyon is a great option if you need accessible vertical close to the East Bay’s urban centers. The trailhead into the Claremont Canyon Regional Preserve is approachable on foot from both north Oakland and downtown Berkeley.

Technically called the "Stonewall-Panoramic Trail," the path begins at the edge of the Clark Kerr campus, a southeast extension of Berkeley’s main campus. After a few mellow switchbacks, the trail pitches audaciously upwards. After some serious uphill, runners reach a gate and some reprieve at a road. Follow this paved section a few hundred meters to where the trail starts up again. At this point, the trail continues with short descents that punctuate super-steep climbing. The uphill finishes in a little grove of trees, about a quarter mile away from Grizzly Peak Boulevard.

Be aware, the footing is a bit treacherous, especially when you descend on your return. There is loose gravel on a few of the steepest pitches, making slide outs possible. So wear shoes with a bit of tread on them.

The trail is a great option for those in Oakland or Berkeley looking to work on their climbing and descending skills without spending an hour in a car. But don’t take my word for it. Hoka One One ultrarunner Chris Denucci used the trail extensively in his buildup to the 2017 Western States Endurance Run, where he finished 5th. Check out one of Denucci’s Claremont Canyon workouts on Strava.

Bathrooms: There is no toilet or water access along the trail. But there are *usually* toilets not far away in the Clark Kerr campus. As of late, portable toilets have been set up north of the trailhead near a volleyball court below the dirt track. There is sometimes a portable toilet on the track itself, but not always. A water fountain is available on the east side of the dirt track.

Strava Route - Distance: 1.9 miles. Vertical gain: 1,410 feet. Average grade: 14%
How To Get There
Claremont Canyon Regional Preserve webpage (includes trail map)

Photo: Kingfish
Post-Run Beer:  Follow Claremont Avenue away from the hill and you will reach the Kingfish Pub, a neighborhood staple and unofficial bar of the That’s Fine Track Club. This place is so beloved that the entire building was lifted and moved from its original location to a new space at Telegraph and Claremont. With a dive-bar interior, you’ll stoop into the dimly lit space, which features low-ceilings, free popcorn, and a shuffleboard table. But the cramped interior opens out into a huge open patio.  You can get a beer and bump for $7.



3) The Woodmonster

Oakland, CA

Madrone Trail. Photo: Author

Perhaps the gnarliest climb in Redwood Park is “The Woodmonster,” a tough hill that occurs midway through the the annual Woodminster cross-country race.  While only about 0.8 miles long, the Woodmonster forces runners to change gears several times. The terrain changes from switchback ascents, to punchy rock-laden pitches, to stair-like logs, to some awkward tree roots. But the climb is quite scenic, as the sheer ascent brings runners directly through the different floral ecologies of the park.

The route is not intuitive. The climb starts amid the redwoods on Stream Trail, cutting up Tres Sendas Trail, before a quick left turn onto Star Flower. One then takes a hard left, switchbacking onto French Trail. After a false flat on French, one turns right onto Madrone Trail, which yawps barbarically upwards on a set of rocky steps. This climb is a stout effort.

The Woodmonster Strava segment ends when Madrone Trail intersects with West Ridge Trail (about 200 meters beyond the top of the climb). However, you can add a few more feet of vertical by following a path upward to the very top of Redwood Peak. There’s an interesting sandstone formation up here, with some decades-old graffiti carved.

Redwood Peak. Photo: David Hodson
It’s easy to make loops from this climb by running either direction on West Ridge Trail. If you’re looking to run repeats of the hill, consider taking Redwood Peak Trail down to French Trail. Turning right on French will lead you back to Star Flower Trail, where you can run back down to the start at Stream Trail.

Bathrooms:  Can be tricky. There is a toilet in Redwood Bowl about 500 meters from the top of the climb down West Ridge.  There nearest toilets at the base of the climb are nearly a mile down Stream Trail toward the park entrance.

Race: The mid-summer Woodmonster Trail Race features the climb during an 8-mile handicapped tour of the park.

Strava Route - Distance: 0.8 miles. Elevation change: 685 feet. Average grade: 14%
How To Get There - You can start nearby (and descend) from here. Or enter the park from Redwood Road ($5 parking fee).
Redwood Regional Park Webpage (includes trail map)

Post-run Breakfast:  Check out the Coffee Mill on Grand Avenue for caffeine and a bite. There’s an older feel to the space and it lacks the manicured coziness of second- and third-wave coffee shops. The drip coffee is so-so, but I recommend the Dirty Chai, especially if you’re coming off an early morning workout. There’s a sizable breakfast menu to help start the post-run day. ~$6-14



4) Las Trampas Regional Wilderness

Danville and San Ramon, CA

Las Trampas Ridge. Photo: Wiki Commons

Those in search of rugged, rolling trail should check out Las Trampas, west of Danville and San Ramon. These fire trails feature some rugged running with steep climbs and descents. Indeed, Bay Area Hiker called this open space "the tough guy of the East Bay Regional Park District." So it's no surprise that local race series Brazen Racing uses this beastly stretch of terrain for their championship half-marathon, which features almost 4,000 feet of vertical change.

Las Trampas is exposed. It is very warm during the summer and muddy during the winter. No surprise that the wilderness was named for the Spanish word for "traps." So bring water.

The crest of Rocky Ridge Trail. Photo: Nitin Tomar

If your quads need a thrashing for an upcoming ultramarathon, Las Trampas is an ideal playground. As a reward you'll be treated to incredible views of Mt. Diablo and the surrounding foothills. The Brazen race starts at a staging area at the end of Bollinger Canyon Road, well into the wilderness and a five-mile drive from I-680. There are also trailheads in the neighborhoods west of Danville or San Ramon. Just be mindful of parking restrictions on these residential streets.

Bathrooms: There are portable toilets and drinking water at the staging area off Bollinger Canyon Road.

Photo: Wiki Commons

The Brazen Championship Course - Distance: ~13 miles. Elevation change: 3,989 feet.
Las Trampas Regional Wilderness webpage (includes trail map)
How To Get There: Danville Suburbs (steep start) or Bollinger Canyon Road

Post-Run Brunch: My affordable-food radar gets dim on this gentrified side of the hills. But I've found Millie's Kitchen outside Lafayette to be a pleasant place to refuel after a run in Contra Costa county. It's a convenient location for those heading back west on Highway 24. The All-American breakfast fare won't appeal to the most smug of foodies, but I like the unpretentious atmosphere and big portions. It you're feeling indulgent try the coffee cake.  ~$15-18


5) Tunnel Road

Oakland, CA

Most of the images of Tunnel Road are from upscale realtors.

A favorite among cyclists, Tunnel Road is a great option for runners seeking a sizable climb with moderate elevation gradients. The road itself is narrow, but with low traffic. Indeed, on a weekend you will see more bikes than cars on the climb. So it’s easy to get into a nice rhythm as you move up the curving pavement. Tunnel Road winds from Highway 13 up to Grizzly Peak Boulevard near Sibley Regional Preserve.

This is an interesting part of the Berkeley/Oakland hills. Much of it was burned during the 1991 Oakland firestorm, which blazed through 1,500 acres, destroying over 3,000 homes. New housing developments have sprung up since the fire, including some pretty funky home designs. The road also passes the old western portal for the original tunnel. Variously called the Kennedy or Broadway Tunnel, a plaque remains at what was once the western portal to the road’s namesake.


The climb treats runners to views of Highway 24 and the Caldecott Tunnel. If you run at rush hour, you’ll get a depressing sense of the incredible volume of automobile traffic in California. Near the top, the road bends southwards to offer more scenic views of the Bay Bridge and downtown Oakland.

The "formal" start of the climb begins at the Oakland Hills Fire Memorial Park. From this point it is almost exactly 5 kilometers to the intersection of Grizzly Peak. Technically, Tunnel Road becomes Skyline Boulevard when you pass over the Caldecott Tunnel (hundreds of feet below you), but there is ample signage (designed for cyclists) that gives you updates about how far you are to the summit.

It is very easy to extend this climb by starting lower at the famous Claremont Hotel, and running up to the turn-off at the Fire Memorial. Be aware, this section of road is highly trafficked, especially during commute hours. There are very few opportunities to safely cross this section of Tunnel/Hwy 13 on foot during rush hour. Make sure you run up the left side of the road, which will lead to the more residential sections of the climb without danger.

The Claremont Hotel. Photo: Expedia

Bathrooms: There are no bathrooms at the start of climb. However, on the other side of Highway 24 there are bathrooms at the North Oakland Regional Sports Center. (Map link here).

Strava Segment - Distance: 3 miles. Elevation change: 762 feet. Average grade: 5%
How to Get There

Post-run Coffee:  This part of town is a coffee fanatics dream. Follow Claremont Avenue down the hill from the hotel to a cluster of options. Cole Coffee is a neighborhood staple, featuring a social atmosphere and custom-drip cups. If you're feeling peckish go to Spasso, where there are affordable sandwiches, ample table space, and super cheap "day-old" pastries. $4-10



Honorable Mentions:
 
The queue at Mission Peak. Photo: Redwood Hikes

Mission Peak:  Mission Peak is a victim of its own greatness. Proximate to the large populations of the South Bay, accessing the trail that leads to the summit has become almost nightmarish. If you can find a place to park your car, the climb is still a stout one. However once you reach the summit you might have to get in line behind folks waiting to take a selfie before you can tap the landmark pole.

The Cal Fire Trail:  We are going to save a lengthier description of the Cal Fire Trail for another installment, but it’s worth noting that the trail begins just east of UC Berkeley’s campus and climbs up the canyon to the top of the ridge line. The trail is a generally mild climb, but it does include the gut-busting “Connector” a 200ish-meter section of trail that zooms up to a 25% grade. Rumor has it that Nike trail running pro Alex Varner once did a session of 20 repeats up and down this beast.

 

Forgot your Running Shoes? 

For shoes, gear, and info on local events and races, check out Transports, the local running store with locations in both Berkeley and Oakland. The store also hosts weekly events around the area, so it is worth signing up for their social media and emails.

Special Thanks

A special thank you to Dave Baselt at Redwood Hikes, for allowing use of his photography. Check out his extensive and detailed list of trails and hikes across California. Redwood Hikes has an extensive number of trail maps for sale in print or digital download.

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Check out the previous installment... "The Most Scenic Trails in the East Bay"

Comments

  1. Las Trampas is the best. Parking in Alamo is a better option if you're coming from the Hwy 24 direction to cut driving time. Here's a shorter 5mile/1,800 ft route starting in Alamo if you want to maximize killer vert, single track and vistas:

    https://www.strava.com/routes/9633526

    Note that this route takes you off the beaten fire roads at several points, so care must be taken to stay on the correct trail.

    ReplyDelete

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