This map shows a few possible loops exploring lower Cerrito Creek and Albany Hill, an amazing urban oasis. Open Street Map gives an idea of the possibilities, although the details of their trails are not to be counted on.
You may want to start, or end, you walk at Peet's Coffee, San Pablo at Carlson, or one of the many eateries in Pacific East Mall, 3288 Pierce St. From either one, you can reach El Cerrito's Creekside Park and the trailhead shown, mostly following creekside trail or walkway. (Near Peets, this walkway starts at Adams Street.)
A little west of the table in Creekside Park, look for the ford with stepping stones, and steps going up the opposite bank. If you don't see the stepping stones, water probably is too high — continue downstream, cross at Pierce, and walk back on the level trail on the south side.
At the top of the bank on the south side, you enter a grassy meadow. To you right, the service road leads west to Pierce — for an easy, level, loop walk, continue to Pierce and return on the norrth bank.
To your left, the service road ends at Middle Creek (westernmost of the fan of creeks that come together to form Cerrito Creek) and a willow grove that appears on the earliest maps. Cerrito Creek itself, now confined to a straight channel at the foot of Albany Hill, once meandered in a broad marshland, now filled and built on.
Follow the dirt trail that heads southeast, slightly uphill. Note flecks of shell in the trail — this was a Native American settlement, supported by the oaks on the north side of the hill, the willows, the marsh, the nearby Bay, and fresh water from two creeks.
Before you reach steps across a seasonal creeklet, look carefully for the trail heading uphill. Take this trail only wearing long pants and sleeves, and only if you can recognize the poison oak edging it. The trail switchbacks up fairly steeply to the end of Jackson Street, the turnaround at the end of Taft, and then, more gently, up to the broad summit. Views here are filtered by eucalyptus trees. In the late 1800s, dynamite companies located where the large condominiums are now planted the eucalyptus to muffle the sound of explosions and catch debris. They were forced farther north in the early 1900s, after a particularly spectacular and deadly explosion and fire. Wintering monarch butterflies, as well as hawks and owls, now use the trees. The understory harbors a wide variety of California native plants.
Albany Hill is a hunk of Jurassic sandstone (that is, formed in the age of dinosaurs) carried here on the Pacific plate and caught on the edge of North America. Although it seems to stand alone, it has companions: Fleming Point and Pt. Isabel (both now dynamited and used for Bay fill, a fate Albany Hill narrowly avoided), Brooks Island, and the hills at Pt. Richmond.
From the summit, you can take one of several fire roads down to Pierce Street, looping back along Pierce and then on creekside trail on either side of the creek. Near Pierce, salt-loving plants and steep banks show that the creek here is brackish and tidal. Look for ducks, egrets, and the occasional kingfisher.
The map shows an alternative loop via Madison Street and Peets, for those who want to avoid the 250' elevation gain and the poison oak.
You also can leave Albany Hill to the south, descent via Catherine's Walk, and explore restored Codornices Creek or even cross the the Bay Trail. But that is another outing.