Hike by Matthew Bettelheim, originally published in the January 2007 issue of Bay Nature magazine
Calling the Sunol Regional Wilderness's Little Yosemite area a scenic gorge is like calling Yosemite a pretty valley. This little gem, tucked away along a stretch of Alameda Creek, has been made accessible to the public by an agreement between the San Francisco Water Department and the East Bay Regional Park District. While there are scores of reasons to visit Sunol, Little Yosemite Falls should top the list.
From the southern end of the parking lot, the falls itself is a leisurely, mostly flat 1.5-mile hike along the Camp Ohlone Road fire trail as it roughly parallels Alameda Creek. Winding through coast live oak and valley oak woodland and patches of chaparral, you could stumble across a bobcat, tarantulas (in fall), or several kinds of snakes (in warmer months). Alameda Creek is also one of the few places in the Bay Area home to foothill yellow-legged frogs, which are especially common at Little Yosemite. At the falls, where alders and grassy tussocks recall the alpine air of higher altitudes, a quick scramble down the bank will bring you to the boulder-strewn channel. In summer, the creek is perfect for rock-hopping and exploration. But when the rains come and Little Yosemite Falls is most resplendent, stick to your camera on the banks above to get all the drama you need!
Getting there: From I-680, take the Calaveras Road/Highway 84 exit. Head east on Calaveras Road four miles, then turn left onto Geary Road, which will bring you to the park entrance. $5 to park. Open 7 a.m. to sunset. Dogs allowed.