Hike originally published in the July 2009 issue of Bay Nature magazine
Alongside our beloved ridgetop regional parks stretch 27,000 acres of East Bay Municipal Utility District watershed–inviting hillsides mostly closed to the public for protection of four drinking-water reservoirs. But a $10 permit gets you a year's access to 80 miles of trails, including at least one that few hikers visit, King Canyon Loop by Upper San Leandro Reservoir.
Sign in at the gate. There’s a short iffy stretch which may be muddy after rains and has 2 steep spots: an otherwise pleasant footpath under leggy, leaning eucalyptus and pines loud with birdsong leading to a well maintained fire road and bridge over San Leandro Creek, where exotically marked wood ducks often paddle. Bear right at each fork, passing west of clusters of horses on private land, over meadows dotted with feral fruit trees, oaks, and pines, some hung with nest boxes for the ducks and for bluebirds. After an easy half mile the trail overlooks reedy shallows where swifts dart and cormorants fish, before taking a roller-coaster course on steep wooded hillsides along the lake's narrow arms. Here the road cut exposes rough-edged, improbably folded ribbons of sedimentary rock, and transmission towers march so close you can hear them hissing and spitting. If you are up for a climb, make a five-mile loop back over sunny ridges, or take connecting trails to Las Trampas and Lake Chabot regional parks.
Getting there: For permits, call (925)254-3778 or (510)287-0459. From Orinda go south 4.8 miles on Moraga Way; turn right onto Canyon Road and go 1.2 miles to Valle Vista Staging Area. Large gravel parking lot has an accessible portapotty. No bicycles; dogs allowed only for first 3.1 miles.