Behold the Briones Reservoir Loop Trail in Orinda: an epic 13.5-mile hike that’s still the secret of hikers who love solitude and spring-loaded scenery! Located just beyond the busy Berkeley Hills, this lightly trafficked trek takes you from lakeshore to forest to open grasslands currently dotted with an array of wildflowers.
Spring is an ideal time to reap its best rewards (just don’t go when it’s really hot). You’ll need an East Bay Municipal Utility District Permit to do this hike, but it’s straightforward to obtain one quickly online (it’s just $3 for a day pass; see italics below). Start on the Oursan Trail by heading downhill to the reservoir, where you will encounter a paved section. Follow the paved section over the dam for about a quarter mile to get the less scenic part out of the way first. The pavement transitions to a dirt and grass trail as you pass newly completed buildings and begin a 2-mile ascent with nearly 1,000 feet of elevation gain.
The reward: amazing views of the reservoir from high above as well as serene views of the surrounding hills colored by California poppies, purpleheads, lupines, and redstem storksbill, among other wildflowers. Stay on the Oursan Trail for the next 7 miles as you cross private and public lands with cattle gates that take you from high above on the hills to walking within feet of the beautiful reservoir. With about 4 miles to go, you’ll be at the Bear Creek Staging Area (which has bathrooms).
From here you’ll take Bear Creek Trail. Most of this section is forested, and flanked by colorful wildflowers like lupine, Indian paintbrush, and trillium. The final mile inspires with a fantastic view of the reservoir, urging you towards a strong finish. Briones bragging rights for life.
NOTE: An East Bay Municipal Utility District Permit ($3 day pass) is required on the trail for one person in a party of 3. This permit can be used on your phone if you purchase while on the way to the trail. From CA-24 E, take exit 9 and turn left onto Camino Pablo Rd. for 2 miles, where you will turn right onto Bear Creek Rd. Follow Bear Creek Rd. until you reach the Briones Overlook Staging Area (map). From the Overlook Staging Area, start on the Oursan Trail. Take this trail all the way to Bear Creek Staging Area, then take the Bear Creek Trail to finish the hike. Be sure to bring snacks and plenty of water for this hike as there are no fill-up locations along the trail. Parts of this trail are dog-friendly, but others are not, so if you plan to do the entire loop, leave Fido at home.