Yes, it was a long and rainy winter, but there’s a silver lining. The waterfalls are full and flowing and wildflowers are in bloom everywhere.
The best places to see wildflowers and waterfalls in the East Bay Regional Park District include Morgan Territory Regional Preserve, east of Mount Diablo; Black Diamond Mines in Antioch; Briones Regional Park in Central Contra Costa; and Sunol Regional Wilderness. The North Bay destinations include Sonoma Valley Regional Park and Sugarloaf Ridge State Park. We have selected a handful of lovely locations to start you off, but there are many more locations around the Bay Area.
Sugarloaf Ridge State Park and Canyon-Pony Gate Loop is about 50 miles from Benicia and it’s well worth the ride. It’s home to some of the finest hiking and waterfalls you’ll find in the North Bay. The views from the top of Bald Mountain are magnificent and include San Francisco Bay, Mount Diablo, Mount Tamalpais, the Coastal Range and the Pacific. Sonoma Creek’s seasonal waterfall is currently on full display, and the Canyon Pony Gate Loop is one of the easiest treks that will take you to it. After just 15 minutes of light hiking, you’ll be lounging in a shaded canyon next to the roaring waterworks, cooling your feet in the crystal stream while you watch the waterfall rush through piles of rocks and boulders.
Sugarloaf Ridge boasts an amazing display of wildflowers with hillside grasslands full of lupines, paintbrush and iris, wet areas with seep-spring monkey flower, creeks with Western azalea, chaparral areas with ceanothus and chamise, hardwood forests with delicate chocolate lilies and redwood forests with starflower. Sugarloaf Ridge State Park wildflower walks are $10 and an entry fee or park pass is required for vehicles. These walks are 1-3 miles long.
The Waterfall Trail on Mt. Diablo may seem like an oxymoron, given the mountain’s reputation for extreme dry heat. It seems almost impossible that there could be even a single waterfall on Mt. Diablo, especially to those of us who have hiked it on a blistering summer day. But, there is an entire trail dedicated to numerous falls.
The Falls Trail is a 7mile loop trail located amongst the many paths on Mount Diablo’s north slope. The view is fantastic and there are plenty of places to stop and enjoy scenery. Clamber up Mount Diablo’s fire roads—as scenic as they are steep—to be rewarded with panoramic views of the Bay Area. Along the way, the oak- and pine-lined trail is fringed with a myriad of wildflowers like paintbrush, sticky monkey flower, poppies and purple Chinese houses. If you’re lucky, you’ll come across the striking lemon-yellow bulbs of Mount Diablo fairy lanterns, a rare lily that only blooms here. Vehicle Entrance Fee is $10.00
Little Yosemite, in Sunol Regional Wilderness, is stunning and fairly easy to get to. The gently sloped trail takes you to Little Yosemite, where you’ll be greeted by a fairytale sight—a series of waterfalls cascading down a rocky incline. Climb the boulders that form the waterfalls, or take in the view from the picnic area. Bring along the pup—the park is dog friendly.
Sunol Regional Wilderness is also home to many species of wildflowers. There are several trails that lead up through the hills, with great vistas and wonderful oak trees. Since it is so close to developed areas there are many non-native plants, but they are nestled among a wealth of native species. Sunol offers an amazing palette of natural color including fiddlenecks and several varieties of lupine with tall mustard standing watch, wild hyacinth or tidy tips waving in the breeze, and of course the striking color of the ubiquitous California poppy punctuating the surrounding greenery. Parking is $5 plus $2 per dog.