There’s nothing like a vacation to refresh your body, rejuvenate your spirit and escape the pressures of a hectic life. Unfortunately, it sometimes seems that vacations can be too few and far between.
Luckily, we live in a picturesque area of Northern California, surrounded by little gems of natural beauty. When the stress of life begins to take its toll, head for the hills! Hiking is great mind-body exercise and will breathe some fresh air into your fitness routine.
I recently discovered an area called “Little Yosemite” just 30 minutes south of Danville in the beautiful hills of the Sunol Regional Wilderness.
Little Yosemite is a scenic gorge tucked away along a stretch of Alameda Creek about 1.5 miles from the visitor center.
The area is very family and dog-friendly. Visitors can easily park and walk up the gentle rolling hills of the Camp Ohlone Road.
The hike begins with an old wooden bridge and it appropriately gives the feeling that you are passing into a charming and scenic place where natural beauty provides a dramatic backdrop for the experience about to come.
Spring is a wonderful time to explore Little Yosemite and with all the rain recently, the waterfalls are especially remarkable. Your whole family with enjoy the rolling hills, beautiful valleys, wildflowers, shade trees, waterfalls and the soothing sounds of tumbling water.
There are also quite a few great boulder outcroppings at Indian Joe Cave Rocks that will provide a rock climbing challenge to the sporty and brave.
Your children (and doggies) will enjoy the abundant wildlife. You may see ground squirrels, red-tailed hawks, raccoons, and black-tailed deer. You may possibly even see a skunk or several kinds of snakes, so you may not want to let your kids and dogs wander too far. If you enjoy bird watching, the park boasts as many as 20 to 40 bird species.
The San Francisco Water Department owns the property, but it is open to the public through an agreement with the East Bay Regional Park District.
While hiking, make sure to abide by the signs and although it may look cool and refreshing, do not swim or trespass onto the Water Department land that isn’t part of the lease agreement.
Although bobcats are uncommon, there is an occasional sighting so be on the lookout.
It is always a good idea to go with a friend, family, or your dog and to stick to the trails, for safety reasons and to avoid poison oak.
Insect repellent and plenty of sunscreen are also a good idea. A small backpack will keep these items close at hand. When going on a longer hike with family, it might be a good idea to bring a small first aid kid as well.
Shoes with good traction are a must, particularly if you plan to head up the more challenging loop. Many manufacturers make shoes designed specifically for trails.
Hiking boots are great for keeping your feet dry. The falls of Little Yosemite may be slightly larger than you might imagine after all of the rainfall.
The most important thing to consider when choosing a shoe is the fit; you don’t want blisters or chafing to keep you from enjoying yourself.
Bring along some water and a snack, even for shorter hikes. Don’t let yourself get so distracted by the beautiful sights around you that you forget to drink fluids and become dehydrated. It is good advice to drink a little over a cup of water every 20 minutes, even when the weather seems cold.
Setting Your Pace
How fast you take to the trails is up to you and what you want to accomplish. A hike can be an intense workout or a time to relax your mind and enjoy nature, or both—the choice is yours.
If you want to increase the intensity, hills are a great way to do it. When starting out, take it easy and give your body time to adapt. Once you’ve been hiking regularly for a few weeks, give yourself a challenge by climbing a couple of hills. Not only will this increase your muscular strength and endurance, you’ll notice a big improvement in your cardiovascular endurance as well.
Hiking is a great cross-training activity to add to your existing fitness routine, but perhaps the greatest benefit of hiking is the chance to enjoy natural beauty and get away from the usual routine, even if only for just a short while.
Additional Resources East Bay Regional Park District: http://www.ebparks.org/parks/sunol
There is even a podcast that gives the park introduction, then description of a longer six mile, moderate-to-challenging loop hike: Sunol Valley to Camp Ohlone Road (Little Yosemite and the "W" Tree) to Backpack Road to McCorkle Trail (great views) to Sunol Valley.
American Hiking Society: www.americanhiking.org
Getting to Little Yosemite from Danville/Walnut Creek: Go south on I-680 and exit at Calaveras Road/Highway 84 just south of Pleasanton. Turn left onto Calaveras Road and proceed to Geary Road, which leads directly into the park. There is no public transit to Sunol Regional Park. Open 7 a.m. to sunset.
Parking Fee: $5/seasonal, weekends and holidays. $4 per trailered vehicle. Buses: $25/per bus.
Dog Fee: $2 per dog. Guide/service dogs free.