Grand Views of Berkeley: a Hike to Wildcat Peak
May 30, 2017 | Mary Corbin
So many hikes, so little time. One hike that should be on everyone’s bucket list is the hike to Wildcat Peak in Tilden Park, an invigorating climb with stunning 360 degree views of Berkeley and beyond! On the next bright blue sky day, this is the one.
You can begin or end your adventure with a stop at the Visitor/Nature Center or The Little Farm (see previous post on these two features) or just enjoy the hike and all it has to offer. With a variety of routes to get there, the hike to Wildcat Peak takes you through varied terrain from open, sunny ridge trails to paved walkways and shaded, narrow and winding single track pathways under the canopy of Bay Laurel, Oak, Eucalyptus and Redwood. Depending on your route and your time frame, you can linger to take in an assortment of features, for one, the commemorative Rotary Peace Grove to read the plaques of those honored as proponents of peace. You might find yourself engaged in a debate as to the appropriateness of some of those included, I certainly have, with hiking companions and strangers alike. It’s quite a conversation piece.
As for the hike, with a climb of about 750 feet from base to summit configured in a 4-5 mile loop, this is a great outing to get just the right amount of exertion to pay off ratio. With an option to head out from a few different parking areas, you can craft your hike in a variety of ways depending on what type of terrain you prefer, sun or shade, features to visit, condition of trails – some areas can get muddy and slippery after rains – and access around park maintenance. Be sure to check for any trail closures before setting out.
Trails such as Laurel Canyon and Wildcat Creek Trail, Sylvan, Pine Tree and Peak Trails, Conlon and Nimitz Way can all be included in your loop. Most trail markers have pictoral symbols do keep you on the right track but it’s always good to have a map in your back pocket just in case. It’s a true delight wending your way to the top as the journey there is as exciting as the destination. You’ll feel the bounty of the Bay Area under your feet and all around you; birds chirping, fragrant flora, breezes blowing, open sky and deep canyon forest. One simply glistens in the afterglow of the effort made with all senses on full-tilt to get to the top.
Rounding up to the peak, weighing in at 1,250 feet, one feels triumphant as and rewarded with the spectacular panorama. One rejoices, high fives all around! Settling in, then, along the circular wall at the summit is a great place to picnic, take photos, rest up, commingle with other hikers or just hang and take in the sights below and beyond. These include the scenic sprawl of Berkeley and the UC Campus below, the resplendent Bay and San Francisco due west, the majesty of Mt. Diablo and the turquoise reservoirs to the east, Mt. Tamalpais rising serenely to the northwest, the wooded forest to the south from whence you have just come and the hills of the North Bay towards Napa, Sonoma and Mt. St. Helena. Start early for a refreshing hike or time it just right for a breathtaking sunset on a clear day or watch the fog roll in over the hills.
Winding back down, a stop at Jewel Lake is sweet, especially if the ducks, cormorants and turtles are out and about. You might even be treated to something extraordinary as otters and Great Blue and Night Herons have all been spotted here in recent times. A short respite on the large wood bench or short add-on hike around the lake adds value to this outing, for sure. A nearby boardwalk stroll through a marshy birdland, taking you into yet another ecosystem, is an add-on option as well at Jewel Lake. There are restrooms and picnic tables in the area and you can even make a weekend of it here as there are three group campsites: New Woodland, Wildcat View and Gillespie Youth Camp near the Lone Oak Road parking area.
The Wildcat Peak hike is there for the taking and take it you must, if you know what’s really, really good for you in the Berkeley hills! This hike is accessible from the paved parking lot at Central Park Drive, the paved parking lot and pathways at Inspiration Point, the dirt parking area of Lone Oak Road and on weekends via AC Transit Line #65 from the Downtown Berkeley BART station. For more information, view this trail map of Tilden Park or visit the web pages of the East Bay Regional Park District for more information on this and other area parks and hikes. Enjoy!
*All Photos are courtesy of Gambolin’ Man*