Brushy Peak – Livermore Wildlife Hiking Haven

Brushy Peak – Livermore Wildlife Hiking Haven

brushy peak in the morning golden hour glow

brushy peak loop trail recommended

Difficulty: Moderate
Length: 4.5mi
Time: ~2.5hr
Link: East Bay Regional Preserve: Brushy Peak
Location: Livermore, CA

Highlights

Brushy Peak Regional Preserve is easily accessible on the North side of I-580 off of the Vasco exit in Livermore. It features rolling hills, ample wildlife, and varied terrain to suit the mid level hiker. Morning or Evening times provide striking views of golden casts over the downtown Livermore valley as well as the popular peak used for gatherings from the time of the native Americans. Trail runners, bikers, and dog walkers all enjoy this hidden gem of Livermore.

While only offering a limited set of hiking trails, the area offers some of best raptor viewing in the bay area. Red tailed hawks, golden eagles, harriers, and falcons can be readily seen in the varied landscapes surrounding the peak.  The surrounding windmills in the area take advantage of the constant valley breeze which helps keep the summer temperatures tolerable but are bone chilling during the winter months. A windbreaker is advisable in the early morning summer season and a heavier jacket is advisable during the fall-spring season.

Getting There

Existing Vasco road coming from 580, proceed north towards Brentwood and make a quick right onto Northfront Road. Past a couple dealerships and open ranch land, turn left at the Laughlin road intersecion. Laughlin road winds past an upscale community to the west of the seasonal Frick lake and narrows down to a single lane road.

After a short time warp past horse ranches and nostalgic farm equipment, you’ll arrive at a large parking lot open at 8:00AM-8:00PM in the summer and 8:00AM-5:00PM in the winter. The gate is on a timer for entrance but is always open for exit (beware the nasty one-way tire puncturing backup teeth preventing people from entering through the exit without peril to their vehicles). They seem to not adjust for daylight savings so its possible to enter at 7:00AM during winter times. There’s also a few parking spots along the road shoulder located outside of the parking lot for those who want to partake during the off hours.

frick lake winter
The seasonal Frick lake during the winter
frick lake farm
Winter runoff fuels Frick lake

The Trail

There’s a main loop trail which goes through the peak and a couple side trails which can be incorporated into the loop trail to extend your overall hike or add some variation for repeat visitors. This guide documents the most direct route up to the peak along the Brushy Peak loop trail and coming back down the eastern leg of the Western Side Loop Trail.

brushy peak parking
Brushy Peak Parking Entrance

brushy peak windmill entrance old buildings

Entering through a cattle gate along the ranger’s residence edge, you’ll start yourself along the Brushy Peak Loop trail which passes by meadowlands and a water retention zone which runs dry during the late summer and autumn months.

brushy peak loop trail entrance cattle gate
Entrance to the Brushy Peak Loop trail
humming bird at brushy peak
Hummingbird rests on barbed wire close to the ranger residence

 

Running up alongside a mostly dry creek bed, raptors often perch directly on the hillside, waiting for their furry meals to rise from their burrows.

ferruginous hawk brushy peak
Ferruginous hawk takes in a ground level view.

ferruginous hawk in flight brushy peak

The trail follows the eastern section of a seasonal drainage channel that approaches a set of eucalyptus trees frequently populated by perched raptors.

Checkpoint: Eucalyptus Grove

 

red tailed hawk perched brushy peak

Around the sharp bend past the eucalyptus, you’ll get a view of the grassy hills frequented by coyotes scouring the hillsides for bite sized meals and sometimes resting in the morning glow.

coyotes brushy peak
Beginning the main ascent towards the peak, you’ll frequently come across scurrying squirrels of Brushy Peak.

squirrel in tunnel brushy peak

squirrel on alert at brushy peak

Following the trail behind the eucalyptus grove, there’s a steep ascent which will bring you to one of the first of many spectacular views over Livermore valley.

livermore valley view from brushy peak

Approaching the peak, the landscape begins to change from open grassland plains to the rocky outcrops exposing pieces of the geologic history of Brushy Peak.

brushy peak view

Checkpoint: The Peak

The brushy areas of the peak are actually live oak trees that dot the landscape. Slow growing and native to California, these old trees provide ideal perches for red tailed hawks. As you make your way through the shaded areas of the peak, it’s not uncommon to stumble across one quietly minding its own business.

red tailed hawk perched brushy peak

red tailed hawk flight brushy peak

The loop trail doesn’t actually go to the very top of the peak. Access is by guided tour only. Check the East Bay regional park page for tour info.

After traversing across rocks and underneath live oaks at the base of the peak, the trail will start to descend on the western side.

brushy peak in the evening

While descending, keep an eye upwards for Golden eagles circling around the air thermals of the peak.  It’s easy to mix them up with the more common turkey vultures that are commonly seen throughout the bay area. But zooming in reveals a golden head dress and the symmetric white patches underneath the wings.

golden eagle at brushy peak
Brushy Peak Golden Eagle
turkey vulture
Turkey Vulture

The trail eventually meets with a drainage channel that feeds into one of the few permanent ponds in the area. Year round, ducks, frogs, and salamander can be spotted in reeded outskirts of the pond. At this point the trail forks to either the upper or lower sides of the West Side loop trail. I typically follow the lower side past the pond and through a meadow. The upper side offers a slightly more strenuous workout along the edge of the park border.

tree at upper and lower west wide loop

Checkpoint: The Permanent Pond

pond at brushy peak

Past the pond is a large meadow frequented by white tailed hawks looking for a meal.

Checkpoint: The meadowlands

white tailed kite at brushy peak

Towards the end of the trail is a pair of trees, providing ample shade where rabbits often forage for food.

rabbit at brushy peak

The last leg of the trail toward the cattle gate passes a hillside frequented by northern harriers which can be seen gliding immediately overland. Occasionally, they can be seen perched on the ground.

 

northern harrier with squirrel at brushy peak

Laughlin Ranch Loop Trail

laughlin ranch loop trail

In addition to the main loop trail, the Laughlin Ranch Loop trail can either be used as an alternative starting point in conjunction with the Tamcan trail to extend the Brushy Peak loop trail by two  miles or be used as a shorter alternative to the peak trail. It features fine views of the valley and unique glimpses of raptors hugging the hillsides and swooping down on unsuspecting prey.

laughlin ranch loop trail entrance
Entrance to the Laughlin Ranch Loop trail is behind the grove of Eucalyptus trees from the parking lot

The trail begins by ascending over the hillsides next to Laughlin road, then arriving at a junction with the Dyer Ranch trail. Make a left to stay on the loop trail.

laughlin ranch trail view
View over the Livermore valley from the Laughlin Ranch Loop trail
altamont windmills with moon
View from the Laughlin Ranch Loop trail, eastwards towards the Altamont pass

 

Eventually, the trail begins to descend through a small valley frequented by harriers and falcons flying over the crest of the hillsides. The clump of trees towards the later half of the descent is also a popular spot to perch.

peregrine falcon at brushy peak
Peregrine Falcon, at peak diving speeds exceeding 200mph, is the fastest animal in the world

With such a great density of raptors, its not uncommon to find them defending their airspace. These birds demonstrate amazing aerial agility, flying in inverted positions with talons extended.

red railed hawk and northern harrier dog fight
Red tailed hawk (inverted) and a Northern harrier in an aerial dogfight

Once the descent is complete, you can either make a left and complete the loop back to the parking lot or make a right and take the Tamcan trail.

Tamcan trail

tamcan trail

The Tamcan trail roughly mirrors the beginning mile of the Brushy Peak Loop trail from about 100 feet above. Slightly off the beaten path, it offers greater opportunities to run into wildlife both in the air and on the ground. It eventually descends back down to the Brushy Peak Loop trail which can be taken back to the parking lot or continued on towards the peak.

northern harrier at brushy peak
Northern Harrier gliding over the hillside on the Tamcan trail
coyote at brushy peak
Coyote spotted on the Tamcan trail

 

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