Browsed by
Tag: golden eagle

Vargas Plateau – Golden Eagle Trail

Vargas Plateau – Golden Eagle Trail

Golden Eagle Trail  Essential Info

Total distance: 2.29 mi
Total climbing: 440 ft

Length: 2.3 mi
Time: 1.5hrs
Difficulty: Easy
Hours: 8am – sunset
Dogs (leashed), Bikes, Equestrian allowed

Website: http://www.ebparks.org/parks/vargas
Trail map: Vargas_Plateau Map

Vargas Plateau Regional Park

Behind what is quickly becoming one of the most congested bottlenecks in the Bay Area, Vargas Plateau provides a critical corridor from the parks covered by the Ohlone Wilderness Trail (Sunol, Fremont Peak) to the bay wetlands (Coyote Hills, Don Edwards). Having resolved neighborhood issues regarding road traffic, East Bay Regional Parks re-opened the park in May, 2017.

This hilly area, covered by California’s familiar grassland and oak trees, provides ideal environments for bay raptors and their prey.

Getting There

Vargas Plateau Location

To get to Vargas Plateau Regional Park, exit at Vargas road along I-680. If going up 680 North, simply follow Vargas road until it turns into a one-lane road. If going down 680 South, turn left onto Vargas road; right will bring you back towards the entrance to 680N

About 1.5mi along, turn right onto Morrison Road. After another .5 mi, the parking lot and trail entrance are easy to find on the left hand side of the road past a highly visible barn (see pic below).

Parking at Vargas Plateau
Parking at Vargas Plateau

Golden Eagle Trail to Vista Point

Golden Eagle Trail

Start

From the parking lot, the very gradual Golden Eagle trail brings you across the open hills, towards an outcrop of rocks seemingly sprouting from the ground. The rocks are just beyond the fork which splits into Deer Gulch Trail and the Upper Ranch Trail.

 

Rocky outcrop
Rocky outcrops at the fork between Deer Gulch and Upper Ranch trails. The Quarry Lakes loom in the hazy background.

Fork

The fork towards the Upper Ranch trail takes you past the open fields of the park residence. The flat open space provides plenty of habitat for rodents and their predators in the sky.

Curving around the base of the viewpoint, the trail upwards crosses the Upper Ranch trail loop at two points before a moderate climb up a gravel path.

Vista Point

The vista point provides views of Mission Peak as well as the Quarry Lakes area in Fremont.

Return

From the vista point, you can return along the same path you came in, or do the Upper Ranch loop which will add about 3 miles to the overall hike.

Wildlife

Brushy Peak – Livermore Wildlife Hiking Haven

Brushy Peak – Livermore Wildlife Hiking Haven

brushy peak in the morning golden hour glow

Total distance: 4.44 mi
Total climbing: 843 ft

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.

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
Ferruginous hawk in flight

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
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 that glide 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

The Laughlin Ranch Loop trail can be used as an alternative starting point in conjunction with the Tamcan trail to extend the Brushy Peak loop trail by two  miles. Or, it can be used solely as a shorter alternate. 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. Take your time through here, looking out for harriers and falcons flying over the crest of the hillsides. In particular, the clump of trees towards the later half of the descent is 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, make a left to complete the loop back to the parking lot. Alternatively, make a right to take the Tamcan trail.

Nearby Trails