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.
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).
Golden Eagle Trail to Vista Point
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.
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.
The vista point provides views of Mission Peak as well as the Quarry Lakes area in Fremont.
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.
Length: 5 mi
Time: 3 hrs
Difficulty: Moderate (Steep)
Facilities: Visitors Center and vault toilets.
Hours: 8AM-5PM (winter) 8AM-7PM (and later depending on month)
Dogs: $2 fee.
Parking: $5 per vehicle
More Info: East Bay Parks Website
The site says there’s no drinking water, but they often serve water out of drinking jugs near the visitor’s center.
Seasonal Note: Like many East Bay parks, Sunol Wilderness can be extremely hot and exposed during the summer. The longer hikes are best avoided during this time of year. Spring is the best time, offering wild flowers, flowing creeks, and milder temperatures.
Flag Hill towers above the valley floor offering breathtaking views of the surrounding areas. The trail is steep but quick to reach the peak and has various return route options.
Access the park via 680. From the South bay, take 680N to Calaveras/84-W off ramp and make a right onto Calaveras Road.
From the northern bay areas, take 680S to the Calaveras Road/84 Dumbarton Bridge exit. Make a left onto Calaveras Road. Note that the preceding exit is labeled “Sunol” and is not the correct exit.
Stay on Calaveras Road for 4.3 mi. Along the way, you’ll come across a couple of plant nurseries, a construction aggregates facility,and a water treatment plant along the southern side of the road. The road is also popular with bicyclists.
At approximately 4.3 mi, make a left onto Geary Road. At the time of this writing, Calaveras Road is closed beyond Geary road making this turn really hard to miss.
Geary Road will eventually lead to an entrance gate and ranger booth that will provide a park map in exchange for the vehicle entry fee.
The rocky cliffs topping Flag Hill are an intimidating sight for anyone attempting this trail. While the climb will keep your quads burning, the trek to the top is short. Before you think you won’t be able to go any further, you’ll find yourself at the top, looking over the grand views over the valley floor.
Start at the visitors center, crossing the Alameda Creek bridge. Proceed left (west) along the Canyon View trail and turn right (north) at the Flag Hill Trail trail sign. The trail will immediately begin ascending, zig-zagging its way up the side of flag hill.
Just before the top, a rocky, narrow section requires a little balance and caution. Once past this, a wide, barely inclined path leads up to the peak.
Checkpoint: The Peak
Checkpoint: The Overlook
Proceed just a few yards past the peak onto the Flag Hill loop trail where you’ll catch better views of the valley below.
Checkpoint: Fossil Rocks
At the top of Flag Hill is Flag Hill Loop Trail. This short but deceptive trail offers more views westward towards the bay and of the MacGuire Peaks. Bear in mind that this loop descends quite a bit before ascending (rather abruptly) back to the top.
Checkpoint: High Valley Camp
The Flag Hill marker designates the intersection of the trail and Flag Hill Road. Take this road north, going away from the valley and descending behind a hillside. After a few switchbacks and a fallen oak tree popular with the squirrels, you’ll come across Hayfield Road and the High Valley camp.
Checkpoint: Indian Joe Turn Off
Hayfield road will continue back to the visitors center. However, if you prefer a more shaded route to return by (recommended), look for a signed intersection on the left hand side about a quarter mile past High Valley camp. The turn off with double back along a hillside before crossing a stream and placing you on the Indian Joe Trail just below the Cave Rocks.
The shade on the Indian Joe Trail makes for a more comfortable return trip and provides for greener surroundings.
Checkpoint: Indian Joe Creek
From here, continue to descend along the Indian Joe Trail where you’ll meet the Canyon View trail and head right (west) back to the visitor’s center.