Rising behind Berkeley’s elegant Claremont Hotel is Claremont Canyon Regional Preserve, a stretch of forest, grasslands and chaparral once used for cattle and horse grazing. If you want a short but steep hike with panoramic views of San Francisco Bay, Oakland, Berkeley, San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge, take the Stonewall-Panoramic Trail to the ridgetop. Here, after three-quarters of a mile, you will be rewarded with a single bench where you can catch your breath and gaze out over the bay. On a clear day, you can even see the Farallon Islands 44 miles away.
In 1858, a transcontinental telegraph line was strung through Claremont Canyon linking the east and west coasts. Claremont Canyon also provided a critical connection through the East Bay hills. Horses and wagons traveled through the canyon carrying riders between Oakland and Contra Costa County, and in the 1860s, the Pony Express even carried mail through this area. (No Caldecott Tunnel in those days.) In 1910, the owner of the Claremont Hotel, Frank Haven, planted eucalyptus throughout the canyon, hoping it would be a good source of lumber. Today, the eucalyptus is considered an invasive species, in addition to being highly flammable. Fire is an ever-present danger in the canyon.
In 1978, the East Bay Regional Park District began acquiring the land for the preserve, which today comprises 208 acres and is managed by the park district. No bicycles are permitted on the trail.
Pick up the trailhead at the end of Stonewall Road (off Claremont Avenue just north of Ashby). Alternately, you can reach it from Tanglewood Road by walking up Tanglewood Path to the trailhead. After a short ascent, the trail curves sharply to the right. (Continuing straight takes you to an athletic field.) As you head uphill, you will pass lots of eucalyptus and French broom, but also some natives — coast live oak, California buckeye and coyote bush. Deer, gray foxes and coyotes are common residents. You will see spectacular views around every turn, and you may be sharing the vistas with a soaring red-tailed hawk. The final section of the trail is the steepest, but shortly you will be at the ridgetop. Here a lone bench awaits for you to rest and contemplate the universe.
If you want to explore further, the trail continues along the ridge for another half mile, then connects to the University of California’s East-West Trail.
After the walk
Leaving Stonewall Road, turn right on Claremont to head south. Jog left at Russell for a few feet, and you will find yourself on Domingo Avenue with the Claremont Resort & Spa to your left. On Domingo, stopping at the Bread Garden Bakery (2912 Domingo Ave.) is a must. Here you can find delectable goodies baked the old-fashioned way. You can even buy bread in the shape of turtles, crabs and other creatures. Get your coffee at the bakery or duck into to Peet’s next door.
For a more elaborate lunch, try Rick and Ann’s Restaurant (2922 Domingo Ave.), where you can get home-style cooking — buttermilk pancakes, vegetarian chili, macaroni and cheese, BLTs and burgers.
AC Transit buses No. 7 and No. 9 stop at Ashby and Claremont avenues, a short distance from the trailhead. You can take BART to downtown Berkeley and pick up either bus.
By car from San Francisco, cross the Bay Bridge and take Interstate 580 east toward Highway 24. Take the Claremont Avenue exit, turning left onto Claremont. A few blocks after crossing Ashby Avenue, turn left onto Tanglewood Road or Stonewall Road for unmetered two-hour parking.
Photo: Sharon Hahn via Flickr