Wildcat Canyon Regional Park is the northernmost park in a chain of parks and preserves that stretch from Richmond all the way down the backbone of the East Bay to Castro Valley. The mountain ridge provides a barrier that keeps much of the cool air and fog coming in from the Pacific in the SF Bay itself, helping to moderate the area's temperatures. The higher elevations combined with a very generous string of recreation areas mean that East Bay residents are not lacking for wonderful hiking experiences.
From this vantage point one can see Richmond, San Francisco, the Golden Gate Bridge, Angel Island, Alcatraz and Mount Tam.
Wildcat Canyon is somewhat overlooked compared to its more well known and visited siblings to the south. In some cases this is due to proximity to more populated areas or more amenities, particularly for visitors looking to do something other than hike. Wildcat Canyon is all about the hiking, or perhaps biking if you prefer. That means smaller crowds and a bit more solitude.
Near the park's main trailhead Wildcat Creek Trail is mostly paved. This provides an odd sensation of walking through rough terrain on a sometimes wide road with shoulders that seems like it should be going somewhere. It's not entirely clear what the purpose of the road was years ago. As the name implies this trail roughly parallels, but does not hug, the creek and so presents some of the smoothest, easy to navigate terrain in the park.
Coppertone hikes along the San Pablo Ridge Trail. Though we paid a price with a steep section for each peak, we were rewarded with ever greater views.
The Belgum Trail is named after Dr. Hendrik Belgum, founder of the Grande Vista Sanatorium that was situated within the park's current boundaries. From 1914 through the early 1960's a mansion here served as home for the area's mentally afflicted. All that remains today are a few stone walls and foundations for structures that were burned down by vandals in the 1970's. Look for an information display along the trail and for stone walls and foundations amongst the thick collection of trees that marks the area. The Palm trees are also a dead giveaway.
The path up Belgum Trail and along the San Pablo Ridge Trail contains some of the steepest trail segments you'll find in the Bay Area. It's surprising that soil erosion is not more of an issue than it is given the steeply inclined hard pack dirt paths that are found here. Though there are some gullies forming along the path, they are not yet any impediment to walking along the trail.
Though a price is paid for ascending to the peaks along the ridge one is amply rewarded by the views in all directions once at the top. Depending upon which peak one is on it may be possible to catch a glimpse of San Francisco, San Francisco Bay, Alcatraz, Angel Island, the Golden Gate Bridge, Richmond, Mount Tam, San Pablo Bay and Mount Diablo. In some cases, all of these at once!
When visiting Wildcat Canyon, bring plenty of water and sun screen. Much of the terrain is open grassland and so is fully exposed to the Sun. A sunburn is possible even if the weather is cool.