As you embark on your hiking endeavors, it is inevitable that you will encounter both positive and negative experiences. However, it is crucial that your positive experiences outweigh the negative ones.
There are numerous factors that must be taken into account when selecting a hiking trail. The most fundamental of these is location. Although residing in an urban area necessitates traveling a bit to reach a good trail, it is preferable to spend more time in nature than in the car.
California is a colossal state, encompassing both urban and rural regions. With such an extensive territory to choose from, it can be difficult to identify the best hiking locations in your proximity, as well as those worth traveling to. This is where we come in; we offer detailed information on one of the most highly rated hikes in mid-California: the Mission Peak Loop.
Located in the Mission Peak National Preserve near Warm Springs District, CA, this trail has garnered a significant amount of attention in recent years and is presently the most highly rated trail in the Preserve. But what must you know before embarking on this Californian trail? We have compiled comprehensive information on everything you should be aware of before commencing and during the hike. Our objective is to equip you with precise and insightful knowledge to prepare you for the journey ahead.
The Mission Peak Loop encompasses a distance of approximately 5.8 miles and entails an elevation gain of 2,135 feet, making it a notoriously difficult trail. Situated near Warm Springs District, CA, the trail commences from Stanford Avenue Staging Area, providing breathtaking panoramic views of the South Bay, along with the stunning cityscapes of the Bay Area, including San Francisco, Oakland, and San Jose.
The trail ascends gradually until reaching the peak of Mission Peak, subsequently following a mostly downhill descent before looping back around. The uphill climb can range from moderately to extremely arduous, resulting in the trail’s rating as difficult.
As a popular hiking spot in the Bay Area, hundreds of hikers frequent this trail daily. Due to the temperate climate of the area, it remains a popular hike all year round, with hikers typically dedicating 3-4 hours to complete the journey.
Experienced hikers recommend arriving early to avoid the typical crowds that gather on the trail. Moreover, it is important to note that this hike is not for the faint of heart, as the uphill climb requires significant physical exertion.
There are two primary parking options available for those planning to embark on the Mission Peak trail. Your initial choice is to park at the Stanford Avenue Parking Lot, which is situated at the end of Stanford Avenue off Mission Blvd, leading you directly to the trailhead. However, this parking lot only accommodates 40 vehicles, and given that this is a highly trafficked trail, it is recommended not to rely solely on this parking area.
Alternatively, one can opt to park on the streets leading to the parking lot or on adjacent residential streets. Nonetheless, there is another parking lot option available.
The Ohlone College parking lot, situated off Mission Blvd and accessible through Pine St and Witherly Ln, is an ideal parking spot for those embarking on the Mission Peak trails. With over 900 available spaces, you need not worry about struggling for a parking spot. Trailheads commencing at the parking lot will lead you directly to the Mission Peak trail. However, parking in this lot will typically add an extra two miles to your hike.
It is essential to note that the park and parking lots are open from 6:30 am to 9:00 pm, so it is advisable to plan your hike during reasonable hours to avoid facing a penalty fine.
Facilities and Activities
The Mission Peak National Preserve offers wheelchair accessibility, primarily through the Hidden Valley Trail. Regrettably, the remaining portion of the loop does not cater to this requirement. If you prefer to carry a trail map with you at all times, a comprehensive map can be found on the East Bay Regional Parks website.
Aside from hiking, if you are interested in other activities within the National Park, you can participate in interpretive hikes, backpack camping with Eagle Spring, radio control flying, as well as hang gliding and paragliding. However, if you intend to engage in camping activities, it is crucial to ensure that you are adequately equipped with the necessary camping gear.
Pets are welcome to accompany you on the Mission Peak Loop trail, and hikers often bring their dogs or even venture on horseback. However, it is crucial to ensure that you carry sufficient water not only for yourself but also for your animals. It is worth noting that this trail is a dog friendly hiking trail.
The Hidden Valley serves as the starting point for the loop. This broad section of the trail is perfect for humans and horses to walk side by side. As this path passes through a cow grazing area, it is essential to exercise caution and maintain a safe distance from these animals.
The majority of the trail comprises a gravel and dirt fire road, and it is relatively wide for the most part. As you climb towards Mission Peak, the path becomes progressively steeper and more challenging.
However, do not worry if you feel exhausted during the ascent; there are six benches located at various intervals along the trail where you can take a break and appreciate the stunning views.
As the peak comes into view, the trail becomes even more steep and challenging but continues to maintain its gravel road form. Only during the final quarter-mile to the summit does the gravel trail come to an end, and you must navigate a rocky section to reach the top.
This rocky terrain requires careful footing, and it is crucial to remain alert as you approach this final portion of the trail. We highly recommend wearing good hiking shoes or boots to support your feet and ankles and prevent any slippage.
As with any ascent, there must be a descent. You have the option to return via the same path or instead transform it into a loop and descend through a different route, taking care to monitor your location on the map if you have brought one.
As there is minimal shade along the trail, you will be entirely exposed to the sun during most of the ascent. Therefore, we strongly advise bringing a hat and ample water to remain hydrated throughout your journey.
A note if you park at Ohlone College:
Commencing from Ohlone College, you have the option to embark on either the Peak Trail or the Panorama Trail, both of which lead to the Mission Peak trails. However, be mindful that this will add approximately two additional easy miles to your hike.
The Destination: Mission Peak
Now that we have discussed the Mission Peak trail in detail, let us delve further into Mission Peak itself. Upon reaching the summit, you will be greeted with breathtaking views that stretch for miles in every direction.
From the peak, you can marvel at the South Bay and the city skylines of San Francisco, San Jose, and Oakland. At the summit stands a monument resembling a thin obelisk with siting tubes.
These siting tubes are numerous and point towards various landmarks that you can spot and recognize from Mission Peak. Many visitors enjoy gazing in the direction of the siting tubes, attempting to identify the landmarks to which they are pointing.
In recent times, taking a selfie from the summit with the monument has become increasingly popular, and some even attribute the trail’s growing popularity to this trend.
A Few Considerations
Now that we have highlighted the stunning views that Mission Peak has to offer, and you are eager to begin planning your hiking trip, here are a few tips and considerations to keep in mind.
As previously mentioned, shaded areas along this trail are scarce, so it is essential to be equipped with everything necessary to compensate for this lack of shade. We recommend bringing a hat, sunglasses, and applying sunscreen multiple times throughout the day.
Moreover, ensure that you carry an ample supply of water with you. We suggest bringing at least one to two liters of water per person and even more if you are accompanied by your dog.
We strongly suggest that you plan to hike this trail earlier in the day, preferably on a weekday. Given its popularity, you can anticipate the trail to be busy on weekends and holidays around midmorning.
The essence of hiking is to experience nature up close and personal, and this is a lot more achievable when you are not constantly surrounded by other hikers.
Undoubtedly, this trail boasts some of the most breathtaking views in the state of California. We sincerely hope that you have the opportunity to appreciate and savor it to the fullest.
Image: CC 2.5, David Ball, via Wikimedia Commons