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Hiking: Bay Area

Above It All on Mission Peak

November 20, 1994|JOHN McKINNEY

From a distance, it is the most austere of East Bay landmarks, a half-mile high hunk of mountain brooding over the Fremont Plains. A nice place to go--if you're a mountain goat.

In closer view, Mission Peak is much more approachable and hiker-friendly than its steep west face suggests from afar. The summit is surrounded by the Mission Peak Preserve, 3,000 acres of parkland that includes wooded canyons and gentle grassy hills grazed by cattle.

Fifteen miles of trail crisscross the preserve and climb to the 2,517-foot summit of Mission Peak. Views from the summit are well worth the considerable exertion--panoramas from San Jose to Mt. Tamalpais, Mt. Diablo to the Dunbarton Bridge.

The peak takes its name from the Mission San Jose, founded in 1797.

The climb up Mission Peak is quite simply one of those classic Bay Area hikes.

The best days to do it are cool, clear ones. Summer, with its thick, view-obscuring morning fog and hot, hiker-toasting afternoon sun is the worst time to hike Mission Peak. Autumn and winter are excellent times, when the clearest of days mean vistas from the Santa Cruz Mountains to the High Sierra.

Direction to trail head: From Interstate 680 in Fremont, exit on Mission Boulevard and head north one-quarter mile. Turn right on Stanford Avenue and proceed three-quarters mile to road's end at a trail users' parking area.

The hike: Walk up the major dirt road, known as the Hidden Valley Trail. The first part of the path is also called Ohlone Wilderness Trail, a spectacular 29-mile trail linking peaks, grasslands, oak forests and four East Bay parks.

To the right (east) of Hidden Valley Trail is the Horse Heaven Trail, which offers an alternative way up (or down) Mission Peak. You can join Horse Heaven Trail from the trail head, the peak, or from two connector paths leading eastward from the Hidden Valley Trail.

Our path, the Hidden Valley Trail, climbs two miles before swinging north and passing a hang glider launch. Just as you start to think the trail is taking you away from, rather than toward the peak, you'll arrive at the junction with Eagle Trail on your right. Follow it an eighth-mile to another right turn on Peak Trail, which winds among rock outcroppings to the top of Mission Peak. Either return the way you came or join the quite scenic, though with fewer views, Horse Heaven Trail for the hike back to the trail head.

Hidden Valley Trail Where: Mission Peak Regional Preserve. Distance: 6 1/2 miles round trip; 2,100-foot elevation gain. Terrain: Steep, grassy slopes, craggy summit. Highlights: Panorami view of Bay Area. Degree of Difficulty: Moderate to strenuous. For More Information: East Bay Regional Park District, 2950 Pealta Oaks Court, Oakland, Calif. 94605; tel. (510) 562-PARK.

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