This article describes a short walk through the Serpentine Prairie area of Redwood Regional Park. The trail is in good condition and not difficult. There is only 100-200 feet of elevation gain and loss over the walk.
Be aware that there is poison oak off the trails.
The underlying serpentine rock supports rare plants such as Presidio clarkia and Tiburon buckwheat as well as more common plants such as California poppies, buttercups, red maids, cream cups, mariposa lilies and blue-eyed grass. The prairie is also flush with a diversity of native grasses, some 18 taxa at last count. These grasses thrive in the cooler, higher elevation of the prairie. The Serpentine Prairie offers one of the best stands of coastal prairie found in the East Bay.
When to go: Conditions vary from year to year. Buttercups and poppies provided a wash of color on March 21, 2014. Individual blue-eyed grass and red maids were in bloom. On April 19, 2014, buttercups were still in bloom and the stands of poppies were producing more intense orange color. There were more blue-eyed grass and red maid flowers and stands of goldfields. Cream cups provided a new source of pleasure. Clarkia and mariposa lilies were not yet in bloom but the plants were in evidence. On June 30, 2010, Presidio clarkia, mariposa lilies and hayfield tarweed were in bloom.
Where: start from a parking lot next to the Richard C. Trudeau Training Center at 11500 Skyline Boulevard just south of the junction of Skyline Boulevard and Joaquin Miller Road in Oakland.
Driving directions: From Freeway 13 exit at Joaquin Miller Road and drive uphill until Joaquin Miller merges with Skyline Boulevard. Bear right. After 600 feet, turn left into the parking lot.
You can reach the parking lot by driving south on Grizzly Peak Boulevard / Skyline Boulevard from the Tilden Park area.
Walking directions: The single track Serpentine Prairie trail starts from the back of the parking lot. Walk downhill with a rail fence on your right (and left). The fence on the right will become a net-wire fence protecting the area under restoration. Continue walking along this trail, keeping the fence to your right. The restoration area is off limits but you can see a variety of plants on either side of the trail.
This trail continues downhill for some time before turning right at the end of the fenced restoration area. In spring, there will be patches of goldfields on the left as you walk by an equestrian center facility. The trail will turn right again, heading back to the parking lot with the fence on the right. A short side trail leads to an observation point looking across the restoration area. The rich population of native plants attracts many insects, which in turn attract swallows and other birds.
This loop provides a good introduction to the serpentine prairie area. Explore other trails as you have time.
Useful information about the Serpentine Prairie:
This video with Lech Naumovich providing a tour of the Serpentine Prairie provides information on what you will see.
A gallery of pictures of flowers taken on June 30, 2010 by Bill Hunt provides more examples.
The iNaturalist site also has pictures of plants and birds found at the serpentine prairie.
Conservation Notes: Serpentine grassland was once more common in the East Bay Hills. The 46-acre remnant in Redwood Regional Park is the best example that remains. Preserving it is important if we are to see and appreciate this this unusual habitat. Redwood Regional Park is part of the East Bay Regional Park District. The Serpentine Prairie had been severely degraded by decades of overuse and misuse when local residents circulated a petition and involved the California Native Plant Society to change the way the area was managed. Within the Park District organization, David Amme became a champion for restoring the prairie. Working with these groups, the Park District produced a plan to bring back the prairie with its natural plant communities. A restoration project started in 2009 has produced remarkable progress. The restoration area now contains dense stands of native grasses and abundant wildflowers. This project is an example of success in preserving and restoring a priceless natural resource in an urban area.
Skyline Serpentine Prairie – its value, By Steve Edwards, retired Director Regional Parks Botanic Garden
Habitat and Humanity from the July-September 2010 Bay Nature magazine
This article discusses several conservation projects in the Bay Area. The Last of the Serpentine Prairie section discusses the history of the serpentine prairie restoration.
This article on the Park District web site describes the restoration project.
East Bay Park District Successfully Completes Stage 1 of Serpentine Prairie Restoration
Serpentine Prairie Restoration Project Redwood Regional Park2011 Annual Report: Year 3
Oakland Geology: Serpentine Prairie
Skyline Serpentine Prairie at Redwood Regional Park
Redwood Regional Park trail map
Civicorps volunteers are shown mowing annual grasses. Results from the restoration show that well timed annual mowing (a replacement for grazing given the site constraints) appreciably increases native annual forb cover formerly displaced by non-native annuals grasses.
Serpentine Prairie in Redwood Regional Park before and after the restoration.