A Walk in Briones Park

This article describes a fairly short walk with 150-300 feet of elevation over its 0.5 mile length. (1 mile round trip.) The dirt service road provides good footing and doesn’t have any steep, difficult sections. The walk goes through a mixture of sun and shade with a variety of plants from the beginning to the end. The mixture of conditions supports a variety of plants including three Calochortus species.

When to go: Some plants may be in bloom in mid-late March but the peak will be in mid-April to early June depending on the weather. Where: starts at the end of Briones Road on the north side of Briones Regional Park.

Driving directions: From highway 4 in Martinez, take the Alhambra Avenue Exit and turn south onto Alhambra Avenue. After about ½ mile, turn right onto Alhambra Road and continue until this road meets Reliez Valley Road. Turn right and after 500 feet, turn left onto Briones Road. This narrow road winds upward to a turn-around at the park entrance. Take your time driving this road and be prepared to pull to the right when you meet oncoming traffic.

Walking directions: Walk by the locked gate next to the restroom onto the service road. You’ll walk up this road for 0.5 to 1 mile. Walk slowly checking on both sides for interesting plants. These is a bank on the left side of the road and a steep drop on the right side.

Caution: Poison oak grows a few feet off the service road along the walk. Before you step off the service road to get a closer look at plants, check for the presence of poison oak. Contact with poison oak will not be a problem on the service road itself.

Avoid the narrow trail going off the service road where it turns sharply to the right under deep shade. Poison oak grows very close to the trail making it difficult to avoid contact. If you are on a narrow trail and come to a section where contact with poison oak is likely, turn around and re-trace your steps to the service road.

There are nettles along the service road. The pale blue-white spotted flowers are pretty but don’t touch the plant! A single touch produces a stinging rash.

Notes for your walk: Just after you start, you’ll be going through oak woodland. Along the narrow trail going uphill to the left side of the road, look for blue Ithuriel’s spear (Triteleia laxa) and white common yarrow (Achillea millefolium) growing under the oaks. The narrow trail continues up the hill under the oaks but returning to the service road will be more productive for seeing a variety of plants.

As you walk along, you will go from sun to shade and back and from one soil type to another.

Buckeye trees grow along the walk. In the early spring, look for the large seeds on the ground. They are always handsome trees and when they bloom, the candles with masses of flowers are beautiful and fragrant. A grove of buckeyes in bloom often draws a crowd of butterflies.

California honeysuckle vines with pink flowers (Lonicera hispidula) grow along the left side of the road and in trees on the right side of the road. Marah vines with small white flowers are present along the trail in several spots.

Hairy honeysuckle (Lonicera hispidula) Photo by Bill Hunt
Hairy honeysuckle (Lonicera hispidula) Photo by Bill Hunt

In the deeply shared area where the road turns sharply right, look for blue and white chinese houses. Shortly after this section, look for Mount Diablo globe lily or fairy lantern (Calochortus pulchellus) shaded by other plants.

Several sunny sections provide views of yellow sticky monkeyflower (Mimulus aurantiacus), golden yarrow and red Indian paintbrush (Castilleja affinis) near the road. Fragrant California sage grows in these sunny sections as well.

Nearer the end of the road, look for yellow (Calochortus luteus) and white mariposa lilies (Calochortus argillosus) along narrow trails to the left and right of the road. A locked gate marks the end of the most productive area for seeing flowers. You can continue into a broad grassland area for a longer walk or turn around and return along the service road.

Fairy lantern (Calochortus amabilis) . Photo by Bill Hun. t
Fairy lantern Calochortus amabilis). Photo by Bill Hunt.

Conservation Notes: Briones Regional Park was established in 1967 as part of the extensive East Bay Regional Park District. Residents of Alameda and Contra Costa Counties voted to tax themselves to acquire land for parks and open space starting in the 1930s in the Great Depression.

Now that the land in Briones Park is preserved, we must ensure that it is managed to preserve its communities of native plants and animals for generations to come. Residents need to be aware of the natural resources in Briones Park and other local parks and make their elected officials and the Park District aware that they want those resources preserved. The East Bay Chapter of the California Native Plant Society is active in monitoring the policies the Park District uses to manage the park system.

Briones Park is bordered by privately owned ranch land that has functioned as de facto open space, linking the Park to other undeveloped areas and adding to the vitality of the natural communities in the park. The fate of this privately owned open space in coming years will affect the health of the Park itself.

Ithuriel's spear (Triteleia laxa). Photo by Bill Hunt.
Ithuriel’s spear (Triteleia laxa). Photo by Bill Hunt.

Online Resources:
This gallery of pictures provides examples of flowering plants seen along this walk in May of 2009. The park District web site has information and maps for all the parks in the system. a Briones Park trail map and a flower guide for the park are useful aids for your walk.

The Bay Area Hiker site describes a different walk in Briones Park.

The Every Trail site describes several other walks in Briones Park.

Article by Bill Hunt