EBMUD: Briones Reservoir Hike

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

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Shimmering lakes, wooded glens and bright sunflowers can be enjoyed along 80 miles of EBMUD trails in the East Bay. These hiking and horseback-riding paths go through 27,000 acres of open space. EBMUD provides parking at five staging areas and stocks water on the trails for horses. EBMUD manages watershed lands to protect water quality. For this reason, trail users must follow use rules and have permits. (https://www.ebmud.com/recreation/east-bay-trails)

Briones Reservoir is an open cut terminal water storage reservoir owned and operated by the East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD). It is located in the hills northeast of Orinda, California. It is formed by Briones Dam, an earthen dam completed in 1964.The reservoir is the largest of EBMUD’s five East Bay terminal reservoirs with a total capacity of 60,510 acre·ft, and it has a total watershed of 8.59 square miles. Fishing, swimming or wading are not allowed on Briones Reservoir. However, the reservoir is used by Mills College, UC Berkeley and Saint Mary’s College rowing teams. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Briones_Reservoir)

This scenic 13.3 mile hike encircles the entire Briones Reservoir in a clockwise direction from the EBMUD Overlook Staging Area off Bear Creek Rd in Orinda. Begin on the Oursan Trail and save the best section of the hike through dense woodland on the single track Bear Creek Trail for last!

Begin this hike from the Overlook Staging Area. Enter the trail gate, sign in and go left at the trail split to Oursan Trail.

Mile 0.1-go left to stay on Oursan Trail.

Mile 0.3-turn right to stay on Oursan Trail; the paved road goes across the dam where you can see the wide overflow spillway which directs water below from Briones Reservoir to San Pablo Reservoir.

Enjoy the views of the reservoir and the East Bay Hills!

The gravel road continues pass the boat launch and EBMUD’s work maintenance warehouse towards the Clean Fill Area of the dam. Cross the cattle guard and continue up the hill.

Enjoy the wildflowers around Briones Valley!

Oursan Trail gently climbs up into the exposed hills following the sets of electrical towers towards the ridge.

Mile 1.6-at the trail sign: go right to stay on the trail; it winds around the hillside with wonderful views of the reservoir!

The trail continues north along Sobrante Ridge on rolling terrain with fantastic views of the Briones Hills!

At the first high point, you can see Mt Tamalpais to the west and Mt Diablo to the east-WOW!

Oursan Trail meanders along the ridge with fantastic vistas of the hills around west Contra Costa County!


The trail climbs to Oursan Ridge to the highest point at 1015′ with beautiful views of the dense green woodland and blue waters around Deep Cove.

Mile 3.6-the trail descends through the grasslands towards the shoreline.

Mile 3.8-at the trail split: go left to stay on Oursan Trail. At the next split-take another left to stay on the trail. Oursan Trail drops down from the hill to the Hampton Trail Gate.

Mile 4.3-at Hampton Trail Gate: turn right to stay on Oursan Trail. The trail continues down along a section of woods to the next trail gate.

Mile 4.4-go through gate to stay on Oursan Trail, from this point, it’s 5.1 miles to the Bear Creek Staging Area. The trail winds along the reedy shore around Boy Scout Camp Cove followed by a short climb up to the open grassy fields below Lawson Hill.

Mile 5.0-at Oursan Trail sign: go straight to stay on the trail. The trail drops down through the woodland and continues on fairly level terrain along the reedy shoreline to the next trail gate.

Cross the trail gate and meander around the scenic shoreline; enjoy the fabulous views of the reservoir and the surrounding hills!

Oursan Trail continues through oak woodland as it weaves around the shoreline along Briones Valley from Bearinda Cove to Periera and Tin House Coves.

More wildflowers!

Mile 7.3-at the trail junction: go straight to stay on Oursan Trail. The trail exits the shaded woodland to the open grasslands.

The trail continues on a short series of ups and down before dropping down to the parking lot at Bear Creek Staging Area in Briones Valley.

Mile 9.6-at Bear Creek Staging Area: cross the parking lot to Bear Creek Trail Gate.

The trail cuts across Bear Creek with a brief section through dense woods before exiting onto an old paved road. The road continues straight across the flat valley grasslands towards the reservoir.

Enjoy the wildflowers!

Mile 10.2-enter the trail gate: the trail continues along the shoreline under a canopy of trees with some glimpses of the reservoir.

More wildflowers!

The road transitions to a single track trail as it gently climbs around Black Hills; it runs through the woods alongside Bear Creek Rd with sounds of road traffic and eventually drops back down into the quiet dense woodlands.

At the next trail split-go right to stay on Bear Creek Trail. The trail continues to climb around Black Hills with views of the reservoir.

Mile 11.7-the trail reaches its highest point in an open area where there are two benches; although the view of the reservoir is blocked by oak stands, this point is a popular destination for a shorter out & back hike from the Bear Creek Staging Area parking lot.

Bear Creek Trail continues up and down as it winds around the hills on a single track out towards the electrical towers.

The trail descends through the woods with great views of the intake tower at the reservoir.

Mile 12.9-at the trail junction: go left to Overlook Staging Area and follow the trail back to the parking lot.

This is a wonderful long hike along the less-traveled trails around the gorgeous Briones Reservoir. The loop is quite beautiful with scenic vistas atop of Sobrante and Oursan Ridges! You’ll enjoy the easy progression of the hike as you climb up into the hills followed by a shaded flat-rolling stretch around the shoreline to Bear Creek Staging Area. Complete the hike with a wonderful shaded 3 mile roll along one of the longer single track trails around EBMUD watershed areas-Bear Creek Trail. You’ll love the remoteness of the area and enjoy the peaceful calm it brings!

Wildflowers seen on the trails: sunflower, broadleaf filaree, silver lupine, scarlet pimpernel, bellardia, bird’s foot deerweed, rose clover, salsify, field mustard, california poppy, blow-wives, ithuriel’s spear, popcorn flower, blue dicks, morning glory, pink thistle, tarweed, bush monkey flower, chinese houses, woodland clarkia, blue-eyed grass, winecup clarkia, white wild radish, pink wild radish, california blackberry, california buttercup, spring vetch, lupine, woodland pea, crimson columbine, bush poppy and other pink, white and red flowers.

13.3 Miles with 1563′ of elevation gain
Time: 5.25 hours with a couple of stops
Hike: Moderate with a few short steep climbs
Weather: Sunny and warm with clear blue skies. Temps ranged from the low 60’s to the mid 70’s with SW winds.

Parking: No Fee-Overlook Staging Area parking lot on Bear Creek Rd in Orinda. Pit toilet-No water.
Dogs allowed on-leash on Oursan Trail segment only-No Dogs allowed on Bear Creek Trail.
EBMUD Trail Permit required-purchase online
*Bring plenty of water & food/snacks. No water along the trails-Porta-potty at Bear Creek Staging Area.

View the interactive RGPS route map & profile

Briones Reservoir

EBMUD Trail Map:

Briones Reservoir 1


One Comment

  1. Really nice hike! Nancy, that is long mileage! Way to go!

    Thanks Jim-It’s a fabulous hike! Nancy


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