JMLT: Fernandez Ranch-Black Phoebe-Whipsnake-Woodrat-Windmill Trail Hike

Thursday, February 8, 2018

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The historic property of Bernardo and Carlotta Fernandez remained within the family for nearly 150 years. John Muir Land Trust approached the Fernandez family to preserve what remained of the original 7,000-acre ranch and raised funding for a $3.5 million dollar restoration project that began in 2008. Two years later, the property was opened to the public.

Located just off Highway 4, between Hercules and Martinez, Fernandez Ranch offers stunning views, shaded hiking trails and a variety of wildlife, including several threatened plant and animal species. Visitors can gaze at the glittering blue of the San Francisco Bay from the ranch’s summits and the northern Bay Area is visible from its ridge tops.*1

Cross Rodeo Creek to Black Phoebe Trail junction.

Black Phoebe Trail travels eastward along the open meadows to Whipsnake Trail. Black phoebes feed along Rodeo Creek. If you are lucky, you will see one of these black songbirds with white bellies take flight to catch a passing insect on the wing. The ADA-accessible Black Phoebe Trail leads to benches and picnic areas along the South Meadow. Look for western fence lizards, California meadow voles, coyotes, and other species that prefer open grassland. *1

Whipsnake turns southward along Slot Creek to the next trail post. Alameda whipsnakes have two lateral yellow stripes set against a black or dark brown back. Whipsnakes are fast, efficient hunters that capture and swallow lizards and small mammals whole. This is important habitat for the threatened species, found only in a few counties. The Whipsnake Trail traverses a wide variety of habitats, taking you through oak woodlands, pockets of bay forest and open grasslands. *1

Whipsnake Trail winds up along the hillside with a gentle grade towards the ridge to the first viewpoint area.

Enjoy the glorious views!

Stay on Whipsnake, it continues through the scattered oak/bay woodland to the upper meadow.

Arrive at Oak Knoll Bench-enjoy the views!

Whipsnake travels across the open grassland meadow.

The single track trail traverses through the shaded oak/bay woodland as it drops down into the lower meadow/canyon area.

Cross Fern Creek to stay on Whipsnake, it climbs out from the canyon towards the dense woodland.

The trail name changes to Woodrat as it continues through the woodland up to the ridge at Windmill Trail junction. San Francisco dusky-footed woodrats build large nests, often several feet tall, made of twigs and branches. Woodrats store nuts, leaves, food, and man-made objects, earning the common name “pack rats.” The Woodrat Trail travels through a dense bay forest as it climbs to the ridge that separates the Pinole Creek and Rodeo Creek watersheds. Keep an eye out for California newts, and look for nests on the ground and low in the trees.*1

Turn right onto Windmill Trail, it drops down from the ridge towards the lower meadow to the next junction at Woodrat Trail.

The antique windmill is a reminder of the area’s agricultural heritage. The Windmill Trail follows the route of an early ranch road, passing by the old foundations of a mid-century dairy farm. The dairy ceased operating in 1960, but cattle still graze the hills. The trail crosses Fern Creek and climbs to the ridge where hikers with a permit can continue on the Bay Area Ridge Trail into EBMUD’s beautiful Pinole Valley Watershed. *1

Stay on Windmill Trail, it rolls through the open pastoral grassland meadow to the junction at Homestead Picnic Area.

Stay on Windmill Trail for the return across Rodeo Creek to the parking lot.

This beautiful 1185-acre open space provides essential habitat for native wildlife and a delightful refuge for public recreation. Visitor enjoy breathtaking panoramic views of the Bay from elevated ridgetops, miles of multi-use trails, picnic areas, and calming walks through pristine East Bay ecosystems.*1


3.6 Miles with 566′ of elevation gain
Max elevation: 669′
Time: 1.5 hours
Hike: Easy
Parking: No fee at Fernandez Ranch Trailhead at the end of Christie Rd, Martinez
Vault toilets-No potable water available
Bring water & snacks-pack out all trash
Open from dawn to dusk
Weather: Sunny and warm with temps ranging from the low 60’s to the low 70’s with SE winds.

From I-80: Head east on Highway 4. Take the first exit after the Franklin Canyon Golf Course onto Christie Road. Use caution; Christie Road is a minor exit off of Highway 4. Fernandez Ranch is .7 miles down Christie Road on your right.

From Martinez: Head west on Highway 4. Take the Franklin Canyon Exit. Turn left and merge onto Highway 4 eastbound. Take the first exit after the Franklin Canyon Golf Course onto Christie Road. Use caution; Christie Road is a minor exit off of Highway 4. Fernandez Ranch is .7 miles down Christie Road on your right.

Print Trail Map

Direction: Fernandez Ranch Trailhead > X-Fern Creek > L-Black Phoebe Tr > R-becomes Whipsnake Tr > X-Fern Creek > S-Woodrat Tr > R-Windmill Tr > X-Fern Creek > Fernandez Ranch Trailhead


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