Pleasanton Ridge Regional Park is made up of 9,000 acres of beautiful open-space parkland in San Francisco’s East Bay.
Just 41 miles from San Francisco and 31 miles from Palo Alto, this regional park is the perfect daytrip option for anyone looking to escape the city for a more peaceful atmosphere.
I don’t know about you, but if I’m doing some kind of exercise I want it to include a pay-off in the form of a spectacular view. And Pleasanton Ridge Regional Park steps up to that plate with ease.
From canyon and ridgetop vistas of rolling hills, grasslands that seem to stretch for miles, and the added bonus of grazing cows scattered around the park, you’ll never be short of something breathtaking to gaze at.
Pleasanton Ridge Regional Park during COVID-19
While some regional parks were either partially or fully closed earlier in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, many have now reopened to allow local residents to get outside and stretch their legs.
Pleasanton Ridge Regional Park is currently open to visitors who wear face masks and maintain 6-feet of distance between themselves and others outside of their “bubble”. You can check for closure updates on the East Bay Regional Park District‘s website.
The “Shelter-in-place” order that has been intermittently enforced throughout California, lists outdoor recreation activities as “essential” but stipulates that precautions must be taken.
While most parks remain open, it’s important to note that visitor centers, water fountains (except bottle filling stations), reservable picnic areas, and campsites are closed during the pandemic.
Things to do at Pleasanton Ridge Regional Park
You might be thinking “it’s a park, how much could there possibly be to do?”. Allow me to spell it out for you, because there was more on offer than I originally thought there could be in one park.
Take a hike
There are quite a few hikes that you can go on in the park (around 28 trails, and 59 total including the surrounding parks), but be warned that they are all classified as moderate or difficult.
Start at the parking area off Foothill Road (see below for more parking information), taking the Oak Tree Trail uphill until you hit Ridgeline Trail. From there you have the choice of a few different trails, but you can’t avoid that first uphill slog.
As you’d expect, that first section of the Oak Tree Trail is crowded with hikers and cyclists, but the further you hike, the less people you’ll come across.
I hiked the Thermalito Ridgeline Oak Tree Trail, which is a 6.2 mile (10km) popular loop that gives spectacular views of the hills to the north, east, and south. But you’ll have to work for it – that ridgeline hits elevations of around 1600 feet (500 metres) in places.
If you’re wondering how the ridgeline got it’s name, it comes from the Thermal Fruit Company, which had apricot, cherry, prune, and almond orchards in the early part of the 1900s.
You’ll get sweeping views of grasslands, dotted with a few trees and some grazing cows if you’re lucky. Take the Olive Grove Trail to wander through (you guessed it) a grove of Olive tress that are more than a century old.
Keep your wits about you, because this park is very popular with local mountain bike riders. Don’t hog the whole path with your hiking group. It seems we’ve hit the perfect segue way into our next topic.
Peddle the bike trails
Mountain bikers flock to Pleasanton Ridge Regional Park for the challenging steep fire roads and some of the legal single tracks.
There are about 58 mountain bike trails in the park and in adjacent parks along Pleasanton Ridge that vary in difficulty. Note that most of the single tracks are reserved for hikers and horse riding, especially the narrower ones, to ensure the safety of everyone using the park.
The more popular mountain bike trails include Oak Tree, Longview Fire road, Shady Creek, and Golden Eagle.
Bring plenty of water, especially in the hotter months as there isn’t much shade along the trails. If you’re a little squeamish you might want to watch out for the cow pats along the tracks as well.
Those who like a bit of a challenge can try the Pleasanton Ridge Loop, classified as an intermediate/difficult 14 mile ride that runs up Oak Tree Trail, along Ridgeline Trail, and continues onto some steeper climbs.
Give your horse a change of scenery
Head to the main staging area on Foothill Drive (basically, the parking lot) with your horse to take advantage of the trails.
The two most popular horse riding trails are the Thermalito Ridgeline Oak Tree Trail, and the Pleasanton Ridge Thermalito Loop.
Have a family picnic
There are quite a few picnic tables dotted along the ridgeline, so why not bring your family for a hike and enjoy lunch with a view while you’re there?
While reservable picnic areas in the East Bay Regional Park District area are closed during COVID-19, this ban does not extend to single picnic tables or benches in Pleasanton Ridge Regional Park.
So it’s fine to sit with a group of friends or family who are in your “bubble” and have a little picnic. It’s also a nice chance to rest your legs for the rest of your hike.
Go bird watching and animal-spotting
While there are many types of wild animals that you may come across on your visit, the grazing cattle will probably stand out the most.
East Bay Regional Parks operates a license system that allows cattle, sheep, or goats to graze on the native grasslands it manages. The animals are used to manage the vegetation and reduce fire fuel loads.
Don’t try to touch or pat the cows, or approach them as they may act defensively if they perceive you as a threat. Never get between a calf and it’s mother.
Most of all, be sure to keep your dog by your side when cattle are present, and do not let them chase or harrass the cows.
Birders should stick to the grasslands to see meadowlarks, horned larks, western bluebirds, red-tailed hawks, and golden eagles.
Try the brushlands for California quail, the wrentit, and California thrasher. While the woodland areas are home to Cooper’s hawks, sharp-shinned hawks, a few different species of owls, the rufous-sided towhee, as well as the acorn woodpecker, northern flicker, and white-breasted nut-hatch.
Mammals & Reptiles
While they are bound to be a little more shy, you may come across opossums, raccoons, skunks, coyotes, black-tailed deer, grey foxes, bobcats, and mountain lions on your visit.
Alligator and western fence lizards, gopher snakes, king snakes, rattlesnakes, and the Alameda whipsnake also call the park home, so keep your wits about you.
Enjoy the wildflowers
The grasslands and grazing cattle make Pleasanton Ridge Regional Park an ideal spot to view wildflowers in the East Bay.
Visit in the late winter and spring months to spot lupine, poppies, redmaids, canyon gooseberry, white butterfly mariposa lily, blue elderberry, and the common star lily.
There are plenty more wildflowers to be seen in the park, check out the Wildflowers of Pleasanton Ridge Regional Park guide for more.
Dog-friendly Pleasanton Ridge Regional Park
Like many East Bay Regional Park District lands, you can bring your dog for some off-leash roaming, if it responds well to your voice commands.
Be sure to keep it on a leash within 200ft of the parking lot/staging area, picnic site, and when grazing animals are present.
Be aware that you should also hold your dog when horses are approaching. And obviously, please pick up after your pet and don’t leave their waste in bags along the trails.
The East Bay Regional Park District does require people with more than three dogs to obtain a permit to walk them in the park at the same time.
Don’t let your dog dig or cause damage to the park habitat, yield right-of-way to other hikers and equestrians.
Pleasanton Ridge Regional Park parking
The main parking/staging area is at Foothill Road, Pleasanton, and while it doesn’t have a lot number, it’s easy to find in your GPS app.
While parking and entry to the park is free, the gates open at 8am daily, and close at 4.30pm in January and early February, at 6pm between mid-February and late April, at 8pm between May and the end of August, 7pm in September, 6pm in October, and 5pm in November and December.
There is a very small parking area that is not gated for early risers. But not that the park has a curfew between 10pm and 5am daily.
There is plenty of parking within the main staging area, although spaces are not specifically marked in the gravel parking area. You will also find toilets and drinking fountains here.
Pleasanton Ridge Regional Park weather
It’s best to avoid the park in the high summer, as average temperatures in July and August reach about 89°F, and can obviously peak at much higher temperatures.
There is not a lot of shade cover along many of the trails, so be sure to bring plenty of water, and wear a hat and other sun-shading clothing if necessary.
The mild winter months are a very comfortable time to visit the park, when the average temperature ranges between 37°F and 62°F. The trails can get very muddy after a soaking rain so be prepared by bringing a change of shoes for the drive home.
Visit in the spring months, when average temperatures peak around 77°F, and to take advantage of the wildflowers dotting the grasslands.
**Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links. If you purchase something through one of these links you don’t pay a cent more, but I receive a small commission, that is put towards the running of this blog.