The trail to Murietta Falls is one of the most challenging hikes in the Bay Area. Clocking in at 12 miles with over 4ooo feet of elevation gain, this dog-friendly out-and-back hike will definitely give you a workout.
The Ohlone Wilderness is popular with both day hikers and backpackers. The entire trail spans 28 miles and connects Mission Peak, Sunol, and Del Valle Regional Parks. The trail can be grueling in the heat of summer and a formidable opponent in the winter. I apparently like pain, and I usually end up hiking this trail twice a year. I’ve found that the out-and-back hike to Murietta Falls is a great way to periodically gauge my fitness level.
The majority of the trail is a wide fire road that follows the contours of the East Bay hills. Within the first three miles of the hike, you’ll climb 1630 feet as you follow the trail almost entirely uphill. You’ll get a bit of reprieve as the trail narrows and dips down to Williams Gulch, an idyllic shady grove of Oak trees with a bubbling creek. Savor your time here before taking on the Big Burn, a series of steep switchbacks. Despite its name, the narrow trail through the Big Burn is quite nice compared to some of the other steep uphill climbs on this section of the trail, but be on the lookout for Poison Oak creeping amongst the purple thistle that grows along the trail in the spring and summer.
After climbing 1310 feet you’ll reach the highest point on the trail (3200ft) and begin the descent to Murietta Falls. The falls are usually bone dry in the summer, so if you are hoping to see the waterfall it is best to attempt this trail in the winter or after a heavy rain. The narrow, unmarked trail leading to the waterfall may require a bit of rock scrambling, but after you reach the falls hang out for a bit and revel in your accomplishments before retracing your route to arrive back at the trailhead. (If you have trekking poles, you’ll want to use them on your way back to avoid sliding down some of the steep downhill sections.)
Even though this is a dog-friendly trail, owners should strongly consider leaving the pooch at home if hiking in the summer months. At the height of summer, temperatures can reach over 100 degrees and water sources on the trail can be unreliable. If you’re new to hiking with your dog, check out my blog post for some handy tips.
Enter at the Del Valle Regional Park main entrance (you can get your hiking permit when you pay your entrance fees). Proceed through the gate and continue driving straight into the park. When the road dead-ends, make a right turn and head towards the parking lot near West Swim Beach and the Rocky Ridge Visitor Center. Park at the far end of the parking lot and look for the trailhead near the Lichen Bark area (you’ll see a sign for the Ohlone Wilderness).
Take the Sailor Camp Trail until it meets the Ohlone Trail. Continue on the Ohlone Trail for 5.23 miles and make a right at the junction after Johnny’s Pond to follow signs to Murietta Falls. Follow the trail for another quarter-mile and when the trail splits stay to the left. The trail will head downhill and cross a small creek. Shortly after crossing the creek, look for a large rock on the right side of the trail and a narrow path leading to what looks like an overlook. Follow this unmarked trail and scramble down to the falls. Retrace your steps and follow the trail back to the trailhead.
Parking: Paid parking lot
Fee: $6 entrance fee, $2 hiking permit
Restroom: Flush toilets available at the trailhead, pit toilets available along the trail