A Hike to Wildcat Peak in Berkeley’s Tilden Park
by Mary Corbin / Photos by Tom McGuire
YourBerkeley.com – June 2017
So many hikes, so little time. One hike that should be on everyone’s bucket list is the hike to Wildcat Peak in Tilden Park, an invigorating climb with stunning 360 degree views of Berkeley and beyond! On the next bright blue sky day, this is the one.
You can begin or end your adventure with a stop at the Visitor/Nature Center or The Little Farm , especially if you have little ones in tow, or just enjoy the hike and all it has to offer on its own. With a variety of routes to get there, the hike to Wildcat Peak takes you through varied terrain from open, sunny ridge trails to paved walkways and shaded, narrow and winding single track pathways under the canopy of Bay Laurel, Oak, Eucalyptus and Redwood.
Depending on your route and your time frame, you can linger to take in an assortment of features. For one, the commemorative Rotary Peace Grove to read the plaques of those honored as proponents of peace is on the way. You might find yourself engaged in a lively debate with others as to the appropriateness of some of those included in the commemorations, I certainly have, with hiking companions and strangers alike. It’s quite a conversation piece.
Any way you approach it, Wildcat Peak, with a climb of approximately 750 feet from base to summit configured in a four to five mile loop, is a great outing to get just the right amount of exertion-to-pay off ratio. With an option to head out from a few different parking areas, you can craft your hike in a variety of ways depending on what type of terrain you prefer, how long of a hike you prefer and whether you want sun or shade.
Other things to consider when planning your day are specific features you want to visit, seasonal conditions of trails – some areas can get muddy and slippery after rains – and if there are any limited access scenarios due to park maintenance schedules or weather effects. Be sure to check for any trail closures at the park’s website before setting out.
Trails such as Laurel Canyon and Wildcat Creek Trail, Sylvan, Pine Tree and Peak Trails, Conlon and Nimitz Way can all be included in your loop. These vary from intimate woodsy single tracks to wide paved and highly populated walkways. Most trail markers have pictoral symbols to keep you on the right track but it’s always good to have a map in your back pocket just in case, if for no other reason than to craft your hike spontaneously.
It’s a true delight wending your way to the top as the journey there is as exciting as the destination. You’ll feel the bounty of the Bay Area ecotone under your feet and all around you as a sensory banquet erupts in a medley of birds chirping and flitting about, fragrant flora, gentle breezes, and open sky contrasting with deep canyon forest land. And depending on the hour, a deer or fox may cross your path. One simply glistens in the afterglow of the effort made with all senses on full-tilt to get to the top.
Rounding up to the peak, weighing in at 1,250 feet, one feels triumphant and rewarded with the spectacular panorama. One rejoices in the accomplishment and the reminder of the expansive nature of the East Bay. High fives all around! Settling in, then, along the circular wall at the summit is a great place to picnic, take photos, rest up, commingle with other hikers or just hang and take in the sights below and beyond in meditative silence.
Visible from the top of Wildcat Peak is the scenic sprawl of Berkeley and the UC Campus below, the resplendent Bay and city of San Francisco due west, the majesty of Mt. Diablo and the turquoise reservoirs to the east, Mt. Tamalpais rising serenely to the northwest, the wooded forest to the south from whence you have just come and the hills of the North Bay wine country towards Napa, Sonoma and Mt. St. Helena.
All manner of hikers and runners are inspired to tackle this loop. At the top, I’ve witnessed everything from bended-knee marriage proposals to ritual ashes of loved ones being scattered here. A bottle of wine or two has certainly been shared amongst friends on more than one occasion. The spot truly has a sacred quality and the wide views call to us in so many different ways.
Start early for a refreshing hike or time it just right for a breathtaking sunset. For the latter, you will either be treated to clear and endless views or the atmospheric early evening fog rolling in over the hills. But really, any time of day is right for this spectacular hiking experience!
Winding back down, a stop at Jewel Lake is sweet, especially if the ducks, cormorants and turtles are making their presence known. You might even be treated to something as extraordinary as a migrating otter passing through. Birders flock here to witness a variety of regular denizens as well as uncommon visitors. Great Blue and Night Herons have frequently been spotted here, taking up temporary residence on the lake. A short respite on the large wood bench or short add-on hike around the lake adds value to this outing, for sure.
A nearby boardwalk stroll through a marshy bird habitat takes you into yet another ecosystem as another add-on option as well at Jewel Lake. There are restrooms and picnic tables in the area and you can even make a weekend of it here as there are three group campsites: New Woodland, Wildcat View and Gillespie Youth Camp near the Lone Oak Road parking area near the Lake.
The Wildcat Peak hike is there for the taking and take it you must, if you know what’s really, really good for you in the Berkeley hills! This hike is accessible by car or bicycle from the paved parking lot at Central Park Drive, the paved parking lot and pathways at Inspiration Point or the dirt parking area of Lone Oak Road. On weekends AC Transit Line #65 from the Downtown Berkeley BART station drops you directly at the Visitor Center trailhead.