Mission Peak, Fremont CA

by Richard Perkins
This entry is part 1 of 6 in the series Trail Guides

Today, Margot, Bella, and I hiked a 6.2 mile loop through the Mission Peak Regional Preserve. It’s a large area (about 3000 acres) with miles of hiking trails, including sections of the Bay Area Ridge Trail and the Ohlone Trail. The views are breathtaking from countless places in the park, which looks down across Fremont onto the southern arm of San Francisco Bay. The sweeping views are due to two things: rapid elevation gain, and a near complete lack of trees.

With the exception of A.A. Memorial Grove, a stand of mixed oaks and eucalyptus tucked into a steep canyon below the peak, nothing grows much above knee high. So like much of the hiking in coastal regions of California, the 2000 ft climb in the 3 miles from the parking lot to the peak is shadeless, sunny, and dry. But the views really are quite nice. So if you’re going to try this hike, wear sunscreen, bring plenty of water and dress in layers. You’ll be stripping off by the time you reach the summit.

A warning note: Although I write trail names in this post, much of that is recreated from looking at the map after the fact. The trail marking was not always clear, particularly in places where multiple trails converged. Let the hiker beware.

We started our hike at the Stanford Ave staging area. This parking lot with water fountains and a vault toilet is located at the eastern end of Stanford Ave, half a mile from Mission Blvd off Interstate 680 in Fremont. We took the Hidden Valley Trail, climbing on a wide graded slope through rolling grassy fields. At 1.5 miles we passed the intersection of the Peak Meadow Trail on our right. This first cut-off trail offers hikers an option to short-cut the summit attempt, resulting in a nice 3.6 mile loop that returns to the parking lot. We pressed on with out traildog in tow (she probably wold have rather taken the short-cut).

At 2.2 miles we reached our second major intersection with the Grove Trail. This area was a little confusing, since walkers and bikers have cut quite a few side trails, and some of them seem very well established though none of them show up on the official trail guide. At the Grove Trail, you can turn right to walk by one of the two park residences on your way to A.A. Memorial Grove. But the Grove Trail short-cuts the summit again, though it does offer the tantalizing promise of a bit of shade. We turned left and pressed on toward the summit.

The rest of the climb was pretty steep, but the view kept getting better the higher we climbed, so we pressed ahead. At 2.3 miles we came to a large triangular intersection with the Peak Trail. The Peak Trail is part of the Bay Area Ridge Trail, and cuts along the ridge line toward Ed Levin County Park to the south. We turned right, and the really steep climb began. We ended up coming around the back of the peak on the Eagle trail before rejoining the Peak Trail at 2.9 miles. (Remember I said the trail signs were not always clear?)

We stopped at the summit (about 3.1 miles into the hike) for a snack or two and a photo op with the trail dog. You could see in all directions from the summit, so I think the climb was worth it. You’d have to ask Margot and Bella whether they agree.

Our two options from the summit would be to return back down the way we came, or climb down the other side of the peak and return the the staging area from the southern side of the park. We decided to make the trip a loop rather than an out-and-back. Parts of our downhill trip were even steeper than our uphill climb, so if you’re thinking about making the loop yourself, tighten your laces before leaving the peak.

We left the summit of Mission Peak (elevation 2517 ft) by continuing southeast along the Peak Trail. As we climbed down, we could see Eagle Spring Backpack Camp along the Eagle Trail a steep 400 foot tumble down the eastern side of the ridge. At 3.4 miles we turned right onto the beginning of Horse Heaven Trail. Although, I would not recommend taking a horse on it if I were you. The high end of Horse Heaven Trail is narrow and steep where it cuts down into McClure Spring and where it has to climb back out again. McClure Spring feeds the A.A. Memorial Grove I mentioned earlier, and it was actually running (slowly) when we passed it today. The area was actually muddy, and made for a dirty scramble across a couple of rotting planks near the intersection with the Grove Trail at 3.6 miles.

Beyond the spring, Horse Heaven Trail forged pretty much straight down. As I said, I wouldn’t want to take a horse on it personally. The trail had to cut down into a gully and then climb back out again as it crossed Agua Caliente Creek near 4.5 miles. Unfortunately the creek was all caliente and no agua this time of year. But at least there was no mud!

At about 4.8 miles, we came to an intersection where a graded trail cut off to the right. The sign markers were a bit confusing and we ended up going straight ahead. We continued for about a tenth of a mile before realizing we were on a cut-off with an incredibly steep downhill descent. If you’re indestructible, have a death wish, or want to ride a sheet of cardboard down it on your backside, you can take this unnamed cut-off trail; it eventually rejoins the Peak Meadow Trail after a 560 ft drop. We turned back and got back on the Horse Heaven Trail. Oddly enough this lower section is very well graded with switchbacks leading gently down to the intersection with the Peak Meadow Trail at 5 miles.

The final 1.3 miles along the Peak MeadowTrail was widely graded and steep in places, but manageable. Bella somehow managed to find a mud hole to wallow in up to her belly. Leave it to a dog to find standing water at the end of the summer drought. She was a mess, needless to say.

After returning to the parking lot on Stanford Ave, we cleaned up a bit and piled in the car for the short ride home to San Jose. For more details, visit Mission Peak Regional Preserve’s web site. I’ve included a map and altitude profile below. Happy hiking!

Mission Peak

One Response to “Mission Peak, Fremont CA”

  1. [...] It was nice to get out on the trail again, and in early October the weather was just about perfect for this trip. The first day started with the ascent of Mission Peak. Nothing like a daunting 2200 foot climb in 3 miles to jump start a hike. I didn’t bother to hit the summit on this trip, since Margot, Bella and I did that on a day hike just a few weeks ago. You can see pictures and read about that hike in my Mission Peak post. [...]