Sunol Regional Wilderness: Maguire Peaks and Flag Hill Loop
Yesterday was the first day of summer around here. We never had much of a winter, and it seems like mother nature is skipping right over spring and dropping us in the middle of July without much transition time. So I decided to spend the year’s first 90 degree day by getting in a long hike in one of my favorite Bay Area Parks, Sunol Regional Wilderness.
For years I’ve had my eye on the Maguire Peaks loop but I’ve never managed to get over there. It’s not like it’s any harder than any of the other hikes I’ve done, it’s just never worked out. Maguire is visible from highway 680, differentiating itself from the surrounding rounded mountain tops due to the slanted rocky outcroppings along the ridge. It doesn’t have the popularity of its more prominent neighbors (Rose, Diablo, Mission), so I thought it would be a good destination for a day where many people would be out enjoying the weather.
The shortest loop around Maguire is somewhere around six miles, but I was feeling more ambitious than that and parked at the farthest end of the park near the corral. (park map – .gif) From this parking lot I climbed the McCorkle Trail to the junction with the Canyon View Trail. I saw the best wildflowers of the day on this first mile of hiking.
Then it was back down to the Indian Joe Creek Trail which is a lovely shaded walk up a lightly running creek. I could already feel the heat of the day so I appreciated starting off easy. After passing Cave Rocks (which I did not explore due to poison oak and rattlesnake season) I turned west on High Valley Road and followed it all the way down to Welch Creek Road.
I could have parked on Welch Creek Road and done the peaks from there, but what fun is that? Instead, I crossed the road and walked up to the Upper Maguire Peaks Trail. This is a fun, super narrow and crumbling trail along a steep hillside. I know some people with height sensitivities that would have been very uncomfortable on this trail. I was certainly watching my step carefully!
After the harrowing ~1/2 mile I was happy to be back on old ranch road where I could enjoy the view and not have to watch my feet so carefully. Eventually I got a good look at Maguire Peaks and could figure out my plan of attack for the summit. A trail circles the peaks but doesn’t go the summit. The left peak is the high one, and I knew that there is a use trail that runs from a bench on the north side of the loop to the summit. From that point I wasn’t sure if I could get through the bands of rock to the lower peak. If I could make the lower peak I picked out a grassy ramp that I could take back to the trail and bookmarked the bottom of it on my GPS.
I looped around the peaks and found the bench, then took the use trail to the summit as planned. From there, I was able to descend through some of the thinner rock bands but got stuck at the big one. I’m pretty sure I could have found a way through but I didn’t want to do anything stupid since I was off-trail and by myself. With a group I’m fairly certain we could have figured it out. Oh well, now I have an excuse to go back. So I turned around and went back down the use trail, then finished the loop around the peaks.
Returning back to the main part of the park via the lower trail (so I skipped the narrow bits), it was a pretty easy final few miles up and over Flag Hill. When I can measure climbs in hundreds of feet of gain rather than thousands I consider it easy! The descent off Flag Hill back to the main parking area is pretty steep, and since it was the end of the day I was kind of wishing I had poles along. I was getting tired and started to have what I call “stupid feet” (making stupid mistakes because I’m tired and I know I’m almost done).
At Sunol, you can make loops as small or as big as you want. I’ve done 20 mile hikes there and I’ve done 3 mile hikes there and I’ve enjoyed them all. Once you get a mile or so from the visitor’s center it’s easy to find solitude, even though it’s close to one of the US’s biggest population centers.