Flag Hill, Vista Grande & Little Yosemite area hike

Distance: ~8 miles

Duration: ½ day (4 hrs)

Date: 4 March 2017

Difficulty: Moderate

Elevation gain: ~2100 feet

Trailhead: Sunol regional wilderness (1895 Geary Rd, Sunol, CA 94586). First parking lot/area after entering the wilderness gate & crossing visitor center parking. We were lucky to park right opposite the Ohlone wilderness trail check-in board and very close to the foot bridge leading to the trails.

Trail/Route: Parking lot -> Cross foot bridge -> Turn left on Shady glen trail (T-intersection with a map board) -> Flag hill trail (Find the trail that starts climbing) -> Flag hill -> Right onto flag hill road (+ intersection near the farm house/barn) -> continue onto Vista Grande rd -> right onto Eagle View trail -> left onto cave rocks rd -> Right onto cerro este rd -> Little Yosemite area -> Back up to the intersection of cerro este rd and canyon view trail -> left onto canyon view trail -> continue into Indian Joe trail -> Footbridge on the left -> Parking lot

Best time to visit: Spring, Winter & just after rains.

Notes: No potable water or fountains in any of the camps. There are fountains at the parking lot but the park recommends carrying your own water. $5 entrance fee per car. Dog friendly park

Info: Park trail map, Gurmeet Hike, Close-up of the valley floor

At Overlook SO-26

Sunol regional wilderness area and Mission peak open space preserve share borders in the north with Calaveras Rd dividing them. Mountains around bay area offer varied experiences to both tourists/new hikers as well as seasoned hikers alike. An avid hiker/trail runner clocking 20+ miles can cover parts of both Sunol & Mission peak. The diablo range and California Coast Ranges to which mission peak belongs features open meadows and hills with very sparse tree cover. I wouldn’t recommend hiking up Mission peak on a hot summer day. Rains around the bay area a week prior to this hike brought out the greens everywhere. Vast valley view from atop Flag Hill and the clouds moving in and out of the valley reminded me of Switzerland quite a lot.

Speaking about Sunol and Mission peak have you ever wondered the differences between open space preserves, state parks and regional wilderness? If so here’s the answer: open space preserves are open lands that are set aside indefinitely for recreational, aesthetic, environmental purposes while a state park is part of Parks & Recreation department funded by the state and are primarily meant for recreation. What this means is that you can see cattle in open space preserves and wilderness areas especially around the bay area but not in state parks.

On the climb up to Flag Hill

Eagle View trail from Vista Grande Overlook towards Little Yosemite area

The hike on 4th March 2017 is a story of 10 able bodied hikers and a dog. Generally when a group meets for a hike, we carpool and re-group at the trailhead. Anshuman however decided to get some miles in before joining us on the hike and so ran to the trailhead from Stanford avenue parking lot (mission peak) instead. The park gates open at 8:00am and remains open until dark so plan your visit accordingly. We got there around 8:15am. Have you ever realized you’ve been to a place in the past only after arriving there? Well this happens to me quite often and it wasn’t any different that day. Abhinava, I and other friends visited Sunol Wilderness a few years ago.

Our planned hike trail itself wasn’t difficult in terms of elevation but it did give a good fight. We had to hop around avoiding the mud and wet soil along the trail. As soon as you take Flag hill trail, you start to climb. It’s close to a 1000 feet climb in about a mile. The view from the top of flag hill is beautiful and well worth the sweaty climb. On a windy day, you’d have to part with your hat if it isn’t firmly anchored to your head. From flag hill one can either take the flag hill loop trail and loop around the peak or take the flag hill road towards vista grande, flag hill road and high valley road intersection. Either take the trail that has been pre-decided or wing it by closing your eye and spinning around with your hand held straight pointing to an arbitrary direction. Grand vistas is a given whatever you decide, you cannot go wrong.

Atop Flag Hill Flag hill to Vista Grande View

On the way down towards Vista Grande rd, we had to make an important choice; of either cutting across a herd of cows hoping to not agitate them or to circumvent them hoping they don’t mis-understand us for enemies using guerilla warfare technique of surrounding them. We chose the latter since it gave us some buffer space in case we had to do the old “exit-stage left” escape routine. Sunol wilderness is marked pretty well at intersection points with an “SO marker - number” combination. Carrying a map here is highly recommended. Vista Grande view (Vista grande rd & eagle view trail intersection) overlooks the Calaveras reservoir which in my opinion could be the reason for it being named “Vista Grande”, it’s that beautiful.

There are multiple trails / routes that one could take to return to Indian Joe nature trail <-> Shady glen trail intersection which then leads to the parking lot but I strongly recommend hiking down to Little Yosemite area. The rapids around there and a small waterfall makes it a fun pitstop. As always be cautious when hopping over boulders trying to get a closer experience with the falls; the current was pretty strong during our visit. From little yosemite area we took the canyon view trail which is about 0.2 miles out on Cerro Este road (cerro este road starts right by the restroom). By 12:30pm we were back in the parking lot bringing this story to an end.

SO-26 - Some slight drizzle and we have a wonderful rainbow

On the way back to the parking lot (Canyon View trail)