Claremont Canyon isn’t perfect: Off-leash dogs and non-native plants abound, and you’re sure to schvitz motoring up the steep trails. Yet there’s hardly a better introduction to the lovely East Bay hills, which loom above urban Berkeley and Oakland and serve as a hub for outdoor recreationists.
Above all, you can’t beat the panoramic views. On a clear day, just about every notable Bay Area landmark materializes, from the San Francisco skyline to Mount Tamalpais to all four of the region’s bridges.
Then, of course, there are the birds. Despite its relatively small size, the preserve hosts several distinct habitats, providing refuge for a number of specialty West Coast passerines, including Wrentit, California Thrasher, Pacific-slope Flycatcher, Oak Titmouse, and Golden-crowned Sparrow. Don’t forget to glance up, where hawks, corvids, and Turkey Vultures ride the wind currents.
Sometimes, I meander lazily along the path. On one such stroll this winter with my 3-year-old son, we watched Acorn Woodpeckers ferociously fend off a squirrel that was trying to steal their nuts. Other times, I power up the slope, connecting with a trail network that goes dozens of miles in multiple directions.
Meadows, chaparral, and riparian areas, plus conifer, oak, and eucalyptus groves.
Steep. The main path, the Stonewall-Panoramic Trail, gains about 700 feet of elevation in just 0.75 miles.
More than 135 species. Year-round: Sharp-shinned, Cooper’s, Red-shouldered, and Red-tailed Hawks, Band-tailed Pigeon, Anna’s Hummingbird, Acorn Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, California Scrub-Jay, Steller’s Jay, Oak Titmouse, Chestnut-backed Chickadee, Bushtit, Red-breasted and Pygmy Nuthatches, Wrentit, California Thrasher, Spotted and California Towhees, Lesser Goldfinch. Summer: Pacific-slope Flycatcher, Violet-green Swallow, Orange-crowned and Wilson’s Warblers. Winter: Yellow-rumped and Townsend’s Warblers, Golden-crowned, White-crowned, and Fox Sparrows.
When to go
Free maps usually available at main trailhead.
Regional park district preserve. Open 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. No fees. Two-hour parking limit on weekdays (street parking only). To reach preserve by mass transit, take the AC Transit #79 bus to Derby St. and Claremont Blvd., then walk east along Derby St. to the paved footpath leading to the trailhead, or take the AC Transit #80 bus to the last stop at Russell St. and Claremont Blvd., and walk northeast along Claremont Ave. to Stonewall Rd.
Sunscreen advisable except during winter rainy season. Bring water. Gwin Canyon Trail is far less crowded than Stonewall-Panoramic Trail, but lacks the views and is harder to access.
Cesar Chavez Park
A former landfill turned grassland next to the Berkeley Marina, about 4.5 miles west of Claremont Canyon. Excellent for ducks and shorebirds.
Tilden Regional Park
A 2,079-acre gem located north of Claremont Canyon, flush with songbirds, hawks, and Great Horned Owls. Best spots within the park include Jewel Lake, Vollmer Peak, and the botanic garden.
Jesse Greenspan is a Berkeley-based freelance journalist who writes about history and the environment. His work has appeared in The New York Times, Scientific American, Audubon, the History Channel, and other outlets.
Jesse Greenspan on social media
Stay in touch with BirdWatching
Keep up to date on all the latest birding news and info.