Adventure: A Day On The Iron Horse Regional Trail
by Bob Coomber
One of my favorite trails is the Iron Horse Regional Trail. It's paved, mostly flat, and currently runs between Pleasanton and Concord. Following the trail up the San Ramon Valley might remind one of an old stagecoach route - short distances between towns, the ability to have breakfast in Dublin, lunch in Walnut Creek and from there, who knows?
While I wouldn't expect too many to travel the entire trail and back in a day, it's fun to take sections of it for the various attractions, both man-made and natural. I'm writing this after I managed to squeak through the entire route - and back - in a single day. The Iron Horse is wonderful place for those with mobility challenges who still long to get out and enjoy a day of birding or wildflower watching. The trail pulls you along, singing a siren song to urban and suburban fans of being outside. I'll share some of my favorite parts with you.
I picked a rather logical starting point - the Dublin BART Station. Although I had rolled from home to this point, I was just warming up. You can take BART to the trailhead from anywhere in BART's service area, and at a couple of points. If a Dublin start doesn't appeal to you, you can BART closer to the trail's northern end from the Pleasant Hill station. There is very limited parking along the way, and I suggest BART, public transport or your bike or walking shoes as the best ways to complete a section or two. Residents of the San Ramon Valley and north toward Walnut Creek and Concord have several access points from their neighborhoods in many locations. It's been my experience that people who live near the Iron Horse use it frequently.
The Iron Horse gets "two wheels up" from me in that it is a great place for everyone to get out and enjoy a day outdoors. Heading out from Dublin, and passing Camp Parks, a White-tailed Kite flew around, hovering over a potential lunch. These sorts of sightings occur almost every mile. If you're a wildflower fan, you'll be immersed in color much of March, April and into early May. The variety of birds and flowers is more than I can document here.
For those hiking as I do, in a wheelchair, there are only a couple of small bridges crossing over creeks, or underpasses that may test your hill climbing abilities. But they're not extreme. It's also very easy to simply pull off the trail in many places to see, hear or smell what Mother Nature's cooked up that day. If you park near one of the developed areas, such as in downtown Danville, Walnut Creek or Concord, you can saunter off-trail and eat rather well within just yards of the route. This trail offers much in the way of amenities.
Instead of chatting up a mile-by-mile story, let me encourage you to try my favorite part of the trail. It's almost 5 miles round trip - and can be accessed from the wheelchair ramp at the southeast corner of The Willows shopping center in Concord. I usually manage to take in lunch at The Willows before I start, or dinner after I've finished. See? There are advantages to this hiking stuff!
Now you're up on the trail - it's well signed and obvious. Greeting you is my favorite feature along the entire route - the large creek, which is home to birds and animals in a natural setting. During my most recent hike, I noted Snowy and Great Egrets, Great Blue Herons, nesting ducks and Canada Geese, a lone muskrat trolling his way upstream, and hundreds of meadowlarks and red winged blackbirds singing Spring songs. It's easy for me to take a long time on this piece of the trail, as I stop and look around each time I hear a new call. The expected Spring wildflower bloom will simply be icing on the cake. I set off slowly, heading northbound toward Buchanan Field and the trail's end.
The first underpass beneath Diamond Blvd. makes a good spot to find shade if the day's too warm, or to listen to the frogs. An easy grade from under the roadway puts you back at an excellent vantage point - right now geese are nesting in clusters in this section, and predatory birds glide overhead, waiting for an opportunity. Nothing on TV is as dramatic as nature. To take the time and observe all that's happening around us is humbling and quite rewarding. For nature buffs that can't get out on a rougher, more remote trail, the Iron Horse provides the same show without the obstacles or barriers.
Drifting north to Concord Ave., another undercrossing brings us to one of my favorite vantage points - the pedestrian bridge just north of Concord Ave. I might stop here for a half hour watching the creek and surrounding marsh. Egrets are all over, soon to be nesting and hatching little long - legged young €˜uns. Finally I decide to move on, and reaching the east shore I continue north.
Between light industrial buildings and the airport is a big marshy swath all the way to Suisun Bay. Although the trail doesn't make it that far yet, I do a lot of dreaming about the time when it could. Approaching the present trail's end at Marsh Road, you can turn back and see where the Delta - De Anza Trail connects, bridging the pass from Concord to Pittsburg for the real explorers among you. There are dozens of possibilities for alternate routes along the Iron Horse, making access easy to residents of each hamlet. Suddenly, we're at the end of the trail. It doesn't feel like 2.5 miles. Now I'll simply reverse course and offer a tip to those who believe backtracking on a trail is boring.
While taking the same trail back to the start, notice what's happening around you - the light is different, the progressing day is changing things. If it's late afternoon or close to dusk, you may see that hawks are gone but owls have taken over. Nocturnal critters move in as the daytimers head off to rest. Getting out early in the day, you'll witness this same changing of the guard in reverse order. That return trip might be every bit as interesting as the journey out, even though the trail is identical.
Check the trail map on ebparks.org to plan your hike. Taking BART to either Dublin or Pleasant Hill provides immediate access to the trail without the parking hassle. Bring your walking or running shoes, skates, scooters, bikes, wheelchairs€¦.just about all human powered conveyances are welcome.
"Now" is a wonderful, colorful time to experience the Iron Horse Trail. I expect to get my exercise out there often, and hope to see you enjoying some time out there, too. I hope your visit to the Iron Horse convinces you that you don't have to get muddy to get close to nature. See you on the trail soon!