To start the hike park in the lake carpark and walk west along Mount Hamilton Road until you reach the trailhead. This point is easy to spot because the gate immediately adjacent has a blue sign for Berkeley University.
Once through the gate follow the fire road past the barn. The fire road drops then into a creek which is mostly dry throughout the year, before ascending to the peak of the hill.
As I begin the climb I notice two other travelers on the hill immediately above me. I suspect they are a young pair since their coats appear to be in good condition, but in truth I have no idea how you tell the age of a coyote. As soon as I move to uncover the camera lens they start to move for the cover of the nearby trees; still I managed to capture some of the second coyote before it disappeared, including some video.
As you ascend look behind to see panoramic views of San Jose.
On cresting the hill you find a bench seat, for rest if needed, but mostly it’s a good place to allow you to take in the 360° panorama view. To the north with clear weather you can see as far as San Francisco. To the south you can see one mountain range after another, while in the east the observatory looks down on you.
Continuing on, the fire road meanders down the hill through a sparse wood. At the next junction I turn left to head up towards the cabin, a path I had not previously taken. I’ve been meaning to take this path for years and today is the day. The trail is still a fire road but after a short walk the terrain changes to a narrow valley following a small creek. I prefer hiking in this type of intimate country as opposed to the sweeping vistas from the side of hills. However, the valley soon opens out and you find yourself back in the open space climbing towards the cabin.
This cabin was once a hunting lodge for Joseph D Grant. It was built in the 1890s to accommodate him and his guests overnight as they hunted for deer and fished for trout. In its first incarnation it must’ve been a rugged experience. The toilet was an outhouse and the sleeping conditions must have been spartan. The temperature in this park can range from below freezing to over 100°F depending on the time of year; indeed this morning there was frost on the grass in the shadow of the hill. I imagine people came here on horseback in the very early days of the cabin. When the cabin was built the gold-mining industry was still happening hundreds of miles to the east. In the world at large Queen Victoria was still on the throne in Britain, Bismarck was just ending his reign of power, and in China the seeds of the Boxer Rebellion were being sown.
My appetite for history satiated I set off again climbing once more until I crest the hill. Following the path along the hill there is a seat facing East that gives a wonderful view of the valley immediately below Mount Hamilton. This is a good place to pause and take in the view. There are a few buildings in the valley below but for the most part the view today is a green valley and the wooded hillside below the observatory.
Leaving the hilltop the path descends to the junction where you can turn right to go back down the Washburn Trail, or as I did, turn left to complete the loop and arrive back at the car park. The Halls Valley Trail that takes you back to the car park starts in open country as much of this walk has been but then you enter a wooded area that provides shade and a much more intimate experience.
Emerging from the wood you are alongside the lake. The water reflects the sunlight and with the clear blue sky overhead gives a sense of refreshment.
Back in the car park things have changed from when I left this morning. At that time there was just one car; now the place is overflowing and every few minutes another car pulls in looking for a nonexistent space in which to park.
A good hike with mixed views and terrain. Distance approximately 11 1/2 miles. You need to be reasonably fit to make the climb up the Washburn trail.
Joseph D. Grant – Washburn Trail and Loop Back at EveryTrail
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