Contra Costa County has great trails, close to town

Ygnacio Valley Road, the thoroughfare running between downtownWalnut Creek and the edge of the city, holds a secret. The busyhighway is standard 21st-century California. But not far awayspreads a network of quiet trails that link the area to its ruralpast.

More than 100 miles of urban trails, most managed by the EastBay Regional Park District, crisscross Contra Costa County. Theymake for civilized hiking: Hikers can start in town, set off tosavor nature, and return to enjoy dinner at a nice restaurant. As abonus in this era of rising gas prices, many trailheads areaccessible by BART.

Trails are open to hiking, biking, skating, and equestrians.Dogs on leash are allowed. Free maps are available from the EastBay Regional Park District (www.ebparks.org or510/635-0135).

Here are three favorite hikes.

Lafayette-Moraga Regional Trail

This pretty trail follows the route of a logging railroad thatbrought redwood from the Oakland Hills to Sacramento. Start at theLafayette BART station, then head south on Happy Valley Rd. towardSt. Mary's College of California in Moraga. Go 1 mile east on Mt.Diablo Blvd.; at Third St. and Golden Gate Way, theLafayette-Moraga Regional Trailhead is on the right. On the trail,you'll pass cottages built when Lafayette was a summer-resort town.St. Mary's College has a gorgeous Spanish chapel and an art museumrich with California landscapes. Return the way you came.

TRAILHEAD: Lafayette BART station.
DISTANCE: 13 1/2 miles round trip.
INFO: St. Mary's College of California chapel is opendaylight hours; the art museum is open when they have shows (11-4:30 Wed-Sun; $2 donation suggested; 925/631-4379) .

Pleasant Hill to Briones RegionalPark

The walk along the Contra Costa Canal Trail seems gritty as thetrail dips beneath Interstate 680. Be patient: Within a block,oak-dotted hills rise and the city melts away.

Start at the Pleasant Hill BART station, follow the Iron HorseTrail 1/4 mile and head east on the Contra Costa Canal Trail, thentake the Briones-to-Mt. Diablo Regional Trail through Larkey Park(home of the Lindsay Wildlife Museum) and the hills of AcalanesRidge Open Space.

You can also start in Civic Park in Walnut Creek. That makes fora longer trek but allows you to end up downtown, where the growingnumber of good restaurants makes for a nice reward after yourhike.

TRAILHEAD: Pleasant Hill BART station or Civic Park (N. Broadway at Civic Dr. in Walnut Creek) .
DISTANCE: From the Pleasant Hill BART station, 9 miles roundtrip; from Civic Park, 11 miles round trip.

Walnut Creek Canal trails

Rush hour here consists of two moms pushing strollers on thetrail and, on the 4-foot-wide canal itself, a party of paddlingmallards.

For a half-day hike, start at Heather Farm Park, whoseOlympic-size pool is great for a posthike dip. Cross Ygnacio ValleyRd. on the Briones-to-Mt. Diablo Regional Trail. To your left isthe area's first subdivision, Joseph Eichler's modernist 1955Rancho San Miguel. Hang a right onto the Ygnacio Canal Trail andreturn via the Contra Costa Canal Trail. For a longer hike, aftercrossing Ygnacio Valley Rd., follow the Briones-to-Mt. DiabloRegional Trail on a 3-mile out-and-back jaunt to Shell Ridge OpenSpace. Return the way you came and continue your loop on theYgnacio Canal Trail.

TRAILHEAD: Heather Farm Park (Ygnacio Valley Rd. at N. San Carlos Dr.).
DISTANCE: 6 miles round trip (without Shell Ridgesegment).

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