Sugarloaf - Shell Ridge Trail from Young's Valley Rd. to Borges Ranch
Start at the Young's Valley Rd. entrance to Sugarloaf Open Space.
Young's Valley Road is the main entrance to Sugarloaf Open Space. Besides being an excellent place for a picnic and a walk to the top of Sugarloaf Hill, it is also the jumping-off point for the Sugarloaf to Shell Ridge Trail. This is a description of a November hike all the way to Borges Ranch in Shell Ridge. The first 1.25 miles is on mostly-paved urban trail to the Sunburst Court entrance to Shell Ridge. This section is good for rainy-day walks in the winter. The total distance to Borges Ranch is approximately 4 miles; you may wish to leave a vehicle at Borges Ranch to shuttle back to the start. When you reach the Young's Valley entrance, go to the very end of the gravel parking lot past a barn on your left. You will see the sign for the beginning of the trail. Your starting elevation is 230 ft. Walk up the bark-covered trail to the top of a hill where the paved section begins. As you reach the top of the hill look at the surrounding trees for Western Bluebirds flying from perches to feed in grasses on the side of the trail. You may also see the Northern Flicker that frequents the area perching in a treetop. Notice the many young oak trees along this section of trail.
In the first half-mile, the trail first crosses Stewart Ave. then reaches Rudgear Park. On this day, play-off matches for local soccer teams were underway. Turning to the right at the playing field, you may want to drink at the water fountains on the right side of the trail. Bear to the right and pass tennis courts on you way toward Dapplegray Lane at the other side of the park. After you cross Dapplegray Lane you enter a wooded section of trail alongside a creek which at one point is crossed by an interesting bridge. This area is populated by numerous bird species and is popular for walking with dogs and small children.
You next reach the intersection of Rudgear Road with Stewart Ave./Sunburst Court. This is where you will want to turn around once heavy rain has started in the late fall/ early winter. To continue to Borges Ranch, cross Rudgear Road and at the crosswalk on Sunburst Court, take the unpaved footpath to the left and continue up the ravine. You are about to re-enter the Open Space and you will begin to notice more wildlife. Partway up the hill you come to the Shell Ridge entrance gate. From here, take the daunting footpath uphill 0.4 miles to the intersection with the Franco Ranch Loop Trail.
As you go uphill, consider that there will be rewarding views at the top. Watch for Meadowlarks and Western Bluebirds which may be providing a show on the hillsides. At the top of the hill, Franco Ranch Loop trail merges from your left (at elevation 600 feet) and shortly after that you take a left turn and continue 0.5 miles along the Sugarloaf - Shell Ridge Trail to Bull Pond. You will follow rolling hills along this section of trail that provide excellent views on a clear day, such as the vista of Mt. Diablo on the right. Watch for details of the landscape such a the fungus below which was found on the base of an oak tree.
Descending to Bullfrog Pond you may see Acorn Woodpeckers in the oaks on the hillside. As you approach Bullfrog Pond, listen for Redwing Blackbirds, which like to perch on the reeds and grasses surrounding the pond. At the trail intersection at the base of the hill take the access road to the left and pause at Bullfrog Pond. Look for expanding rings in the water to help you locate where the bullfrogs just dived underwater to avoid detection. You will continue on the Sugarloaf - Shell Ridge trail through a beautiful oak woodland for 0.6 miles, passing the Joaquin Ranch Trail leading to your left and reaching a trailhead at Rock Spring Place. The Twin Ponds Loop Trail crosses your path numerous times as you continue on the Sugarloaf - Shell Ridge Trail. After the Rock Spring Place trailhead, you will travel up the steep side of Round Hill and after 0.4 miles reach the Briones - Mt. Diablo Trail intersection. Turn right and head toward Borges Ranch. After 0.2 miles you will pass the Ridge Trail leading up to the right. The signpost here is a frequent perch for Western Bluebirds. You may also see a Loggerhead Shrike on the hillside in this area. In another 0.2 miles you reach the intersection with the Borges Ranch Trail. Note the rapid growth of new grasses in the oaks on the right of the trail. When you reach the Borges Ranch Trail, turn left and head downhill toward the historic ranch. Alternatively, if you are in excellent condition, you can continue 9 miles on the Briones - Mt. Diablo Trail to the summit of Mt. Diablo.
Approaching Bull Frog Pond
Bull Frog Pond
After you turn left, notice the fenced-in area on the right of the trail. This is part of the Quail Habitat Project for the Walnut Creek Open Space Foundation. The brush piles, willows, quail bush, and coyote bush here are also the winter home to many Gold-Crowned Sparrrows. Also look for Brush Rabbit and Ground Squirrels in this area. Continuing down the road to Borges Ranch, notice the abundant Coyote Bush which are in bloom in November and December.
Borges Ranch is an interesting place to explore. Farm equipment used in the historic ranch are on display in the upper parking area. Walking down the paved road, look for chickens, black-faced sheep, and pygmy goats inside the fences. Farther down the hill, you will find Bob Pond on the left side of the road beside the lower parking lot. The elevation here is 500 feet. Children can practice catch-and-release fishing here and hikers can take a rest after a strenuous walk. Quail frequent the protected area above the pond. Pond Turtles, Mallards, Black Phoebes, Brush Rabbits, and Redwing Blackbirds are also visitors here. Restrooms, water, and picnic tables are available at this site.
We hope you enjoyed this walk from Sugarloaf to Shell Ridge Open Space.
Bob and Cindy Brittain
November 29, 2003