26% SINGLETRACK74% FIRE ROAD
Brushy Peak is a park that's easy to overlook. For the most part, overlooking this place is fairly justified. It's a small regional preserve that's much farther east than most population centers in the Bay Area, has a small trail network (all the trails shown on its official map add up to around 9.5 miles) consisting mostly of fire roads, the scenery—though nice—is not particularly special, and there is no tree cover to shield you from the intensity of summer heat. In fact, I had overlooked this place myself until a viewer of this site suggested it to me. Thanks to that suggestion, I've come to discover that there is a "but" to all these: The trails at the highest elevations in the park are actually pretty respectable singletrack as well as sometimes being quite technical, and the landscape around those higher parts is quite pretty too. In the end, Brushy Peak still doesn't add up to anything more than a decent workout option for locals of the area, in my opinion, but it does at least deserve a place in the regular list for riders in and around Livermore, and that's not bad.
Given the limited trail mileage at Brushy Peak, any route you follow here that doesn't include repetitions is bound to result in a very short ride. The ride you see represented on this page is one of those very short possibilities. If I had more time when I did this ride, I would have extended it a bit further by including a second traversal of roughly the same loop in the opposite direction. That's not only a recommendation but also a necessity for any rider who is looking to put together a substantial ride here.
In its current short version, this ride doesn't include too much total elevation gain, but most of that little gain is incurred on pretty serious climbs. So, the total climb per unit distance for the ride (while not record-breaking) is considerable. I couldn't recommend this ride to you unless you are fond of (or at least okay with) climbs. The reason I've picked a clockwise direction for this loop is because I thought I might encounter more extra-steep stretches in the uphill direction if I were to try it counter-clockwise, but I'm not so sure anymore. It also turns out that this comes with a trade-off: When done clockwise, this route takes you through the most technical section of Brushy Peak Loop Trail in the uphill direction. This is arguably the most fun stretch of the entire route. Admittedly, it's a short section, but on a ride like this where there are few rewards, any such additional treat could count as an important consideration.
The ride starts out on the West Side Loop Trail from the parking lot. This seemed to me to be the least exhausting way to reach the higher parts of the trail network at Brushy Peak, though it does mean your total climb to reach the top is higher, because there's a decending section during the climb, which wouldn't happen if you rode in the opposite direction. West Side Loop Trail is the kind of featureless fire road across cow-grazed grassland that I originally feared all the trails here would be like. The climb begins at a fairly merciful grade not more than 12%. Along the way, it does reach as much as 16% grade but only for a minute or two. By the time you are nearing the junction with Brushy Peak Loop Trail, not only will the slope have backed off considerably, but you even descend a little. That junction also happens to be where the fun begins on this ride. The first singletrack segment on the ride arrives in the form of a level shortcut bypassing the main junction here to avoid the dip into and climb back out of the actual junction spot. This is the narrowest trail segment of the ride, though it's also quite off-camber and a bit treacherous.
Brushy Peak Loop Trail begins at the end of that singletrack shortcut and its initial stretches are in the form of a serious climb on a singletrack trail ranging from somewhat technical to moderately technical, along with one or two seriously tricky trail features thrown into the mix. This is the part of the ride that I consider to be the most fun to an experienced rider, mainly when done in the downhill direction. Unfortunately, this ride route traverses this segment uphill, and there is no equivalent segment similar to this one as you start the descending part of your stint on Brushy Peak Loop Trail. This should count as a strong incentive to do this ride route in the opposite direction, or at least to repeat it in the opposite direction as well.
These higher parts of the trail network pass through a very pretty setting featuring a sparse oak population intermingled with patches of chaparral on a landscape featuring craggy outcrops and plenty of boulders. Brushy Peak Loop Trail eventually levels off in this area as it passes through a saddle point and twists through some rocks and trees for a very brief distance. I don't want to oversell this part of the ride, though, because it seriously lasts for less than two tenths of a mile. Then, suddenly, the singletrack ends up in smooth and open grassland once again, and soon starts a quick descent back toward the bald parts of the park. During this descent, the trail starts out in the form of the typical "multi-use path" of East Bay parks (which I'll generously include in the "singletrack" category) but then reverts to being a plain and simple fire road and the ride's character returns to what you had at the very beginning of the route (only in the downhill direction this time).
Before making it back to the beginning, this route includes a little diversion that follows Tamcan Trail and traverses the majority of Laughlin Ranch Loop. This addition doesn't contribute too much to the ride: the scenery is not very different and you gain nothing more than a bit more mileage and a bit more elevation gain. So, this part can safely be omitted on your second repetition of the route (or even on the first one, if you want a really short ride) by descending all the way to the parking lot in a straight shot on Brushy Peak Loop Trail. If you do take this side trip, Tamcan Trail has a pretty brutal grade as it first starts off Brushy Peak Loop Trail, ranging around 18%. It quickly reverts to a more sensible slope, though, and you even have a little descending to do before you connect to Laughlin Ranch Loop. The elevation gain on Laughlin Ranch Loop happens at a fairly moderate grade. It doesn't take long to find yourself at the top of this side loop, from which some (arguably more up-close) views of Livermore can be caught, and that is followed immediately by a laid-back glide back to the parking lot. At the time I did this ride, the amount of pockmarking on the trail surface of this loop made it appear to be a comparatively lesser used part of the park.
Clearly, the ride shown on this page is in dire need of more mileage. My first choice for extending the ride would be to add a second traversal of Brushy Peak Loop in the opposite direction after the completion of Laughlin Ranch Loop. You could incorporate even more trail variety by taking Brushy Peak Loop Trail directly from the parking lot for this traversal as well as following the eastern half of West Side Loop at the end of your ride. This would boost your mileage by 4.5 miles and increase the total elevation gain by 800 feet. In fact, this was my original plan for this ride until time pressure forced me to scrap this second go-around. For riders who would look for even more than that, my advice would be to "rinse and repeat", because I don't know of any meaningful trail connections that could be made from here to places outside this park.
© Ergin Guney
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