Claremont Canyon was acquired by the East Bay Regional Park District in the 1970s, as part of the watershed preservation movement. The Stonewall-Panoramic trail takes you from the back of the historic Claremont Hotel, a white wedding-cake fantasy built in 1915, up a steep fire road to Panoramic Ridge. The walk is short at just over a mile, but very strenuous, with a gain in elevation of about 700 feet.
The best trailhead is on Stonewall Road, a few blocks from the Ashby/Domingo commercial area. It’s worth walking through the neighborhood around the trailhead for the interesting architecture and landscaping. One Craftsman-style house has a koi pond in front.
Once through the gate, you begin your ascent through an alley of mature eucalyptus trees. For the first half-mile, the grade ranges from “gee, that’s steep” to “you’ve got to be kidding me.” A grove at the corner of the second switchback gives you a chance to catch your breath and admire the view of U.C. Berkeley’s Campanile and Albany Hill to the north. (I passed on trying the rather terrifying rope swing over the void.)
The trail flattens out briefly as you emerge from the eucalyptus into a more-natural landscape of ceanothus, toyon, and open meadow. A sign that warns of a steep, loose trail ahead may provoke a moment of disbelief: What could possibly be more challenging than the grade you just climbed?
The answer is the next 100 yards, which elevate “you’ve got to be kidding me” into “gonna need a belay here.” If you persevere, your reward is a rest on the Ralph Samuel Bench, which has its own mayor on Foursquare and a truly panoramic view.
Past the bench is a private, gated stretch of Panoramic Way. Turn right on Panoramic for a few dozen feet, and the Stonewall-Panoramic Trail continues another half-mile along the ridge to the east before connecting with the East-West Trail on UC Berkeley-owned land.
Like most East Bay Regional Parks, Claremont Canyon allows well-behaved off-leash dogs. The Stonewall-Panoramic Trail is closed to bicyclists, and although I would normally expect a trail this broad and firm to be a temptation, I didn’t see even a fat-tire treadmark.
Getting there: Stonewall Road intersects Claremont Avenue a few blocks east of Ashby Avenue. There is bus service on Claremont near Domingo.
More information: About Claremont Canyon Regional Preserve from the East Bay Regional Parks website; about the basalt in the area from the Oakland Geology blog; and about the Claremont Canyon Conservancy‘s efforts to reduce wildfire danger in and preserve the canyon.