Published: Sunday, March 19, 2000 in the San Jose Mercury News

Barbara Egbert, Mercury News Staff Writer

Soaring vultures and hang gliders provide visual entertainment for hikers who reach the top of Fremont's Mission Peak, one of the Bay Area's most accessible summits. Three trails give day hikers a choice of moderate to strenuous routes to the promontory, which at 2,517 feet above sea level provides a view of Mount Hamilton, Mount Diablo, Silicon Valley and San Francisco. On the clearest winter days, the Sierra Nevada may be just visible. The shortest and hardest route starts at the east end of Stanford Avenue in Fremont. From the parking lot, hikers head up a wide trail that varies from moderate to steep -- mostly steep. This route offers a panoramic view of much of the Bay Area. With few trees, it's a good choice in cool weather but not in the summer. A choice of trails means hikers can turn their trek into a loop hike; total distance on any route is about 5 1/2 miles.

Also popular is a slightly longer trail that begins at Ohlone College, on Mission Boulevard in Fremont. This more gradual ascent begins behind the swimming pool at the college's southeast corner. The trail often narrows to a single track. Hikers on this trail see more trees and wildflowers than Stanford Avenue starters, as they wind behind Mission Peak above Mill Creek Road.

A third, seldom-used path starts at Sunol Regional Wilderness and follows a gently climbing route east to the peak. This pleasant trail requires more time, money and planning but is worth the effort. Hikers must pay to park at Sunol, and then each must buy an Ohlone Wilderness Trail permit allowing passage across San Francisco Water Department land. The round trip comes to 11 miles. The end result of any route is a good workout and a tremendous view of many of the Bay Area's landmarks, plus close-up looks at the hang gliders who use Mission Peak as their launch pad. (There is actually a fourth route to Mission Peak, from Ed Levin County Park in Milpitas, but the 10-mile route requires leaving a car at each end, making for a very long day. Finding the trail head in Levin Park can be a challenge, too.)

WHAT YOU'LL NEED: The top of Mission Peak is windy, and considerably colder than the trail heads. Carry warm clothing, especially for children. Bring lots of water, food and sunscreen. Binoculars and field guides to birds and wildflowers are heavy but useful additions.

WHO'S ALLOWED: Dogs are allowed on all trails and may be off the leash as long as they are under control and the owner is carrying a leash. Horses are allowed on all routes. Bicycles are not allowed on the trail from Sunol.

GETTING THERE: For the Stanford Avenue trail head in south Fremont, take the first Mission Boulevard Exit northbound on Interstate 680 and go east. Turn right on Stanford Avenue (look for Mission Peak Regional Preserve sign) and drive to the end. Parking is free. For the Ohlone College trail head, take the second Mission Boulevard Exit (Highway 238) from Interstate 680. Drive past Mission San Jose and turn left into the Ohlone College parking lot. Parking costs $1.50 when classes are in session.

For the Sunol Regional Wilderness trail head, take the Calaveras Road Exit from Interstate 680. Turn east on Calaveras and then go left on Geary Road, which goes into the park. Parking costs $3; trail permits are $2 per person. Sign in and out at trail heads. Take note of when the park gate closes (it varies by season) so you don't get locked in.

INFORMATION: Mission Peak and the approaches are under the jurisdiction of the East Bay Regional Park District. Phone: (510) 562-PARK. The San Jose Mercury News archives are stored on a SAVE (tm) newspaper library system from MediaStream Inc., a Knight Ridder company.

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