Hiking Mission Peak: How to Make this Rewarding Bay Area Climb
Hiking Mission Peak (in Fremont, California) delivers that “Yes, I did it!” feeling, not to mention stunning views from the top.
Rising above Fremont, California, Mission Peak juts its pyramid-shaped head above the surrounding ridges, forming a dramatic backdrop for the cities in the South Bay.
Mission San Jose (founded by the Spanish in 1797) sits just below the peak in the foothills and is the namesake for the summit above.
I imagine Mission Peak’s prominent triangular summit was a natural landmark that could be seen for dozens of miles and acted as a beacon for the Spanish to arrive at Mission San Jose.
What I love about Mission Peak is that, unlike other mountain hikes in the San Francisco Bay Area, there are no paved roads leading to the top.
A paved road leading to the summit takes away from the sense of accomplishment, even if you are hiking. The tourists and buses and motor noise ruin it for me.
Luckily, there are no paved roads leading up to Mission Peak! Just a handful of dirt trails waiting for you to make the jaunt to the rocky peak.
The Rewarding Challenge of Hiking Mission Peak
Despite its modest height (2,517 feet), hiking Mission Peak can be challenging and strenuous, especially if you are not in decent shape. But the ascent is doable for just about any hiker.
I’ve seen plenty of families with kids and seniors earning their way to the top.
Hiking Mission Peak round trip, up to the summit and back down, can be done in as little as three to four hours. But, if you’re like me and love to pause for photos, stop for lunch, write, draw, or whatever suits you, then figure for more time.
Mission Peak is different from other peaks in the San Francisco Bay Area in that there are hardly any trees to provide shade along the trails.
The few trees in Mission Peak Regional Preserve (mostly Coast Live Oak and California Bay-Laurel) are limited to the small gullies between ridges.
So, when hiking Mission Peak, DO take sun protection and plenty of water. As you can imagine, summer can be a grueling time to make the ascent, due to hot dry weather, and open shade-less hillsides.
Due to the heat factor, fall through spring is the best time for hiking Mission Peak. You’re also more likely to get amazing views in these cooler months, since the summer can be hazy or smoggy most days.
How to Hike to Mission Peak
The easiest way to do a day hike to the peak and back is to park at the trailhead at the end of Stanford Avenue in Fremont.
To get there, take Interstate 680 or 880 to Fremont. Take the Mission Boulevard exit (from either freeway) and head North towards the hills. After Mission curves around parallel to the hills, you’ll turn right onto Stanford Avenue.
The street ends at a small staging area with parking and restrooms, as well as a billboard with trail information.
(Another spot to start your hiking is at Ohlone College, further north along Mission Boulevard. The trail from the college is slightly longer but a more gradual climb.)
After stretching (an important step before any hike) head up the wide fire road towards the peak. The main trail is Ohlone Wilderness Trail. Stay on this up the switchbacks.
After 1.5 miles, the trail levels out a bit. Pass by the Peak Meadow Trail marker and keep heading up Ohlone Wilderness Trail.
Climb another .65 miles until you get to prominent fork in a rock-strewn meadow.
This is a dramatic point in the hike with an other-worldly landscape. You can see the rocky cliffs of Mission Peak right above you.
The right fork takes Grove Trail to the Park Residence. To reach the peak, take the left side of the fork.
Very soon, you’ll reach another three-way intersection. Stay to the right, where you will continue onto Peak Trail. You’re almost there!
In about a quarter of a mile, you are now heading up a natural rocky staircase up the side of Mission Peak. The steps level off to reveal the expansive views from the Summit.
You’ll probably get chills from the blustery wind up here. From the summit at 2,517 feet, you can see across the bay to the peninsula, and South to Mount Hamilton.
You can pretty much see all of the South Bay, north to Mount Diablo, and if it’s clear enough, even to San Francisco to the west and the Sierra Nevada to the east.
Below Mission Peak, to the north and east, you can see Niles Canyon and the Sunol Regional Wilderness.
At the summit, you’ll see the steel post with pipes inserted at seemingly random angles. This is a clever observation scope pointing out several landmarks visible from Mission Peak.
Look through the pipes to see what Bay Area landmark you can pick out. Unfortunately, many of the labels have been vandalized, but some still tell you what you are looking at.
Hiking Mission Peak: The Trek Down
There are a few choices after your ascent to the summit.
1. Backpacking: Backpackers can continue to the north side of the peak along Eagle Trail to Eagle Spring Backpack Camp (reservations are required through the East Bay Regional Park District).
From base camp, you can venture further into the Sunol Regional Wilderness (permits required, and you must sign in at specified trailheads).
2. The easier way back down The easier descent to the staging area is exactly the way you came up. Just backtrack, sticking to the wider fire roads.
Do take this way if you feel you are close to exhaustion or may be over-exerting yourself after hiking Mission Peak. Remember that the trip downhill is often more strenuous on your joints than hiking uphill.
3. Horse Heaven Trail If you feel ready for more action after getting to the peak, and want to see more of the remarkable faces of Mission Peak Regional Preserve, try Horse Heaven Trail on the way down.
Horse Heaven Trail is a single track hiking (and equestrian) trail that meanders down the southern slopes of Mission Peak. At a few points, you even cross through some of the few runoff areas with trees.
The view of the southern face of Mission Peak, from a few hundred feet below, is also quite stunning.
To reach Horse Heaven, continue south from Mission Peak along Peak Trail. (Head straight towards the radio towers on the adjacent peak.)
Pass the radio towers, staying to the right and follow a long southbound curve along the narrow Horse Heaven Trail. You’ll pass through a gate in a barbed wire fence and into a grove of trees.
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Bypass the junction to Grove Trail and stay on Horse Heaven. At a fork in the trail, stay to the left. The trail becomes Peak Meadow Trail, eventually leading down to the main trail to the entrance and staging area.
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