For those who live in the Oakland flatlands, there’s little respite from the constant grind of city life. Many residents, especially those who rely on public transit, lack the resources to escape urbanity and enjoy Northern California’s wilderness — or so they think. What many people don’t realize is that Dimond Park, located only about two and a half miles away from Fruitvale BART station, is the nexus of over 500 miles of hiking trails that span the entire East Bay. A developed recreational area with playgrounds and picnic tables, this park is a portal to lush forests filled with towering redwood trees, burbling creeks, and sweeping vistas.

Sausal Creek runs through the majority of Dimond Canyon Park.  It connects to Palo Seco Creek, which connects Dimond Canyon Park to Joaquin Miller Park.

Sausal Creek runs through the majority of Dimond Canyon Park. It connects to Palo Seco Creek, which links Dimond Canyon Park to Joaquin Miller Park.

Stan Dodson, a longtime Oakland resident, is a leading activist working to educate Oaklanders about the wealth of natural wonders inside the city’s borders. For those who are curious to explore local trails but don’t know where to start, Dodson offers free hiking tours for anyone who’s interested. All you need is to gather a group of eight to 16 friends and schedule a time that works for everyone via his website.

Charmaine Davis and Jackie Alberts of Oakland (right) and Deanne Chen of San Francisco (center) join Stan Dodson on a hike through Joaquin Miller Park.

Stan Dodson leads a group of hikers through Joaquin Miller Park.

“Right here in the heart of Oakland, we’re connected to a trail system that spans the entire East Bay. You could hike for days and days. It’s incredible,” said Dodson. “You can escape to deep woods, or find a ridge-top clearing with views of the entire Bay Area. These are Oakland treasures.”

Departing from Dimond Park, the tours typically cover around five miles of terrain (though the distance can be adjusted depending on the group’s needs). From this starting point, the hikers ascend a winding path that eventually leads them into Dimond Canyon Park. As one ventures deeper into the woods, the sounds of the city give way to chirping birds and creaking branches. Dodson then leads the group into Joaquin Miller Park, stopping to explain the trails’ histories along the way. With so many trails to choose from, virtually each tour takes a different route. When I accompanied Dodson on a hike last week, we traversed Joaquin Miller Park and ended up at the Chabot Space and Science Center, from which we hopped on the 339 AC Transit bus line. To my surprise, we were back in the Dimond District in a matter of minutes after about three hours of hiking.

In Dimond Canyon Park, there's a wealth of trails to choose from.

In Joaquin Miller Park, there’s a wealth of trails to choose from.

Armed with an encyclopedic knowledge of local open space parks, Dodson has spearheaded dozens of volunteer initiatives to clear debris from trails and prevent erosion from human activity. He sometimes lobbies the city government to make improvements to the parks but, frustrated with the slowness of bureaucracy, he often collaborates with organizations like Dimond Improvement Association and Friends of Joaquin Miller Park to maintain the trails for all the enjoy. As part of his educational efforts, he and a team of filmmakers recently wrapped up filming his forthcoming documentary Trailhead, a short film that celebrates the natural beauty Oakland has to offer.

In addition to being a fun way to exercise, spending time outdoors is a proven way to boost your mental health, alleviating symptoms of anxiety and depression. Plus, the 70-degree days of spring are upon us. For those who don’t often explore Oakland’s redwoods, Dodson’s free hiking tours are an excellent way to start.

About The Author

Nastia Voynovskaya is an Oakland-based freelance writer and editor covering arts and culture. She is the online editor at Hi-Fructose Magazine and has written for Oakland Local, East Bay Express, SF Weekly, The Bold Italic, and more. Follow her at @nananastia.

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