Fernandez Ranch offers stunning views, shaded hiking trails and a variety of wildlife, including many threatened plant and animal species. Visitors can gaze at the glittering blue of the San Francisco Bay from its ridge tops. Located between Hercules and Martinez, just off Highway 4, the property offers a striking and peaceful contrast to the densely developed areas nearby.
The historic property of Bernardo and Carlotta Fernandez remained within the family for nearly 150 years. John Muir Land Trust approached the Fernandez family to preserve what remained of the original 7,000-acre ranch and raised funds for a $3.5 million restoration project that began in 2008. Two years later, the first 702 acres opened to the public. An important adjacent 483-acre property of intact habitat, formerly known as Franklin Canyon, was acquired and added in 2010.
Recreation opportunities abound! Miles of multi-use trails are available for hiking, mountain bikes and horses, including 1.5 miles of ADA-accessible trails and connections to adjacent protected lands. Dogs can be off-leash on the ranch’s trails as long as they are under control at all times. There are three picnic areas and a staging area for horse trailers.
Along the Windmill Trail you’ll see a mid-20th century dairy farm, the old windmill and Fern Creek, before ascending to a segment of the Bay Area Ridge Trail and into the Pinole Valley Watershed. Taking the ADA-accessible Black Phoebe Trail, you’ll find picnic tables and benches at the edge of South Meadow.
Breathtaking views await at the top of the Whipsnake Trail where kids can have a giggle rambling the hills and meadows looking for a variety of bugs, beetles and animal tracks. You may even catch a glimpse of a rare animal or two, including the endangered Alameda whipsnake, the California red-legged frog, western pond turtle, and maybe an American badger. Keep a keen eye out for the whipsnake — despite the two bright yellow stripes on its back, it is shy and hard to spot.
Oak-studded slopes and freshwater wetlands give way to Rodeo Creek, whose banks are cloaked in Coast live oak. JMLT is the permanent owner and steward of more than one-fifth of the land within the Rodeo Creek watershed. Riparian scrub along the creek includes arroyo willow, thickets of California blackberry and short-spiked hedge nettle. The vegetation serves as a movement corridor for aquatic and terrestrial species, providing secure cover along its length.
At dawn and dusk, Fernandez Ranch comes alive. Deer emerge from the woods and coyotes howl to one another. In the springtime, poppies, lupine and the threatened Mount Diablo sunflower — that only grows in Contra Costa County — blanket the ranch in vibrant color.
The area is especially well suited for hiking, with paths that provide important connectors to the 550-mile Bay Area Ridge Trail and the 500-mile San Francisco Bay Trail.
From I-80: Head east on Highway 4. Take the first exit after the Franklin Canyon Golf Course onto Christie Road. Use caution; Christie Road is a minor exit off of Highway 4. Fernandez Ranch is .7 miles down Christie Road on your right.
From Martinez: Head west on Highway 4. Take the Franklin Canyon Exit. Turn left and merge onto Highway 4 eastbound. Take the first exit after the Franklin Canyon Golf Course onto Christie Road. Use caution; Christie Road is a minor exit off of Highway 4. Fernandez Ranch is .7 miles down Christie Road on your right.
Pocket-sized docent tours - Berkeley Engineering - September 24, 2015
Conservation group gets $515,000 for Fernandez Ranch - Contra Costa Times -
September 30, 2008
Muir Heritage Land Trust gets grant from coastal conservancy - Business Times -
October 3, 2008