“Primitive” is not what comes to mind when pulling into the paved entrance and crowded parking lot of Oakland’s Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve. But a fifteen minute walk away from the zooming cars on Skyline Boulevard and suddenly there’s fuel for imagination. Ten million years ago, lava from a now-extinct volcano flowed down these hills. Mammoths, dire wolves, and sabertooth cats walked where cattle now graze, rattlesnakes sunbathe and the red-tailed hawks soar through the sky.
The narrow dirt trails shaded by oaks provides expansive views of the bay, and are part of a modern-day retreat for Oaklanders looking for a quick get-away. Originally called Round Top Park, Sibley—along with Temescal and Tilden—is one of the East Bay Regional Park District’s original parks. The park was named in honor of Robert Sibley in 1936, who helped found the district.
The area in and around Sibley was once the center of quarrying operations, which have revealed cross-sections of the bedrock geology and provided an outdoor laboratory for studying volcanism in the Central Coast Ranges. The preserve is also well-known for two labyrinths open to the public at the bottom of the quarry canyon.
“Sibley is great because you get a million miles away from everything real quick,” said Susan Schroder, who had just finished hiking with her dog Heidi. Schroder, who’s lived in Oakland and Piedmont for over 30 years, said she has been a long-time visitor of parks in the East Bay.
Schroder said she enjoys hiking the 2.5 mile Round Top Loop Trail, which takes less than an hour. With a bit more time, this trail can take you to one or both of the labyrinths. Start in the visitor center at the park’s entrance. There you can pick up a map and brochure with instructors for a self-guided tour. Start by walking on the paved road to the right of the visitor center. Continue right on the main road and pass the first marked dirt path to the right, which is part of the 31-mile Bay Area Ridge Trail that leads to the Huckleberry Preserve. When the main road curves to left (which takes you to the water tower), stay to the right on a smaller and rocky path.
For the next half-mile, green ferns and colorful wildflowers grace the trail. Hikers are accompanied by a refreshing minty aroma and thin towering trunks of eucalyptus trees creaking in the breeze. After passing through a cattle gate, the lush forest comes to an abrupt end and rolling, grassy hills begin. Hang a right to follow a short path that will soon come to a dead end, but rewards trailblazers with views that reach out to the Sierra Nevada on a clear day.
Schroder suggests heading back on to the main trail until you reach another crossroad. There on on the right, she said, a view of the most elaborate of the labyrinths—the Mazzariello—can be seen. Created “as a gift to the world” by East Bay resident Helena Mazzariello in 1990, hikers come to this spot to meditate and examine the talismans left in the center. Schroder said it’s better to take the path down to the labyrinth rather than the more unstable path along the quarry top.
To see the second labyrinth, Schroder recommends returning to the Round Top Loop Trail then continuing straight on the Volcanic Trail. When the Quarry Trail crosses to the left, the post numbered “No. 5” (which matches up with the number on the self-guided tour map) reveals a smaller, heart-shaped maze labyrinth.
Then return to the Round Top Trail to finish the loop and end up back at the parking lot.
Whether you have an hour or the whole afternoon to wander trails, relax in the panoramic views or find meaning the labyrinths, Sibley is quick and accessible getaway. “That’s what we love about the East Bay,” Schroder said, “you can be out in the middle of nowhere so fast. It’s really very, very special.”
For more information about Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve and other outdoor adventures in the East Bay, visit the park district’s website. To learn more about the labyrinths at Sibley, check out the Friends of the Labyrinth website.