To Mt El Sombroso via the Limekiln Trailhead and Priest Rock Trail – a Review

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This past weekend on Saturday, August 25th, I went for a hike. The journey proved rough and steep, but it was manageable. Each spot on the trail offered time to gain perspective on life and reflect on the world. I hiked to Mt El Sombroso via the Limekiln Trailhead and Priest Rock Trail. In total, I completed 12 miles (19.3 km) in four hours, averaging 3 miles an hour (4.8 km/hour).

If you are looking to exercise and see natural beauty, it is a great way to do so. All along the trail, you will see hikers, bikers, and horseback riders. In this article, you will get a review of the hike I completed. You can find an interactive google map of my route by clicking here. Please check it out so you can understand the keywords I mention throughout the article. After reading this, you will be ready and all set to go, so let’s get started.


The Best Place to Start – the Limekiln Trailhead

Before embarking on the trip, I planned to take the Limekiln Trail all the way through to the woods trail and then to Mt El Sombroso. After which, I would follow the Woods trail to the Kennedy trail and head back via the Priest Rock Trail. I would get back to my car by walking along Alma Bridge Road. I started out with that in mind, setting foot off from the Limekiln trailhead at 10:30 AM.

Instead, at the very helpful advice of a group of hikers I met at the Priest Rock and Limekiln trails junction, I broke off from my initial plan and took the Priest Rock Trail. I completed so because I was told it would get quite hot on the Priest Rock Trail later. So to save myself some sweat and tears, I took the Priest Rock Trail in lieu of finishing up the Limekiln trail. This is an important lesson. Listen to your fellow hikers. They know what lies ahead and have your best interests at heart.

When hiking in this area, be sure to wear sunscreen, a broad hat, and neck cover. If you are not careful, you can get sunburnt. Also be sure to bring plenty of water. I recommend 5 liters. It will be enough for the day. It is easy to underestimate the power of the sun. When you are low on water, you realize just how much water is life. In a previous article, I wrote about hiking tips for beginners. For seasoned veterans and beginners, it is worth a look to stay safe.

Between the Limekiln and Priest Rock Trailheads, the former is a much better place to start, offering plenty of places to park. The initial portion of the trail is a bit steep. But compared to what follows, it is mellow because of the plentiful trees that provide shade.


All along the Limekiln trail to the junction with the Priest Rock trail, I found that there was plenty of shade. It could be steep at times, but the atmosphere was well worth it. The trail was disturbed by dump trucks in the quarry below, but I found the work to be interesting. It runs parallel to Limekiln road, so you here the occasional truck pass you.

If you are into construction, then the Limekiln trail offers a worthwhile look from above for a minute or two. You get an idea of what mining looks like from above. The hillside around the quarry lies barren with intermittent terraces. While the distance between you and the quarry is quite far, the roar of engines reverberates throughout the valley. Piles of gravel and debris strewn the work site. Heavy machinery pervades the area.


Onto the Priest Rock Trail towards the Kennedy Trail

Once at the Limekiln and Priest Rock trails junction, I met some fellow hikers. They advised me to take the Priest Rock Trail because of the incoming mid day heat. I took their advice and followed through with it. They were quite right. From the Priest Rock trail to the Kennedy trail, you can find no shade to protect you from the heat. The sun beats down on you. On top of that, the slope drains your legs. The combination takes a lot out of you. It is quite difficult.

I will admit, though, that there are incredible opportunities for magnificent photos all along this section of the Priest Rock trail. You get some nice views of the valley from the vantage point. Please see the photo below. You get an idea for how much of urban sprawl there is in the bay area. The hills really do roll in the bay.


After reaching the Kennedy trail, you feel instant relief. The trees have returned to provide refuge from the sun and the declines and inclines are manageable. A lot of sections are flat. The way to Mt El Sombroso is clear and quite easy compared to the previous section.

The Woods Trail to Mt El Sombroso – an Anticlimatic Finish

As you wind your way along the Kennedy trail, you will eventually reach a triple junction of the Kennedy, Limekiln, and Woods trails. So long as you follow the signs, you should be quite alright. Next, you follow your way along under tree cover with pockets of open space.

Once you have been on the Woods trail for a bit, electrical towers start to appear intermittently, filling the landscape with their power lines. It is a bit disappointing to say the least. The beauty of the landscape is overshadowed by the all imposing electrical towers.

When traveling on the woods trail, you can easily miss the trail to Mt El Sombroso, so keep your eye out for a trail offshoot about as wide as a car (please see image below). Once you start making your way to Mt El Sombroso, electrical towers are right next to you on the trail. You definitely do not want to touch them. At the end though, you get quite a nice view with some electrical towers that do photo bomb you.


Downhill through the Woods Back to Alma Bridge Road

Once you have satisfied your ego by ‘mountaineering’ Mt El Sombroso, you can take your sweet time down the Woods trail until you reach the triple trail junction. When I reached the triple junction, I took the Limekiln trail back until I linked back up with the Priest Rock trail. Even though this portion of the trail was often unprotected from the sun, it is generally all downhill, so it is not too bad on a hot day.

Next comes the Priest Rock and Limekiln trail junction. I ended up taking the Priest Rock trail back down to Alma bridge road. The trail can be quite downhill. If you end up taking the Priest Rock trail from Alma Bridge road towards Mt El Sombroso, be warned that it is quite steep. You will get a great workout. Your butt will be very sore afterwards. Heading downhill though, I found the view to be very nice. You get an incredible view of Lexington Reservoir as the picture below shows.

There are hot portions of the trail. But as you get closer to the reservoir, you get more and more tree cover. That is a common theme on the trail. There are fewer trees near Limekiln and Priest Rock trails junction, but more near to the reservoir, cooling your heated body.

Final Thoughts

Overall, it is a nice area to hike, bike, run, and horseback ride. When you get to “Mt” El Sombroso, you reach an anticlimax; the summit leaves something to be desired. Aside from that, there are plenty of chances for excellent views. You get an idea of what the Bay Area looks like from above and see highway 17 wind its way through the mountains. If you want to see heavy machinery, you get a bird’s eye view. All in all though, the whole journey is worthwhile. When you take the road less traveled, you are rewarded.

If you have any thoughts, questions, or think I missed anything, do not hesitate to comment below and please do share this article. Thank you so much and I hope you make it a great day!

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8 Comments on “To Mt El Sombroso via the Limekiln Trailhead and Priest Rock Trail – a Review”

  1. Hi Alex!
    That was quite a hike you took! The view is really beautiful from what I could tell by your pictures. Too bad the power lines got in the way of the scenery. Has that area been affected by any fires going on in California? I lived in southern California for many years and I know at times it can be hot and dry, just ready for a fire. The bay area looks quite a bit greener than the southern part of the state. Thanks for the “virtual hike”!

    1. Hey Lynn, the hike was quite beautiful. Fortunately (knock on wood), there have not been any fires in the area. I do worry about fires in the area. It is very scary. The area could catch very easily. The Bay Area is greener than Southern California because it gets more rain. Thank you for sharing and I hope you make it a great day!

  2. Love everything about your site. I get out and try to hike at least once a weekend but nothing like what you do. It is great for the soul. I just recently moved back to the west coast and rediscovering the beauty of Oregon myself.

    1. I appreicate the compliment about my site Cathy. If you can do once a week, then that is plenty. Do what you can do on a consistent basis. Oregon is quite a beautiful state. I wrote an article about national parks in Oregon. It is an incredible state, full of relaxing and stunning places to visit. Thank you for sharing and I hope you make it a great day!

  3. Hi Alex,
    Thank you for the great post on hiking to Mt El Sombroso. This hike looks really interesting and beautiful and I loved the interactive Google Map so I could track your hike and the little snippets of info that you left along the way. I see that the hike is about 12 miles long, rough and steep. I am hiking with a 9 year old kiddo is there a shorter loop of this hike that he might be able to do? He can handle steep rugged terrain (to a point) but 12 miles is too much.

    1. Hey Heather, I appreciate the compliment on the interactive Google Map. For you and your 9 year old Kiddo, I recommend starting at the Limekiln trailhead, stopping at the Limekiln and Priest Rock trails junction, and taking the Priest Rock trail back to Alma Bridge Road. It will be 6 miles or so, steep, and well worth it. I hope this helps you. Thank you for sharing and I hope you make it a great day!

  4. Alex, I really enjoyed reading about your hiking trip. Hiking, especially backpacking, is very near and dear to my heart, and over the years I’ve done it many, many times, virtually all over this country.

    I don’t do it much anymore because most of my friends now aren’t able to because of age and health (I’m 71 now). I’m still in pretty good shape and still get out in the woods and walk trails several times a month, though. I even pulled out my old pair of Vasque leather hiking boots, treated them w/ Vasoline to soften them up, and wore them the last time I walked the forest trail.

    It brought back a lot of wonderful memories! Thanks, man.

    1. Terry, I am glad to hear you enjoyed the article. There is a lot of trails in the US to explore. It is quite beautiful.

      I am glad to hear you got outside the other day and hike several times a month. That is really wonderful. More people need to venture outside.

      Thank you for sharing and I hope you make it a great day!

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