Hidden Pond

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Rating: C

Suitable for use on warm spring and fall days, remote, nearly secret Hidden Pond, nestled undisturbed in an East Bay park, is usually too shallow to enjoy in the summer. Getting to the sun-splashed skinny-dipping hole is half the fun.  "The trail was extremely scenic," says Fremont's Jerek Zarzycki, of his late spring visit.  "There were wildflowers everywhere and the meadows we crossed looked like they were covered with lush green by a paint brush."

Members of the Bay Area Naturists (BAN) -- and others who want to take the trip with them -- occasionally meet on the slopes of Mount Diablo and then hike about three miles to the lake, which is big enough in wet years to hold around 30 people, according to BAN leader Rich Pasco.  It takes over an hour to walk there from the nearest road, but visitors usually treasure the experience.

"It's a gorgeous place," says Trevor Murphy.  "Even though it isn't very remote, it's extremely peaceful there."  Pasco describes it as "a pristine, Norman Rockwell kind of place."  

Says Zarzycki: "Being there was totally amazing.  It was just gorgeous.  One side of the lake is rimmed with very old oak trees."  The rest of the water is surrounded by open grassland.  And the entire setting is perched on a hillside, which keeps it hidden from the view of hikers.

One drawback:  except after the rainiest of seasons, the water in the pond is too full of reeds and other vegetation for full-fledged swimming.  During Zarzycki's visit, only one person swam in the deepest end of the pond.

Legal status:

Part of Mount Diablo State Park.

How to find it:

Take Highway 680 to Danville and exit at Diablo Road. Following the green state park signs, drive east on Diablo. At El Cerro turn right to continue on Diablo. At the stop sign, which forms a junction with Blackhawk, turn left onto Mount Diablo Scenic Boulevard, which becomes South Gate Road at the park boundary. The road here is narrow and frequented by bicyclists. Follow it to the park's entrance kiosk (where you'll pay the $6 entrance fee and can get a map), then continue about 1.5 miles to the big, flat parking lot on the right -- the first one past Rock City. Look for a Curry Point sign near the start of the trail. BAN usually begins its hike there, following the path from the trailhead to a fire road. "You don't see [the lake] from the main trail," Pasco says. "You have to take off over the grassland to find it." Guide-led visitors have little trouble making the trek, though. It's fairly level, according to Murphy and Zarzycki, with significant slopes only at the beginning and the end, up a steep rise and then down to the dell where the lake's nestled.  And surprise: you may see cows or even a wild pig on or near the path.

The beach:

The site is around 70 feet long by 40 feet wide, surrounded by an estimated 14 acres of secluded hillside studded, on one side, with a small grove of majestic oak and bay trees that offer welcome summer shade.  The rest of the lakefront is open, with just grass and no trees.  Says Zarzycki:  "We didn't see a stream, so it probably is only replenished by winter rain." During his visit, Zarzycki found most of the water to "only be knee deep and it was maybe four feet at the deepest."  But after a particularly wet year, according to Murphy, the water reached six or seven feet at its deepest point. "It's pretty cold, so you can't swim that much," he says. He advises those who make the trip with BAN to bring good walking shoes, ground cover, and flip-flops.  Pack a lunch and bring a towel or tarp to put down under a shade tree.

The crowd:

The nearby trail is a favorite among hikers, but so far the lake is only visited by naturist groups once or twice a year.  BAN has not led any hikes recently.

Problems:

Site may dry up by midsummer, water sometimes too shallow and vegetation-clogged for swimming, lack of directions and need to go with BAN, long walk from the parking lot, some (avoidable) poison oak on the trail, may be windy in early spring.

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