The water of Little Yosemite in Sunol, CA

The Little Yosemite & Indian Joe Creek Trail Loop – A Top Bay Area Hike

Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. Purchasing through these links earns me a small commission at no extra charge to you. Many thanks for using these links!

Are you wondering if hiking to Little Yosemite is worth it?

If you’ve heard about the “Little Yosemite” waterfall area in the Sunol Regional Wilderness in Sunol, California you’re probably curious if it is worth the visit. 

Well, I’m here to tell you that the hike described below is definitely worth it and not just for the reward of “Little Yosemite” in the end, but because the wilderness area and its views are spectacular.

“Little Yosemite” AKA Alameda Creek, is named after its big cousin Yosemite National Park which is located in the eastern central part of California.

Little Yosemite, a very miniature version of what you’ll find in Yosemite Valley, is within the Sunol Regional Wilderness area and is part of the East Bay Parks District. 

Formerly inhabited by Native American tribes, this region covers almost 7000 acres of land.

It also connects with about 16,500 acres of the Mission Peak Regional Preserve, the Sunol-Ohlone Regional Wilderness, and the Del Valle Regional Park.

It’s quite a huge chunk of protected land, right here in the busy Bay Area covering miles and miles of mountains and canyons in Alameda County, close to the San Francisco Bay.

You can find nature study programs, hiking, backpacking, picnicking, and plenty to explore here.

The Visitor Center in Sunol Regional Wilderness
Trail sign for Canyon View trail in Sunol, the beginning fat hike to Little Yosemite.
The wooden bridge at the beginning of the Little Yosemite.

Quick & Easy Links

  Flights & Hotels: I recommend Expedia
  Vacation rentals: I recommend VRBO
  Car Rental: I recommend Hertz
  Tours: I recommend Viator
  Gear: Check out my Hiking & Travel Stuff
  Create Your Travel Memory Books with MILK

Which hike is the best to see Little Yosemite?

There are several choices for all levels of hikers and ages. The easiest choice is a 2.1 mile out and back walk to Little Yosemite from the Visitor Center Parking Lots. See more info about that below.

I’m going to suggest a more moderate to challenging hike of a 6.2 mile loop that will take you up to almost 1900 feet in elevation before you begin your descent into the canyon of little Yosemite, officially known as the Alameda Creek Overlook.

This is the Indian Joe Trail to Cave Rocks Road To Cerre Este Road to Canyon View Trail Loop.

This hike does not seem to be identified going in the clockwise direction in All Trails or in other formats, as far as I can tell, but I highly recommend it and would absolutely do it again. 

The trail starts with some shaded spots along the creek bed and then opens up to grasslands where wildflowers bloom in the Spring. The hills continue to roll up where you’ll encounter sweeping views off the whole region.

The trails are wide and groomed with easy-to-manage gravel and dirt, the trees and fields are pristine, and we literally saw no humans, only cows and ground squirrels along the way.

It is definitely best for a day when you are in the mood for a lot of hills!

Indian Creek trailhead marker on the Little Yosemite hike.
The Beginning of the Indian Head Creek Trail on the Little Yosemite Hike.

How to hike the Indian Joe Trail to Little Yosemite 

1. From the Visitor Center parking lot, walk to the right of the Visitor Center to the large trail map and find the wooden Bridge.

2. Cross the wooden bridge and turn Right at the trail marker that says Canyon View trail.

3. Continue on a dirt path to the trail marker that points left to Indian Joe Creek Trail. Indian Joe Creek trail is about 1.5 miles sloping upward.

4. Prepare to crisscross over the creek bed many times in order to stay on Indian Joe Creek Trail. The Trail is obvious across the rocks of the creek, however there are NOT signs or trail markers to guide you. Simply walk across the rocks in the creek, with or without water, and you will see the trail begin again. See dry creek pics below.

The Indian Joe Creek bed on the Little Yosemite hike.
Indian Joe Creek bed on the Little Yosemite hike.
Indian Joe Creek bed on the Little Yosemite hike.

4. You’ll see another Trail Marker that points left to Indian Creek Trail. You will be climbing slow and steady from here on!

5. Go through the first cattle crossing gate, more of the creek bed, and encounter many fallen trees and the result of some lightning.

6. Now  you are back on a dirt trail with wide open spaces.

Cow crossing gate on Indian Joe Creek Trail.
Tree hit by Lightening on the Indian Joe Creek Trail on the Little Yosemite hike.

8. Find the trail marker that is completely worn out but that you can tell it used to say “Indian Joe Tr” and you know you are on the right path.

9. On your left look for the majestic Cave Rocks.

Cave Rocks on the Indian Joe Creek Trail on the Little Yosemite hike.

10. Come to a trail marker that says Cave Rocks Road mile #24 and stay to the right. The views are stunning up there. The Cave Rocks Road Trail is about another 1.5 miles incline.

11. Come to the first bench and enjoy a rest and soak in the views.

12. Follow the arrows on Trail marker #26 toward Cave Rock Road and Cerro Este Road. The Cerro Este Road Trail is about 1.7 miles on a decline.

13. Continue to the Cerro Este Overlook bench and marker. Here you will see the Calaveras Reservoir down below. 

14. You will come to another marker that is totally worn out but you can see a bit of an arrow to the left that says “Litt..” so you’ll know that is pointing toward Little Yosemite. You can start to enjoy the descent from here on!

Worn out sign for Indian Joe Creek Trail
Bench at the top of Cave Rock Road on the lIttle Yosemite hike.

15. There is a small pond before you arrive at another worn out trail marker that says Little Yosemite 1.2 miles to the right.

16. The next trail marker will say Cerro Este for you to continue on. Do not take McCorckle Trail.

17. There is another bench overlook spot for a rest before you come to a beautiful grove of trees arching over the trail.

18. Your next marker will point you toward Little Yosemite.

Trail sign on Little Yosemite hike.
Trail Sign on Little Yosemite hike.
Trail sign on Little Yosemite hike.

19. Trail Marker #42 keeps you on Cerre Este Road.

20. Look for the huge flat rock on the trail,before you arrive at the Little Yosemite/ Alameda Creek Overlook area.

21. As you walk along, you will see spots to climb down to the rocks and water. Be careful, but you can definitely get closer to the creek and enjoy it more than just from up above.

22. Stop at the next bench and a huge rock overlook for some photos.

23. Now you are on the final and flat trek, on Canyon View Trail, which takes you crossing over a bridge off Leyden Creek and heading back to the parking lots and visitor center. Canyon View trail is about 1.3 miles back to the Visitor Center.

Little Yosemite water pool
Little Yosemite water and fall leaves.
Little Yosemite view.
Little Yosemite rocks.

What can you see from the Little Yosemite &
Indian Joe Creek Trails?

Along the trail you’ll see amazing trees, Coast Live Oaks, Blue Oaks, Elderberry, Madrone, Alder, Willow, Sycamore, and Gray Pine. Look for ground squirrels, deer, magpies, hawks, and maybe even some skunk and raccoons. There are a ton of birds including turkey vultures and golden eagles. 

When you are at the top of the trail, you’ll see the San Francisco Bay to your right and the Calaveras Reservoir to your left, beyond the wilderness hills and valleys. This is one of those killer Bay Area hiking experiences!

The reward at the end is The Alameda Creek, also known as “Little Yosemite.” It’s Alameda county’s largest stream! 

Views from Indian Joe Creek Trail.
Indian Joe Creek Trail.

When is the best time to hike to
Little Yosemite?

This is a critical question! To get the most out of your visit, you should go in the Spring, after the rains have made the creek full with a cascading flow. The wildflowers will be in bloom at that time as well, which is spectacular.

I would be cautious of visiting too close to a rainfall, however, because the trails may be muddy and that would be far less pleasant to hike on.

The Summer is notoriously hot in this region and because this trail has very little shade, be sure to go early in the morning, and be prepared with a hat, and plenty of water.

I enjoyed a Fall hike where the sun was perfect and not too hot, the trees had some color, the grasslands had a gorgeous yellow tone and there was a little water flow in the creek from some recent Fall rain.

Flat rock by Little Yosemite
Grove of trees on the Little Yosemite hike

How long is the Indian Joe Creek &
Little Yosemite Hike?

The total trail length is 6 miles.

It takes approximately 3.5 hours to complete, including rest stops and photo ops..

I suggest you go clockwise. This direction takes you uphill for a while but then the reward at the end is Little Yosemite. Rest on the benches along the way, enjoy the wildlife – cows and birds. 

The hike is billed as moderately challenging level because of the steep incline of over 1900 feet.

If you are in strong shape, you won’t find it that challenging, but everyone agrees that it’s a good workout! Just take your time and you’ll be fine.

Walk back to the parking lot on the Little Yosemite hike.
Fall trees on the Little Yosemite Trail.

How to get to to Sunol Regional Wilderness

Put the Sunol Wilderness Visitor Center in your GPS:

~ Drive East on I-580
~ Drive South on I-680
~ Exit Calaveras Rd./Highway 84
~ Turn Left on Calaveras Rd.
~ Turn Left on Geary Rd to the park entrance

Where to park for the Little Yosemite Hike

Park at the Sunol Regional Wilderness Visitor Center Parking Lot. There are several “overflow” parking lots if the one by the Visitor Center is full.

There is a “seasonal” fee of $5 for parking on weekends and holidays and $2 per dog fee. Service dogs are free.

If you go during the week or “off season” there are no fees.

Parking is open from 8AM until sunset.

Little Yosemite Hiking Tips

  • There is a toilet facility in the Visitor Center parking area parking.
  • Take a photo of the trail map in the parking lot case you lose wifi, or download from your AllTrails app.
  • Bring plenty of water and snacks.
  • Wear a hat.
  • Wear hiking boots or sneakers with some tread. 
  • Be prepared for some mud and cow/horse manure!
  • Wear layers.
  • Don’t forget the sunscreen!
  • Dogs are allowed. They must be leashed 200 feet from any trail or park entrance. They must be leashed in parking lots and picnic areas.
  • Drones are Prohibited!
  • Don’t feed the wildlife! 
  • Bicycles are not allowed on the single track hiking or horseback riding trails.
  • Bring your portable phone charger.

Please be Respectful and follow all the 7 Principles of Leave No Trace!©  Plan Ahead and Prepare,Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces, Dispose of Waste Properly, Leave What You Find, Minimize Campfire Impacts, Respect Wildlife, Be Considerate of Other Visitors. 

An alternate route to Little Yosemite

The easy out and back trail to the Alameda Creek Overlook/Little Yosemite is a total of 2.1 miles. It is a great choice for little ones or if you just want a quick visit to the park and to see the creek.

Just take Canyon View Trail from the Visitor Center to the Alameda Overlook and back again.

Fall trees along the path  to Little Yosemite.
Views along the Indian Creek Trail in Sunol.
Fall tree with sun shining through on the Little Yosemite hike.

History of the Sunol Wilderness

The Sunol Wilderness has an interesting history. The Native American Ohlone and Taunan tribe inhabited this land for many generations. They developed many horticultural techniques.

The Ohlone believe that all things have life and spirit, which includes the water, the air, and rocks. These ties to the land continue to be significant for today’s Ohlone peoples.

The geological history of the region is also quite amazing. This is evident when you see the giant Cave Rocks along the trail.

This area was once an ancient seabed! The streams, canyons, and hillsides provide a really diverse landscape. You’ll notice so many different types of trees and plants and flowers. 

The animals and birds join the cows in populating the area. There are rare sightings of an occasional bobcat and mountain lion, along with racoons, coyotes, and deer. Keep an eye out for rattlesnakes and tarantulas too! Mostly, you’ll see birds and newts breeding in the ponds.

Since the 1860’s the park region has been ranch land. Original homesteaders were the Geary Family, whose home still stands today as the Green Barn Visitor Center.

The Gearys ranched the land and raised their 11 children in the home they built on Indian Joe Creek. The Geary family sold the ranch to the JB Ranch owner Willis Brinker in 1939.

Brinker, a wealthy businessman, who built the Bay Bridge, died in a fire on the ranch. Later the land was sold to the park district and was opened to the public in 1962.

A bench along the Indian Joe Creek Trail.
Carrie at an overlook of Little Yosemite.

Who was Indian Joe anyhow?

Indian Joe Creek and Trail are named for a ranch hand, Joe Binoco, who worked for the Geary family and for Brinker for many years.

What is the Ohlone Wilderness Trail?

The Ohlone Wilderness Trail is a 28 mile trail that traverses through the Mission Peak Reserve, the Sunol-Ohlone Regional Wilderness, and the Del Valle Regional Park. A permit is required to hike or horseback ride on this trail. It includes the Rose Peak, and other mountains, canyons, wildlife, and breathtaking wilderness.

Now you’re inspired to hike to
Little Yosemite via the
Indian Joe Creek Trail!

In a nutshell…

The hike to Little Yosemite on the Indian Joe Creek Trail is a true gem of all the great Bay Area hikes. It will take you to stunning views, give you a great workout, and is an opportunity to explore one of Northern California’s most beautiful regional parks.

Enjoy it! I know you will.



Hi There! I’m Carrie.

Carrie Green-Zinn Bio Page

I’m a native New Englander, turned New Yorker, turned California girl! Following a dance career, working as a dance therapist, and being a school psychologist, I’m now ready to share my passion for photography and travel with you! I absolutely love seeing the world with my family and friends. I know you feel the same! Let’s go! 

A flat lay of MILK photo album travel books
Packing List