The Tolay Lake Regional Park is a unique park-in-development that is currently open for limited visiting hours through a permit program. Park management plans to open it completely to the public for expanded hours by the end of 2018. Currently, to access the park, you must complete an online lecture and quiz and wait to receive a pass in the mail. Once you receive a pass, you will be able to visit during permit hours of 8:00 a.m. to sunset on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday from April to September, and on Saturday and Sunday only from October to March.
Tolay Lake is a shallow freshwater lake that settlers in the mid-nineteenth-century altered to facilitate farming and ranching. The land around it was acquired by the state in 2005. Work is still underway to restore the lake to its original condition. Before European-American settlers lived here, the area was occupied for 8,000 years by various Native American groups. In addition to being a wildlife corridor and home to golden eagles, Tolay Lake Regional Park is the site of many historic artifacts and buildings.
The park features a network of trails including out-and-back trails to vista points and some loops. One of the most popular hikes here is a full six-mile loop that starts at the parking lot and covers most of the trails in the park. To do the full loop, take the Causeway Trail to the out-and-back East Ridge Trail. Follow the East Ridge Trail to the Three Bridges Vista Point, where you'll be able to see much of the San Pablo Bay, including the Bay Bridge. Then head back the way you came until you reach the start of the Pond Trail. Take the loop that follows the Pond Trail, the Burrowing Owl Trail, and the West Ridge Trail back to the parking lot.
The rewards for taking the time to get a permit and come here to visit this beautiful place are many. During your hike, you'll pass through pastoral farmland, gently rolling hills, and oak woodlands. In the spring, colorful wildflowers carpet the bright green hills. The park is home to wildlife species including bobcats and burrowing owls, and is also an important stop for migrating birds. Stop at one of the dozens of ponds that dot the acres of open grasslands and you're likely to find frogs and turtles.
There's a popular fall festival here every year where people gather at a historic homestead on the park grounds and celebrate the pumpkin harvest. Note that hours and access changes during the festival.
Whether you come in the fall to see the pumpkins or in the summer to see the flowers, you are guaranteed to go home with a mind and a camera full of beautiful imagery you'll always remember.