Tolay Lake Regional Park

Trail
12.00 Miles
355 Feet
$7.00
4stars (4.00)2
3stars (3.00)
3stars (3.00)
N/A
Yes
Yes
No
5869 Cannon Lane
Sonoma
Sonoma
More Info
Photos
Shade
As the sky cleared and temperatures rose even the cows were seeking shade under this lonely tree. (Photo by Austin Explorer)
Headed back
Coppertone heads down the mountain back to the trailhead. (Photo by Austin Explorer)
Trailhead, in the distance
From the Three Bridges Vista Point, looking out over the width of Tolay creek's valley back towards the park's headquarters and our trailhead. (Photo by Austin Explorer)
Mount Tam
Mount Tam resides in the distance at the center of the shot. Rolling in the foreground at the hills of Tolay Lake Regional Park. On clearer days the Golden Gate Bridge can be spotted, part of the reason for this spot's name, Three Bridges Vista Point. (Photo by Austin Explorer)
Cougar Mountain
Cougar Mountain and Sonoma Speedway as seen from Three Bridges Vista Point. (Photo by Austin Explorer)
Downhill
Looking back on the trail towards the most treed portion of the trail. (Photo by Austin Explorer)
Getting close
The trail continues to ascend along East Ridge Trail a bit less than a half mile from Three Bridges Vista Point. (Photo by Austin Explorer)
A few more trees
There are few trees in the park, but along a section of trail that parallels a seasonal creek there are a bit more. (Photo by Austin Explorer)
Looking back
Looking back towards the trailhead on the opposite side of the valley. (Photo by Austin Explorer)
Barn and Pond
From the East Ridge Trail looking over an adjacent property's barn and pond and vineyards on the rolling hills. (Photo by Austin Explorer)
Vineyard and cows
The vineyard on the left is private property adjacent to the park. Near the center is the first of several gates along the trail. A coupe of cows can be seen hanging out. Looking for a way to open it? (Photo by Austin Explorer)
Towards the ridge
The few trees along the Causeway disappear and it's open skies for most of the hike. Our goal is straight ahead. (Photo by Austin Explorer)

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Log Entries
Up East Ridge Trail to the best view in the park
By Austin Explorer on 6/16/2019
Rating: 4stars Difficulty: 3stars Solitude: 3stars
Distance: 5.37 Miles Duration: 2 hours, 36 minutes

Coppertone and I knocked out our third trail in our 2019 Sonoma County Trails Challenge at Tolay Lake Regional Park.  Two more to go!

We took the suggested route across the Causeway Trail and uphill on the East Ridge Trail.  We were rewarded with spectacular views of a wide swath of San Pablo Bay and even into San Francisco Bay.  The earlier clouds and fog were just beginning to clear so visibility was not ideal, but it was still impressive enough for me to consider this the best viewpoint in the park.

We started our day on the flat causeway walking along a dotted line of trees and being buzzed at high speed by acrobatic chimney swifts.  Later in the day on the return leg of the hike they had settled down a bit as the temperatures rose.

To our left were some fenced in fields and a low drainage ditch paralleled the dividing fenceline heading away from us.  We heard a rustle of grass and brush (more like a crash) and out of the grass emerges a cow.  Closer examination showed there to be several additional cows in the low spot.  The loud crash of vegetation and the unexpected emergence of large mammal called to mind a hike we had taken in Montana years ago.  But unlike the Moose we saw in Glacier National Park the cow here presented no possible danger.

About 1 mile into the hike the flat terrain turns slighty upward.  There are several gates that must be opened and closed along the path to keep the roaming cattle in their proper pastures.  Unlike the cows we saw in the ditch the ones from this point on up are in the same fields as hikers.  They generally clear a path and get well out of your way.

There's little tree cover on the trail, but as East Ridge Trail continues to climb it makes a turn and parallels and seasonal streambed.  Here a line oaks, buckeyes and some others provide a brief respite from the Sun.  The respite is short as the trail again breaks out into rolling open grassland for the final push.

We found a hiker already at the Three Bridges Vista Point.  She had a blanket laid out and has obviously planned to soak in the vista for an extended period of time.  We had a nice chat about the park and the things one can normally see to the south on clearer days.

As I said, the view is great but there are some unwelcome reminders we are not terribly far from cities.  A high tension powerline can be see along the west ridge on the opposite side of the park.  Sonoma Raceway provided near continuous racecar noise.  In addition a nearby gun club has a shooting range which projects the sound of gunshots much farther than I would have expected.

Due to plans later in the day we didn't spend too much time admiring the view, so we doubled back down the trail to where we started.

First visit to the new park
By Austin Explorer on 3/17/2019
Rating: 4stars Difficulty: 3stars Solitude: 3stars
Distance: 8.39 Miles Duration: 4 hours, 14 minutes

Coppertone and I made our first visit to the new park after a slight dry spell hinted that we might not have to deal with too much mud.  Our chief aim was to go directly to the Bay View Vista at the end of the Wsest Ridge Trail.  With over 8 miles put in we managed to do that.

The park is wide open, with very little tree cover anywhere.  That means sunscreen should be your word for the day.  You will be exposed to the Sun.  Expect it and prepare for it and you'll be fine.

From the top of the ridges that mark most of the parks boundaries one can see almost all of the park from almost every point.  Other hikers might be a mile or more away but if you look carefully, you can see them.  Does that inhibit a hike's solitude?  Not necessarily.

We did encounter a few spots of muddy terrain that required a short detour around the tractor trails that make up the park's paths.  Some of the larger puddles of water served the cows as watering holes just fine.  Yes, there are cows everywhere and they are not separated from visitors by a fence.  At one point we joked that we were being followed by a rather noisy cow but she was just headed towards a puddle she knew about for a quick drink.

Watch out for cow patties on the trail.  Seriously.

The views from Bay View Vista and Petaluma Marsh Vista are grand.  The one downside of Bay View Vista is the loud noises coming from Sonoma Raceway from the speeding cars.

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