Tolay Lake Regional Park

12.00 Miles
355 Feet
4stars (4.00)3
3stars (3.00)
3stars (3.33)
5869 Cannon Lane
More Info
Cows and Cowgirls?
The park's resident cows kept a close eye on the equine visitors and their riders along the trail. They were not interested in being rounded up. (Photo by Austin Explorer)
Looking up the small canyon that feeds into Vista Pond. (Photo by Austin Explorer)
Looking back
Looking over Fish Pond towards the buildings at the park trailhead. (Photo by Austin Explorer)
Vista Pond
Lots of cows seemed to enjoy the relative solitude around Vista Pond. (Photo by Austin Explorer)
Pond Trail
Pond Trail's surface was dry and fractured at the start. (Photo by Austin Explorer)
Cache Cow
After finding our first Geocache of the day this bovine passed by on its way to better foraging. (Photo by Austin Explorer)
Lakeville Road Trail
Like most trails at Tolay Lake, the path along Lakeville Road Trail is wide with open skies. (Photo by Austin Explorer)
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)

Only showing last 12 photos. View All Photos

Log Entries
Hiking and caching, mostly with solitude
By Austin Explorer on 11/29/2020
Rating: 4stars Difficulty: 3stars Solitude: 4stars
Distance: 6.73 Miles Duration: 3 hours, 44 minutes

Coppertone and I picked Tolay Lake for today's hike based on wide trails (for proper social distancing), gently rolling terrain (she's coming off of some knee pain in the past), unmapped trail segments and a few geocaches (which we had picked up again after several years).

Though the parking area was fairly packed, the trail segments we chose turned out to be the least used in the park that day.  We chose well.  Our route included the Historic Lakeville Road Trail, Farm Bridge Trail, Pond Trail and Upland Pond Trail.  On the way back to the car we used the Causeway Trail, which was much more crowded.  I suspect most park visitors were headed up for the Three Bridges Vista Point, the highest point in the park.

The drought year was in evidence by the dry, cracked trail surface on some sections of trail.  This was most prevalent on the Farm Bridge Trail and lower sections of the Pond Trail.  Careful attention had to be paid to foot placement to ensure no twisted ankles or re-injured knees would result.

Generally, trail segments are easy to follow and well marked.  The one exception was the Upland Pond Trail loop adjacent to Vista Pond.  We ended up on a cow path leading down to Vista Pond.  It was better defined than the official trail.  We scrambled up a steep slope to get back on the correct, though more subtle, path.  A bunch of cows were congregating around the pond and gave us the evil eye before we figured out we had gone astray.

We also spotted a few horses on the trail.  One was riderless.  No, the animal was not roaming free.  Instead, the sadleless horse went for a walk with its owner, who led it by the reins.  We suspect it may have been recovering from an injury.

We found all three geocaches that lined the paths we hiked.  We found out what the aptly named Stinging Nettle looks and feels like on the third cache.

The 6.73 miles was the most we'd hiked in a day since the pandemic hit.  It felt good to get outdoors again.

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.

Recommended Item
Recommended Item Hiking California's Wine Country: A Guide to the Area's Greatest Hikes
Bubba Suess
Your price: $24.95 Buy Now
Hiking California's Wine Country covers 67 hikes in the area for hikers of all abilities. Up-to-date trail information and miles and directions will be featured throughout, as well as sidebars on local culture, trivia, and wildlife. GPS coordinates are available for all trailheads.