Two for One
Cull Canyon and Five Canyons Open Space
Neil Wiley

In our March 2018 issue, I wrote about the Don Castro Regional Recreation Area. Although it is billed as a summer swimming lake, this preserve offers surprisingly good trails with lots of variety in scenery and wildlife. It seemed like a good idea to explore two other nearby parks off Highway 580. In fact, the first segment of the 14-mile Chabot to Garin Trail connects the three parks. If you want shorter hikes, you can drive from park to park in a few minutes.

Cull Canyon
I started my explorations with Cull Canyon. The descriptions and map suggested that it would be much like Don Castro. I knew that the swimming area would be closed for winter, but the preserve map showed a big lake below the swim lagoon. To my surprise, there was no lake.

A little research revealed that silt and debris from upstream creeks had filled the reservoir. Instead of a thirty-foot deep lake, it was a six-foot-deep muddy swamp. To make matters worse, the dam might be seismically unstable. No wonder the lake disappeared. Wildlife got the message. I saw only one lonely giant egret.

Not to worry. Exploring involves an element of surprise. That’s what makes hiking interesting.

Before attempting to walk around an imaginary lake, I walked north along the Chabot to Garin Trail. It wasn’t always well marked, but it took me through streams, a tunnel under a road, along a rock wall, and to a trailhead marked as Cull Canyon Loop Trail. It was a nice trail up and over green hills with pleasant views and some early spring flowers, but it didn’t loop, so I walked back to the center of the park and past the closed swimming area. The trail took me to the south end of the abandoned lake, but when I tried to complete the circle on the west shore, the trail ended at a locked gate.

It wasn’t a bad hike for a winter day, but completing a loop would have made it better.

Five Canyons
I set my GPS for Five Canyons. It was a short drive up Five Canyons Parkway, but my GPS had taken me to Five Canyons Park, a little neighborhood park with swing sets and slides. When I looked at my map, I found only one steep trail behind the swings that would take me down into Deer Creek Canyon. It didn’t look promising. Instead, I checked my map for another entrance. I found one on Boulder Canyon Road. I drove back down Five Canyons Parkway, and turned left on Boulder Canyon. I almost passed the trailhead, which was just a narrow space between two houses.

My story turns out well. As I walked down out of suburbia into the canyon on the appropriately named Shady Canyon Trail, I found a lovely, quiet forest trail that followed a stream along the bottom of the canyon.

I did cross one street and behind a few houses, but most of the trail felt deep in nature. As a bonus, when I turned up Newt Pond Trail, I discovered some beautiful scenic views of San Francisco Bay, and in the far distance, the skyscrapers of the city.

The loop took me back to Shady Canyon Trail and back to my car. I was parked on the street in a residential neighborhood, but I saw no signs of restrictions or ugly notes on my windshield.

The day had some surprises, some good, some not so good. It wasn’t like rafting the Zambezi or trekking in Nepal, but it was fun to explore. It’s a reminder to enjoy the unexpected, but just in case, be sure to carry a good map, water, and a cell phone.