History, hills, and birds

Coyote Hills Regional Park

Neil Wiley

This multi-faceted park packs a lot of family-oriented natural history and experiences in nature within 978 acres of marshland and rolling, grass-covered hills. Located near the eastern entrance to the Dumbarton Bridge, and northwest of Fremont and Newark, the park is full of happy surprises.

Baby swallows chirped from above the doorway as I entered the visitor center. Inside, I found exhibits portraying the Ohlone way of life, including a tule-reed boat, displays of Native American culture, and stuffed animals and birds. In the next room, a ranger was presenting Ohlone history to a class of active young students. In the Possum’s Pocket Nature Store another staff member provided a map, and then sold me a tabletop book displaying beautiful photographs of East Bay parks by Bob Walker, who devoted his life to photographing and protecting the East Bay.

I walked out of the visitor’s center into a day of low clouds and clear air made for picture-taking, so I headed for the hills to check out the views. I wasn’t disappointed.

My first hike was around a loop that took me over trails called Bayview, Nike, Red Hill, Soaproot, and Quail. I found Bayview, a paved road at the west end of the parking lot, that took me past acres of marsh on the right and big, round green hills on the left.

Waves of ground squirrels ran for their holes as I walked by. The climb began as I turned left on Nike, then left on Red Hill, a dirt trail that took me up to the top for an exciting 360 degree scenic view. To the north, I could see San Francisco. To the west I saw San Francisco Bay and the hills of Skyline. To the south I saw our own Mt. Umunhum and Loma Prieta. To the east I saw the Mt. Diablo range down past Mt. Hamilton. It was impressive.

So was the wind. I swear that I could feel the giant boulder I was holding move, or maybe it was me. In spite of, or perhaps because of, the wind, hawks and kites hung in space, then dove down for rodent snacks.

I continued down to a saddle, then up again to Glider Hill, where I enjoyed a snack on a genuine picnic table. The way down was steep, but before long I found Soaproot, a dirt road that took me to a junction with Bayview and Quail. I turned left on Quail and after a little walk I found a short trail to the right that led me to Castle Rock, a nice jumble of red pinnacles. Quail went on past Hoot Hollow picnic area, then to a paved path leading back to the visitor center.

The hike was only 1.5 miles long, and the elevation gain was less than 350 feet. It was easy going with the only concern for smaller children walking on slippery rock on some of the downward trails. A walking stick would make it a little easier. If the climb looks too difficult, you can ride or walk around the hills on Bayview. It’s twice as long, but better for road cyclists and less confident walkers.

Ready for something different? I turned away from the hills to visit the area called “Main Marsh.” I walked across the road from the visitor center, and turned to the right. In less than a hundred steps, I was on a boardwalk leading through a wetland, complete with ponds, cattails, tules, reeds, dragonflies, and many kinds of waterfowl. In a matter of minutes, I saw a snowy egret, a heron, geese, and several species of ducks. Benches in strategic locations made this a good place to sit and contemplate nature.

I could have stopped there, but I continued on to Muskrat and Chochenyo trails to find two points of interest. The first was a Native American archaeological site:  a reconstructed tule house, shade shelter, pit house, and sweat lodge. A high fence blocked the way to this 2,000-year-old shellmound site. I later learned that public access is by reservation only. (For information, call 510-795-9385.)

I had more luck finding the elusive white pelicans. I caught them sleeping on a small island not far from the archaeological site. These birds move from place to place within the park, so ask a park staffer where you might find them.

Parking is $5 for the day. The visitor center is open Tuesday through Sundays, 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. The bird-and-butterfly nectar garden is open Wednesday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. A group camping site and picnic areas are available. The park’s naturalist staff conduct a variety of programs. To learn more visit the East Bay parks website (www.ebparks.org) or call 510-795-9385.


Reaching nearby attractions

The Apay Way trail leads to a pedestrian overpass and the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Parallel Alameda Creek Trails (one for horses and one for bicycles) run twelve miles from the Bay east to the mouth of Niles Canyon.

Ardenwood Drive leads to Ardenwood Historic Farm. From April through November 15, on Thursdays and Fridays, Ardenwood offers historic days, with naturalist programs, house tours, horse-drawn railroad rides, and a blacksmith shop. On Sundays, a Farmyard Café is also open.  On Saturdays, enjoy family days, with naturalist programs, house tours, and sometimes visits to the blacksmith shop. The café is also open. Before you visit Ardenwood, be sure to call 510-796-0663. Winter schedules and special events may change programs.


Directions to Coyote Hills

Take Highway 17 north and continue on Interstate 880 into the East Bay. Turn on Highway 84 west (second Highway 84 exit), exit right on Paseo Padre Parkway, and drive north about one mile. Turn left on Patterson Ranch Road. Continue past the picnic areas to the visitor center and parking.


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