History, hills, and birds
Coyote Hills Regional Park
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
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,
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
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
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.