For some reason, I’ve been thinking a lot about hiking lately. Well, I always think about hiking, but it usually doesn’t go much further than buying yet another book to put on my expanding shelf of hiking trail guides. That all changed as of last week when, on some strange impulse, I jumped in the car and went out to Muir Woods for a hike up one side of Mount Tam. That adventure made me resolve to hike all the open spaces and recreation areas in the Bay Area and, of course, blog about them. Except not that hike on Mount Tam, which I’ll have to do again, because I took off without a camera. I also took off without a plan, a detailed map, a compass and a good backpack. So let’s skip ahead to my second hike — where at least I brought a camera.
Coyote Hills Regional Park, Fremont
Ever driven across the Bay on the low-slung Dumbarton Bridge and marveled at all the birdlife in the mudflats, earthen dikes and hills off toward the Fremont side? Coyote Hills is how you can get up close and personal with them. Coyote Hills is part of the huge wildlife and bird sanctuary that stretches around the lower end of San Francisco Bay as the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge. This is the home, migration route and vacation spot for hundreds of species of birds. It’ll be the easiest birdwatching you’ll ever do. Just walk on any trail and look around. A variety of hawks will be wheeling overhead, shore and marsh birds abound and large flocks of migrating birds bring seasonal variety.
First of all, the guides I consulted all promised this would be easy hiking. And it is, even though I climbed up and over the highest point in the park. This would be a great park for mixed groups of hikers or bikers of varying abilities. The vast majority of the trails are flat, packed earth and most hug the shoreline. If hiking, for you, means varied terrain, this is not your hike. You’ll see only three varieties: rounded nearly treeless hills, open bay shoreline and boardwalk trails that meander through tall reed marshland.
Apparently, there are other animals here besides birds. At the visitors’ center, I was promised foxes, bobcats and, of course, coyotes. I saw nothing but jack rabbits.
There’s another cool thing about Coyote Hills — provided you are hiking on a foggy day — which masks the fact that Silicon Valley is across the Bay from you and the East Bay sprawl of cities are on the other side of the park. Standing on top of one of the higher hills gives you a sense of what the De Anza expedition party must have seen when they became the first Europeans to discover the San Francisco Bay. Notice I said “the first Europeans”. Because, of course, various Ohlone, Miwok and Costanoan tribes knew this area well. De Anza’s party encountered some of them at Alameda Creek right here at Coyote Hills. The Natives slapped their thighs, put up their hands in a “stop” gesture and yelled at the explorers. De Anza’s men took the hint that they were trespassing, palmed the Natives off with some beads and marched up north to their ultimate destination — what would become the City of San Francisco.
Now, a word of warning about Coyote Hills. The only facilities are at the little visitors’ center and at the Dairy Glen campsite. And should you get caught short on the trails, well, it’s pretty exposed. You’ll have to duck into the tall grass and hope you aren’t in the binocular sights of any birdwatchers. You’d also think in this relatively flat park getting lost would not be an issue. I seem to have a talent for getting myself off on the Fugowee Trail on any given hike. (That’s Fugowee as in “Where the F*ck are we?”) You’ll most likely start any hike at the Visitors’ Center where the main parking lot is. Well, it’s tucked in between a series of identical looking treeless hills and the trails are not always marked well. So I found myself wandering around hill after hill trying to find my way back (and tacking an extra mile and a half to my 4.5 mile hike!) Finally, I just climbed up one of the hills and looked down until I saw the parking lot.
I would definitely recommend this park for repeat visits. I didn’t even get a chance to wander the boardwalk trails through the reeds that lead you to an Ohlone shellmound and reconstructed Ohlone reed house and sweat lodge. There’s also a long causeway hike that leads to a particularly bird-rich section of the Don Edwards Sanctuary. The visitors center has a bird and butterfly nectar garden and more displays on Ohlone life and traditions.
The Trails: Bayview and Red Hill Loop
Best: Bird watching, many gentle hills and flat trails
Worst: Trails aren’t always well marked, no facilities on the trail and no cover!
Facilities: Nice restrooms and water near the Visitors’ Center. Nothing on the trail which is so wide open, there’s no cover if you are caught short.
Why I’ll Go Back: Boardwalk and levee trails that take you through reed marshes, out into the Bay and along Alameda Creek.
My Flickr Pix: Find the set here.