Charming Tolay Lake – Sonoma County

Charming Tolay Lake - Sonoma County | Smiling in Sonoma

A charming piece of sacred California history lives right in our backyard but most locals haven’t heard of Tolay Lake. It’s a darn shame! The rich history and beautiful views of the rolling hills and the city beyond are amazing to experience any time of year.

According to the Sonoma County Parks website, the property has over 8,000 years of history ranging from the Native Americans to ranchers to present day Sonoma County Parks. The hubs and I did not find any of the “charmstones” used by Native Americans but truly found this park charming in its own beauty. The golden rolling hills iconic of Northern California, happy cows grazing lazily throughout the park, the birds flying high above, and the peace and quiet you can only find out in the middle of nature. Tolay is so close to the city you can reach out and touch it but far enough away you can find solace in the peaceful fields of grass home to many happy cows.

First off, you need a permit to access this park as it is not quite ready to be public yet. You can now do this with an online quiz. This is one of the few Sonoma County parks we have not hiked yet (we do volunteer for the fall festival) so I finally got my act together and took the quiz and our permit came in the mail just in time to get to hike the park before the fall festival is in full swing.

We were greeted by a grazing cow wondering if we were there for her or for the hike. As we walked along Causeway Trail we found it easy to cross the seasonal lake…which is currently non existent. Following the main trail up to East Ridge Trail we passed a few lazy cows, a pumpkin patch, a beautiful vineyard on private property and through an oak grove. This spot felt magical with the filtered light beaming through the trees…it was as if we were being transported to a whole other world. Take a pause here to enjoy the shade and peacefulness of nature. It was almost my favorite part of the hike.

Once you break out of the oak grove you might stumble upon some adventurous cows who like to hang out at the top of the mountain. This is where we were fortunate enough to witness a baby cow running full speed around his mother…in circles…over and over!!!! THE CUTEST THING EVER!!! I squealed, giggled, and snapped a few pics of him running around his mama. Seriously the best time with cows! We then passed by the rest of the herd at the top and reached the vista point as the bull watched us carefully and another mama cow scowled at us for intruding on their breakfast hike.

The views from up there were amazing!!! We could see Mount Tamalpais, San Francisco, the Richmond Bridge, and of course the San Pablo Bay. Just breathtaking.

Head back the way you came and make a left on Pond Trail. The day we were hiking there was a large herd of cows under the eucalyptus tree watching us intently as we hiked by. We were the only people on the trail the entire time so I guess we were just as interesting to watch as they were to us!

We then followed the trail to the Vista Pond where we found a rather healthy cow that proceeded to yell at us from across the pond. Not sure why he was so upset but he headed up the hill and kept yelling at us. Not your regular mooooo! but rather more of a raaaawrmoooo! Odd sound. We did the short loop and caught site of a golden eagle soaring high above and enjoyed the views of the park. Turning the bend to head back you get some really great views of the fish pond and one lonely happy cow. We passed through yet another cattle gate and followed the Pond Trail to the Tolay Creek Trail. This is where we were fortunate enough to see about 10 White Tailed Kite birds hanging out along the fence and in the trees. This trail led us to the historic old rock wall and on to the Historical Lakeville Road Trail. We followed this along to the Burrowing Owl Trail to head up to the West Ridge Trail. This is one of the few spots for any elevation gain…the view of the entire park open up here. It’s lovely to see the colors of the various regions of this small park come to life as you climb up.

The top of the West Ridge Trail also gives you amazing views of the Petaluma River and beyond! It was a bit windy the day we were up there and imagine it usually is windy up there. You can see the neighboring vineyards as you walk under the power lines. From there follow the road lined with eucalyptus trees back down the the park area. If you have time, say hello to the goats and miniature pony! She likes her back scratched but don’t try and fix her crazy blonde mane…she will give you a nasty look. 🙂

Tolay Lake Regional Park is definitely a beautiful gem to discover and we can’t wait to go back after the rains come and turn the hills green again. Looking forward to some rain!

Trail Details:

Permit required, Sonoma County Parks pass or $7 parking fee, portable potties, decent marked trails but little elevation gain, 8.9 miles to do the entire park, grazing cows out on the trails, goats and a horse back at the main parking area. Check the website for trail closures and which days you can hike.

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