Marina Bay, Richmond (credit: Randy Yagi)
With the prospects of unsettled weather this winter, many of the East Bay’s most popular hiking trails may be inaccessible or unsuitable for a nature walk. With dirt trails dominating popular East Bay hiking destinations like Redwood Regional Park, Ohlone Wilderness Trail and Mission Peak, all could turn into a muddy mess by continuing rain storms or even the possibility of snow. Fortunately, the East Bay is home to the nation’s largest regional park district and a sizable collection of states parks, some of which have paved trails for an easier and safer outdoor outing. Here are five of the best parks in the East Bay for a winter nature walk.
22400 Woodroe Ave.
Hayward, CA 94541
Don Castro Regional Recreation Area can be the perfect winter setting for an early morning nature walk. Named after a 19th-Century Spanish nobleman, the 101-acre park offers just 3.5 miles of hiking trails but a paved section encircles the entire swim lagoon, in addition to a extended path along the San Lorenzo Creek Reservoir. There is no weekday parking or dog fee and early morning visitors might be greeted with plenty of parking just past the entry kiosk. The trails with the regional park also connects to the 14-mile Chabot to Garin Regional Trail, which is a brief segment of the 550-mile-plus Bay Area Ridge Trail.
The 7.65-mile Lafayette-Moraga Regional Trail is a paved linear park connecting the cities of Moraga and Lafayette in Contra Costa County. Known as one of California’s first rail-trails, the 60-foot wide park is widely used not only for hiking, but also for cycling, horseback riding and is wheelchair accessible. Due to its linear configuration, the popular trail can be accessed from many spots in either direction, including the trail staging area near St. Mary’s College, Lafayette Community Park and the Olympic Boulevard trail staging area at the northern terminus. There is no parking fee at Moraga Commons Park or Lafayette Community Park as well as any of the three staging areas.
Lake Chabot Regional Park
17600 Lake Chabot Road
Castro Valley, CA 94546
Lake Chabot features more than 20 miles of scenic hiking trails, including paved sections along the shoreline. Although this popular regional park also connects to 70 additional miles of hiking trails filtering into the larger Anthony Chabot Regional Park, the paved, 3.52-mile pathway along the West and East Shore Trails are the best suited for a winter nature walk. Centered around the 315-acre dam built in the mid 1870s, the regional park covers more than 3,300 acres and offers a number of other activities, including picnicking, camping and boating. Hikers with dogs are strongly advised to keep their pets away from the water, due to the ongoing presence of toxic algae. The parking fee is $5 per vehicle and a dog fee is $2, with no charges administered for service dogs. However, visitors may also find free parking along the road leading to the main entrance or at any of the staging areas.
McLaughlin Eastshore State Park
Berkeley, CA 94720
Hugging the San Francisco Bay shoreline, McLaughlin Eastshore State Park extends 8.5 miles from the Bay Bridge to Richmond. Running parallel to the busy Interstate Highway 80, the wildlife refuge protects nearly 2,000 acres of tidelands and connects multiple waterfronts, including the Berkeley Marina. While the northern section of the trail is paved, spanning 2.5 miles from Marina Bay bordering the Rosie The Riveter WWII Home Front National Park in Richmond to Central Avenue near the popular dog park at Point Isabel Regional Shoreline, the remainder of the trail consists of loose gravel, which could pose more of a challenge than the paved pathway during inclement weather. The east shore trail can be accessed at multiple points, with parking at places like Emery Cove Yacht Harbor, Berkeley Marina, Point Isabel Regional Shoreline and Marina Bay.
Tilden Regional Park
2501 Grizzly Peak Blvd.
Orinda, CA 94563
Known as jewel of the East Bay parks system, Tilden Park encompasses nearly 2,100 acres within the scenic hills above Berkeley. One of the oldest East Bay parks, Tilden Park features more than 40 miles of hiking trails along with family friendly attractions like an antique wooden carousel and a scaled-down steam train. If the winter rains prevent visitors from accessing popular hikes like the Wildcat Peak Loop, a better option is the 4.1-mile Nimitz Way, a paved segment of the East Bay Skyline National Trail, known for its sweeping views of the San Francisco Bay Area. Visitors wishing to explore Nimitz Way must reach the parking area at Inspiration Point at the mid-northern border of the park off Wildcat Canyon Road. Winter visitors should know that South Park Drive, one of the primary entranceways is closed to auto traffic until April 1.
Randy Yagi is an award-winning freelance writer covering all things San Francisco. In 2012, he received a Media Fellowship from Stanford University. His work can be found on Examiner.com