The eastern side of 1,064-acre Coyote Hills Regional Park is a patchwork of tule marshes, creeks, and grasslands; on the western edge is San Francisco Bay. Ohlone legends describe the Bay as a giant coyote print. You can learn about these early inhabitants by taking a guided tour to a shellmound and reconstructed Ohlone village with a tule...
The eastern side of 1,064-acre Coyote Hills Regional Park is a patchwork of tule marshes, creeks, and grasslands; on the western edge is San Francisco Bay. Ohlone legends describe the Bay as a giant coyote print. You can learn about these early inhabitants by taking a guided tour to a shellmound and reconstructed Ohlone village with a tule house, shade shelter, dance circle, and sweat lodge. Pick up a tour schedule and trail map at the visitor center.
Several miles of paved and dirt trails offer spectacular views of the South Bay salt ponds, East Bay hills, and Alameda Creek. Most of the hillside trails are inaccessible. Paved Alameda Creek Trail follows the banks of the creek eastward for 12 miles from the Bay to the mouth of Niles Canyon, with opportunities for hand-cycling, fishing, and picnicking. Access to this trail is at the park's north end. At the park's southern end you can connect via a bridge over Hwy. 84 to Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge. You likely won’t be able to explore the numerous trails in one day, so for a varied experience I suggest returning at different times of year.
Visitor center: Flower gardens surrounding the visitor center attract hummingbirds, and off to one side is a fenced butterfly garden, open the second Saturday of each month. Inside the center are a tule boat built by park staff and volunteers using traditional native methods, exhibits that portray aspects of Ohlone life and the park’s wildlife, and a small gift shop. There are two routes to the center: From the northern parking spot, a dirt path (muddy after a rain) leads to a paved ramp up to the center. From the southern parking space, follow the service drive (slope may be greater than 1:12) to the side of the building. This entry has a wider door; the main entry door is only 27", so you may need to open both doors.
Older sections of the trail tend to have more potholes and crumbling pavement, and are a less comfortable ride than newer sections.
Obstacles: Much of the trail has a significant cross-slope that may slow down some manual wheelchair riders.
This exhilarating three-mile paved loop has several steep ups and downs as it traverses the park’s hills, offering spectacular views of the South Bay’s diked salt ponds, Dumbarton Bridge, Alameda Creek, and the East Bay hills. At the first trail junction, .25 miles from the visitor center, the hard-packed dirt and gravel Lizard Rock Trail leads inland about .25 miles to the network of marsh trails. At the second junction, another .5 miles along at the northern tip of the Bay View loop, you can follow the paved side trail downhill to the Alameda Creek Trail, which leads 1.37 miles toward the Bay or inland 10.5 miles along Alameda Creek. If you choose to go toward the Bay, you’ll see up close the salt ponds and marshes, now part of the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project aims to restore 15,100 acres of salt ponds to natural wetlands. Watch out for goose droppings on the last .5 miles of the Alameda Creek Trail as you roll toward the Bay.
On my visit, I returned to the Bay View Trail and continued south. This stretch of trail was my favorite; it hugs the hillside 100 feet above the Bay, and I felt closer to the landscape and the elements. There is no guardrail along this section, which has a cross-slope, but the trail is a comfortable 5 feet wide. For the next 1.5 miles, layered outcroppings of reddish rock tell of geologic upheaval, anise plants grow tall, grasses rustle in the wind, and hikers climbing the park’s interior hills appear as tiny moving specks. As you round the southern end of the loop you pass junctions for the No Name Trail (which quickly becomes inaccessible) and the Apay Way Trail (see below), which becomes quite steep about a mile out. I continued on the Bay View Trail, which climbs a short, moderately steep hill, passes a junction with more inaccessible side trails, then curves north and runs along the eastern side of the hills, where California sagebrush is the dominant shrub. The Dairy Glen campground is on your right. A quarter-mile past the campground is the Quarry Staging Area. Continue on Bay View Trail past the parking lot, cross Patterson Ranch Road, and turn left to return to the visitor center in a quarter-mile.
Apay Way Trail
Trailhead: From the Quarry Staging Area, follow the asphalt trail near the porta-potty. It gently climbs .14 miles, then crosses Meadowlark Trail and continues another .07 miles to the Apay Way trailhead. There's a slight drop-off onto the trail.
The last third, where the trail is cut into the rocky hillside, is a pretty rough ride.
This 1.3-mile trail offers Bay views similar to those along the Bay View Trail but is a bumpier and much more challenging ride. Unless you want to connect to Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge (Fremont) or see the working quarry at the end of the trail, for greater comfort I suggest taking the Bay View Trail. The trail begins with a gentle uphill climb along a hillside, and although the path is greater than 5 feet wide, there’s a ridge down the center––likely from erosion––that makes the trail uneven. I stayed close to the hillside because the trail was wider there. Old pilings from a pier come into view, as does the Dumbarton Bridge, and with it more traffic noise. You’re about 30 feet above the water, with great views of the abundant waterfowl, until you make a steep ascent to a small eucalyptus grove, where tree roots have made the asphalt uneven. The trail levels out for a good distance but is rockier as you get closer to the quarry. It travels steeply downhill to a bridge that crosses Hwy. 84, then ends at the entrance road to Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge.
Wetlands trails: Chochenyo, D.U.S.T., Lizard Rock
Trailhead: Most of the trails can be accessed across from the visitor center. To reach the Lizard Rock Trail, follow the Bay View Trail left from the visitor center about .3 miles to the second Lizard Rock trailhead (the first trailhead quickly becomes inaccessible as it hugs the hillside). The Willows and Crandal Creek trails were not explored.
Except for the boardwalk, trail segments vary in bumpiness depending on the size of the gravel.
To explore the extensive network of trails through the park’s fresh and saltwater marshes, it’s a good idea to pick up a map at the visitor center; trails are clearly marked. I started by following the accessible boardwalk. Some may need assistance on the steep approach, across Patterson Ranch Road from the visitor center. The 800-foot Boardwalk Trail passes through the Main Marsh, where tules and cattails grow tall and thick, turning from green to gold with the seasons. Being so close to the water, with the grasses obscuring everything except the sky, gave me the sensation of floating along with the many white pelicans and ducks I saw. A return visit during a drought year provided a very different experience.
After less than a tenth of a mile the boardwalk ends and you enter the dirt-and-gravel Chochenyo Trail. At the first junction, where the Muskrat Trail (limited access) leads right, veer left to stay on Chochenyo. At the next junction, stay right to continue .25 miles to the Ohlone Village. The village was built on a shellmound—a large pile of shells found near villages where shellfish were a staple. You can catch glimpses of it through the fence; for a closer view, join a docent-led tour.
Instead of taking the branch of the Chochenyo Trail that leads to the village, you can continue on the trail's main stem as it passes a narrower section of marsh and then dead-ends at the D.U.S.T Trail. This is a lovely spot to linger and watch waterfowl fly overhead and gracefully land in the shallow waters. I could even see ducks below the water, diving for food. Although civilization is nearby, this spot felt isolated. You can turn left at the dead end to return to the Bay View Trail via Lizard Rock Trail (I took this route on a previous trip; it wraps around the base of a hill for .4 miles and passes under a few trees that offer some of the only shade along the wetland trails), or turn right to follow a channel about .4 miles to Crandall Creek Trail. On my most recent visit, I took the latter route. Tree-swallow houses on posts made by children lined the trail. As I got closer to Crandall Creek Trail, I could see some development to the east, with hills providing a backdrop. Bicyclists sped along Alameda Creek Trail, but I saw no way to connect to it. According to my map, if I went another mile, I could connect near Ardenwood Boulevard. Instead, I retraced my route to the visitor center.
The facilities listed below meet all of our access criteria unless otherwise noted.
Two accessible spaces at visitor center. No designated spaces at Quarry Staging Area or the dirt lot at the park's entrance at Patterson Ranch Rd. and Paseo Padre Pkwy. (a paved 1.5-mile trail travels parallel to Patterson Ranch Rd. from this lot to the visitor center). One space at Dairy Glen group campground.
The most accessible restroom (vault style) is at Dairy Glen. Accessible portable toilets are at the visitor center parking lot and the Quarry Staging Area. The restrooms in the visitor center have limited access: the short stall doesn’t allow the door to close behind a wheelchair and requires a frontal transfer; the towel dispensers are high; and there’s a tight entry turn into the men’s room.
At Quarry Staging Area, Dairy Glen, and visitor center; the most accessible tables are near the butterfly garden and by the parking area.
Other Things of Interest
Nearby, Ardenwood Historic Farm is a great destination for families with small children. A 19th-century country estate with a beautiful Victorian mansion and elaborate Victorian gardens, farm animals, and a blacksmith shop. Ardenwood is also a working farm, growing the same kinds of produce that have been grown in the region for the past hundred years. A walk around the farm is .5 miles.
Tule (an abundant plant found in brackish and freshwater marshes) removes metals (copper, lead, zinc) from marsh waters and retains them in its root system, making marsh habitats safer for both wildlife and humans.