5.1 mile loop across a marsh, then up and down grassy hills above the bay.
Distance, category, and difficulty:
This 5.1 mile loop hike is easy, with a total elevation change of about 350 feet. The elevation at the trailhead is about 10 feet. The high point is about 270 feet. Almost all of the trails on the featured hike are flat. There are two very steep but short stretches on Red Hill Trail, but you can skirt the hills on flat Bay View Trail.
Dirt fire roads and trails.
Nice year round, although marsh trails can flood in winter.
From CA 84 in Alameda County, exit Paseo Padre Parkway/Thornton Avenue (this is exit 36, the first exit after the toll plaza, traveling east). Drive north on Paseo Padre about 1 mile, then turn left onto Patterson Ranch Road. Drive about 1.5 miles more, past the entrance kiosk and Quarry Staging Area, to the trailhead at the end of the road (near the Visitor Center).
Get driving or public transit directions from Transit and Trails:
GPS Coordinates* for Trailhead:
Longitude 122° 5'25.09"W
(* based on Google Earth data, shown as degrees, minutes, seconds)
Gas, food, and lodging:
Gas, stores, and restaurants in nearby Newark and Union City. There are no individual camp sites, but the park does host group camping.
$5 parking fee (self register at automated fee box when kiosk is unattended); additional $2 fee for dog admission. Lots of parking in the park (no parking on Patterson Ranch Road). Drinking water available at the Visitor Center; maps can be found at the Visitor Center and at various information signboards in the park. Pit toilets at edge of parking lot, and there are restrooms in the Visitor Center. There are designated handicapped parking spots, wheelchair accessible portable toilets, and many trails are wheelchair accessible. There is no direct public transportation to the park, but you can walk into the park from the AC Transit bus stop: visit the Transit Info website for details.
About half the trails are multi-use. Some are open to hikers and horses, some permit hikers and cyclists, and a few are hiking-only. Dogs are not allowed on every trail described here on the featured hike: they are not permitted on the marsh trails or at the Visitor Center area and must be leashed at all times. Park is open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. April-October, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. October-April.
The Official Story:
EBRPD's Coyote Hills page.
This hike is described and mapped in 60 Hikes within 60 Miles: San Francisco, by Jane Huber. Order this book from Amazon.com.
• Map from EBRPD
• Afoot and Afield: San Francisco Bay Area, by David Weintraub (order this book from Amazon.com) has a great map and descriptions of a Coyote Hills hike.
• East Bay Trails, by David Weintraub, has a good map and descriptions of 2 Coyote Hills hikes (order this book from Amazon.com).
• East Bay Out, by Malcolm Margolin, has a good map and provides a great history of the park (order this book from Amazon.com).
• At the Bay Trail's website, view some photos of the Bay Trail segment through the park.
Coyote Hills in a nutshell -- a printable, text-only guide to the featured hike.
• View 74 photos from the featured hike.
Coyote Hills lives up to any expectations. The park's sprawling marsh teems with shorebirds, the grassy hills are vibrant with rabbits and squirrels, and the skies are filled with hawks, seagulls, geese, vultures, and many other birds. Views from the crest of Red Hill are spectacular in all directions, featuring the east bay hills (and Garin/Dry Creek Pioneer parks), Santa Cruz Mountains, and the bay itself. The park is small enough that it's nearly impossible to get lost, but big enough to keep a hiker or nature lover from getting bored. With a well-signed trail system, and plenty of flat paths, it's a good choice for a beginning hiker, or for folks with small children.
Hikes can be extended out of Coyote Hills, to Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge to the west and south, and the Alameda Creek Regional Trail to the east. Inside the park, loops range from easy to the gentle side of moderate. An under 2 mile circuit through the marsh combines Tuibin, Chochenyo, and the boardwalk trails. This loop affords great bird watching and skirts the Ohlone Shellmound. Nearly level Bayview Trail provides a nice loop of under 3 miles, featuring bay and marsh views as it skirts the park's hills. Any hike that includes Red Hill Trail is sure to get you blood pumping, as the roller coaster path climbs to a crest and drops sharply to bay level twice.
Be sure to check out the Visitor Center (open Tuesday through Sunday) for exhibits and information on docent-led hikes. If you visit on a day when the visitor center is closed, the park is usually pretty quiet, but when the center is open on a school day you will likely share Coyote Hills with throngs of school children.
Coyote Hills Park really shines in late winter. Short green grass makes it easy to spot jackrabbits in the hills, and the temperatures are mild. There aren't a ton of wildflowers here, and so spring is perhaps best spent in the surrounding east bay hills. By late spring the hillside grass is tall and blonde and poison oak seems to be the only green plant. This is a nice time to concentrate on the marsh trails, where you might see baby ducklings and geese. There are few autumn foliage plants in the park, and very little shade.
The featured hike is a circuitous route that I really like, visiting the marsh, Alameda Creek, and grassland. The 5 mile hike is easily shortened by omitting the out-and-back segment to the Ohlone Shellmound (of which it's tough to see much anyway). If you prefer to avoid any hills, you can skip Red Hill Trail and stay on paved and flat Bayview all the way back to the trailhead. You can extend the hike with a 1.5 mile loop on Meadowlark Trail, or an out-and-back trek on Apay Way. Consult the park map for more ideas.
For the featured hike, start at the mouth (eastern end) of the parking lot. Cross the street and after about 215 feet, two trails begin on the left. Turn left on signed Chochenyo Trail(the raised boardwalk section of trail to the right is sometimes flooded, but makes a fine optional route to the shellmound when clear.)
This broad level dirt path, open to hikers and cyclists, passes through the marsh, with cattails and reeds lining the way. At 0.27 mile, an unsigned spur trail that connects to Bayview Trail breaks off on the left side of the trail.Continue on Chochenyo Trail as it sweeps to the right past an unsigned junction with Lizard Rock Trail at 0.29 mile. Birds songs fill the air, and at the marsh's edge shy groups of geese, grebes, and mallards may swim or fly away quickly if they feel threatened by your presence. At 0.46 mile, Chochenyo Trail bends to the right at a signed junction. (If the marsh trails are dry, you can continue on Chochenyo Trail to the Ohlone Shellmound. On one visit the trail was sporadically swamped and I went as far as I could, but turned back when the water reached my ankles.) Turn right to remain on Chochenyo Trail.
The wide flat trail splits at 0.52 mile, at an unmarked junction. With such tall plants lining the marsh, it feels a bit like a maze. Turn left. Many birds splash, flap, and flutter along the fringes of the marsh, where you might see dock, pickleweed, and New Zealand spinach, all of which are edible. At 0.75 mile, the trail splits at an unmarked junction. Bear left. The trail loops around the historic shellmound area, which is fenced. As if to keep out unwanted visitors, huge stands of poison oak shield any views. At 0.89 mile, near a pit toilet, the trail splits again at an unsigned junction. Bear right. You'll get a glimpse into the historic area at a locked gate. If you're interested in a closer look, contact the staff at the park office for information on tours. At 1.04 miles, you'll reach a previously encountered junction.Bear left and retrace your steps to the junction with Chochenyo and D.U.S.T. Trail, at 1.33 miles. Turn right on D.U.S.T. Trail.
D.U.S.T. stands for Demonstration Urban Stormwater Treatment. According to an information sign at the junction of D.U.S.T. Trail and the Alameda Creek Trail, this marsh was planned and constructed by ABAG (Association of Bay Area Governments), the East Bay Regional Park District, and the Alameda County Flood Control District. The marsh "is a constructed wetland designed to remove pollutants from urban runoff storm water before it reaches the San Francisco Bay." Surely this is a system which benefits everyone, reducing pollution into the bay and providing an excellent outdoor experience at the same time. The birds sure seem to love the marsh, but unfortunately, so does poison oak, so look out for large shrubs on the side of the trail. A line of bird boxes house tree swallows, fast moving birds with white bellies and glossy blue caps. In late spring, the trail in lined with billowing yellow mustard and white poison hemlock. At 2.01 miles, D.U.S.T. Trail ends at a signed junction with the Alameda Creek Trail. Turn left onto the Alameda Creek Trail.
This flat, paved trail is open to cyclists and hikers, and is part of the Bay Trail. (From the Alameda Creek Stables Staging Area off Lowry Road you can access the unpaved trail running on the opposite side of the Alameda County Flood Control Channel, but there's no way to cross back over into the western edge of Coyote Hills Regional Park.) Alameda Creek Trail is popular with dog-walkers, joggers, and cyclists, so stay to the right and alert for traffic. The marshy slopes of the flood control channel are lined with pickleweed, and populated with many birds, including kingfishers and herons. I watched and listened on a winter morning as a hawk soared over a bunch of geese and ducks, much to the noisy displeasure of the birds on the ground. In late spring, look for baby geese exploring their new world, with their watchful parents nearby. Northern harriers are also common. The trail passes a picnic area underneath some eucalyptus trees, and reaches a junction at 3.12 miles, just past an interpretive sign about the Alameda Creek. Paved Alameda Creek Trail continues west into the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge, but take the trail to the left as it sweeps gently uphill to a signed junction at 3.17 miles. Cross the paved Bayview Trail and take the dirt Red Hill Trail uphill.
The multi-use trail climbs through grassland. In the late winter, look for suncups, bluedicks, and poppies sprinkled along the lush green slopes. A surprising amount of fennel grows on the west side of the hills, providing homes and food for anise swallowtail butterflies -- look for these pretty yellow and black beauties in March, fluttering about the hillsides, perhaps accompanied by a few orange and black monarch butterflies. On the east slope on Red Hill large thickets of poison oak add some autumn color in the last few months of the year, and then again in the spring, as young rust hued leaves emerge. A faint path to the left visits a rock outcrop. Red Hill Trail crests and then drops sharply down to meet Nike Trail at a signed junction at 3.58 miles. (If you're ready to head home, take Nike to the left and then Bayview right to the trailhead.) Continue uphill on Red Hill Trail.
This section features a sharp climb, tempered with a short flat spot near a tree, then another steep grade to the park's highest elevation. From here you can sit among the red boulders and watch airplanes on their final approaches to SFO, or look out into the bay to the Old Dumbarton Bridge and think aboutHarold and Maude. Bayview Trail is visible downslope to the east. Watch what you touch; poison oak flourishes on the hilltop. Red Hill Trail dives downhill again. Unsigned Glider Hill Trail departs back to the trailhead on the left side of the trail at the saddle at 4 miles. Continue straight on Red Hill Trail.
From the trail on one winter day I watched a huge jackrabbit scamper back and forth from bush to shrub on the hillside. He was so large I wasn't sure what he was at first, but those huge black ears gave him away. Sharp-eyed redtail hawks must have seen him too, because three of them swept in and scoured the grass for a good shot at him. Vultures trailed behind, hoping for any leftovers. I (and the hawks, for now) finally gave up and I continued hiking back uphill, to a rest stop at the picnic table on the hilltop. To the south the hills roll toward the Dumbarton Bridge Toll Plaza. The south marsh is visible to the east. Descend on the roller coaster trail one more time, to the signed junction with Soaproot Trail at 4.14 miles. Turn left onto multi-use Soaproot Trail.
Rabbits and ground squirrels scamper across and around the trail as it winds downhill through the grassland. Soaproot Trail makes a sharp curve and then at about 4.43 miles, ends at a signed junction with Bayview Trail. Unpaved Quail Trail begins just to the left of the junction; it heads back to the trailhead. Turn left, then turn right onto paved Bayview Trail.
The multi-use trail passes Dairy Glen group camping area, and continues left as another unsigned trail edges around the south marsh to the right. California sagebrush is the dominant shrub on the hillside. I once saw two large pheasants threading their way uphill toward the large red rock. As the Bayview Trail curves to the north, an exposed rock face juts out on the left side of the trail. Just past that, a spur trail (unnamed, but well-worn and near a EBRPD sign) cuts over to the Quarry Staging Area. (This is an option, but with so many paths carved into the hillside in this area, it's probably best to stick to the official trail shown on the map.) Continue straight.
Bayview Trail enters Quarry Staging Area. Stay on the paved trail past the portable toilet, then turn left and cross the parking lot. Near a fire road gate, look for a small Muskrat Trail marker, and head uphill. This trail, closed to cyclists, climbs past a covered picnic area. Poison oak is abundant, but also look for toyon, coyote brush, monkeyflower, California sagebrush, and lupine, which puts forth purple-blue blossoms in late winter. Before reaching a rock outcrop, the trail splits. (If you want to visit the big red rock, this trail back to the left along the ridgeline is the least erosive choice.) Continue to the right on Muskrat Trail past some boulders defaced with graffiti, then take the unsigned trail to the right downhill. Stairs make the descent a short and sweet one. In early spring, look for shooting stars along the trail as you descend to the trailhead.
Total distance: 5.15 miles