Hidden in the hills south of Petaluma, Tolay Lake Regional Park is 3,400 acres of wide-open space, with a network of hiking and biking trails, along with plenty of grazing cattle.
Thank the co-management efforts of Sonoma County and the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria for preserving and protecting this land.
There’s a 7-mile (round-trip) hike (West Ridge Trail) that’s worth the effort, but for those seeking a shorter hike to a vista, there’s also a good 5-mile (round-trip) hike or mountain bike ride connecting the Causeway Trail to East Ridge Trail.
The trail is mostly exposed, with a few cattle gates to pass through, and just a small section through oaks. It ascends to Three Bridges Vista Point, marked by not much more than a knoll, and nowhere else to go. You’re here for the view! Bring a blanket, or sit on your jacket and take in a beautiful panorama of the North Bay, Petaluma River, Mount Tam, and San Pablo Bay. Full disclosure: You’re supposed to see three bridges from here, but on a hazy day we saw just one (Richmond).
BONUS BEER: It’s been called the best little roadside beer bar around. Ernie’s Tin Bar (5100 Lakeville Hwy., Petaluma) is just a few minutes north of Tolay, and worth a stop for their excellent selection of craft beers at a reasonable price, and an unpretentious atmosphere. The rules of the bar: no cellphones. Get caught trying to sneak in a text, and you’re buying a round! Take a seat on their lively outdoor patio and listen to live music while shelling peanuts and drinking beers from the region. There’s food too.
Tolay Lake Regional Park is open 7 a.m. to sunset, 5869 Cannon Ln., Petaluma. The park is located off Lakeville Hwy., about 8 miles southeast of Petaluma. Dog-friendly (dogs must be on a leash because of the cattle here). Note: From October 19 to 25, all trails except West Ridge Trail will be closed for the Tolay Fall Festival.