Hours (October - March):
Permit holders may access the park Saturday and Sunday from 8:00 a.m. to sunset.
Hours (April - September):
Permit holders may access the park Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 8:00 a.m. to sunset.
$7.00 per vehicle for day use. $1 per person for vehicles carrying 10 or more people.
Permitted on leash no longer than 6' in length. License required.
Home of the Fall Festival, Tolay Lake Regional Park is located between the Petaluma River and Sonoma Valley in the San Francisco North Bay region. This unique 1,769-acre property contains pristine farm and grasslands, ridges, a seasonal freshwater lake, ponds, wetlands, and many other natural resources. It provides habitat for several species of special status including the burrowing owl, California red-legged frog, northwestern pond turtle, golden eagle, white tailed kite, horned lark, northern harrier, and the tricolor blackbird.
Except for attending the Tolay Fall Festival or participating in a guided hike, completion of an Interim Plan (IP) Day-Use Permit orientation is required before visiting the park.
Sonoma County Regional Parks invites all interested individuals, groups, neighbors, non-profits and other agencies to participate in the development of a Master Plan. There will continue to be a series of public meetings and workshops to provide valuable input into what should and shouldn’t be included in the Master Plan. The plan will be subject to the California Environmental Quality Act and the conservation easements held by the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation & Open Space District, State Coastal Conservancy, and Wildlife Conservation Board.
A disabled-accessible interpretive center, featuring the rich cultural, agricultural and natural history of this site and region will be a likely feature of the park. Restoration of Tolay Lake will occur to ensure natural and cultural resource protection with compatible public access, consistent with the conservation easements. Tolay Lake will not be restored to its full historic size due to the impacts on adjacent properties.
Tolay Lake Regional Park Trails
Length:8.6 miles of trails
Tolay Lake Regional Park offers 8.6 miles of trails that may be accessed with a Day Use permit or on a guided hike. All trails originate from the Park Center complex, which includes picnic areas, a small pond and ranch infrastructure. Hikers may combine several trails to form a loop, or elect to take the popular out and back route to the Three Bridges Vista Point. This popular 5 mile hike follows the Causeway Trail across seasonal Tolay Lake and climbs through oak woodland to join the East Ridge Trail. The trail ends at the vista point, where breathtaking views encompass the 1,769 acre park and much of the San Pablo Bay; including the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge, Bay Bridge, and Highway 37 overpass. Other trail options include shorter trips along Tolay Creek and visits to several ponds. Most of the trails are through open grassland and offer limited shade, so hikers are advised to bring plenty of water and wear sun protection on their adventures.
Leashed dogs and equestrians are welcome on the trails. Please be advised that there is an active livestock operation within the park and park users may encounter cows while on the trail. Information regarding livestock, opening/closing of cattle gates, and much more is provided through the Day Use Permit orientations. Completion of a Day Use permit orientation is required before visiting the park with the following exceptions: attendance of the Tolay Fall Festival, and participation in a guided hike.
Day Use Permit Program
Sonoma County Regional Parks is pleased to offer expanded public access at Tolay Lake Regional Park with the Interim Plan (IP) Day-Use Permit Program.
The IP Day-Use Permit Program allows the public to visit the park during posted hours once they’ve completed an hour-long orientation and obtained a permit. Regional Parks is offering these mandatory one-hour orientations, free of charge, which cover permit procedures, and rules & regulations. After the orientation, participants receive Tolay IP Day-Use Permits, along with maps, park rules & regulations, and gate access cards. Permit holders may use the park for a variety of activities, including hiking, bicycling, picnicking, or horseback riding. April through September permit holders may access the park on Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 8am to sunset. October through March, permit holders may access the park from 8am to sunset on Saturday and Sunday. Regular day-use parking fees apply.
Current Permit Holders
Trails are CLOSED to permit holders during the 2013 Tolay Fall Festival, October 10-13 and 16-20.
Permits did NOT expire on November 30, 2011. Your permit remains valid & key card is active. Email email@example.com with questions.
Orientations start promptly – late arrivals will not be admitted.
The orientation takes place in a historic barn with an uneven floor surface. Should you require assistance with access to the barn please contact a staff member. The Stone Floor Barn is an un-heated facility; please dress accordingly. Want to explore Tolay on the same day? An optional, guided hike will precede or follow most orientations. Park entrance gate will open 30 minutes prior to the orientation or hike. Visit our Hiking page for details.
Tolay Fall Festival 2013
The Tolay Fall Festival offers two weeks of family fun each October at beautiful Tolay Lake Regional Park east of Petaluma. This year, the festival will run October 10-13 and 16-20. In its eighth year, the Tolay Fall Festival has become a seasonal must-do that attracts people from around the region. The festival features a “creatures” barn full of creepy critters, a straw maze, a petting zoo, lawn games, food stands, a Native American village, old-fashioned crafts for kids, and a pumpkin seed spitting contest... check the 2012 results (190 kB). The highlight of the festival is a hay ride to a huge pumpkin patch, where families can find the perfect gourds for Halloween.
Festival admission is $4 for ages 13 and up, $1 for kids 12 and under. Parking is $7 per car, or free with a Parks Membership. Members also enjoy free one-time admission to the Fall Festival for two adults and two children. (Present membership card at festival entrance.) Use the flyer below to request a school field trip. Note: We are not accepting reservations for special gatherings at Tolay Lake Regional Park during the Fall Festival. Groups are welcome to attend the Festival, but the park's picnic areas are available only on a first-come, first-served basis during the Festival.
Schools are welcome to schedule field trips to the Tolay Fall Festival during its two-week run in October. Students make traditional crafts, play old-fashioned games, learn about local wildlife through live displays in a historic barn, take hayrides with a ranger and visit a pumpkin patch. This special field trip introduces students to the role of agriculture and farming in healthy communities.
Request a Field Trip Online
Read more about our other school programs
Cultural and Natural History
The exceptional cultural and historical value of the Tolay Lake Ranch is well documented. California State Parks Archeologist E. Breck Parkman noted, "Lake Tolay has a unique and perhaps nationally significant prehistoric archaeological history...” The stewardship of the property, ranging from Native Americans to pioneers to enterprising immigrants, is known to span over 8,000 years, and has preserved a unique natural and historical resource. A report prepared for California State Parks notes, "...the Ranch in its entirety possesses a high degree of integrity as a rural historic landscape because of the wide variety of landscape elements that are present." These natural history resources also provide the setting for a site that many consider unparalleled in the state of California for research and public educational activities in relation to Native American archeology, history, and culture.
The Tolay Lake site has been identified as an historic spiritual center for Native Americans from across California. Greg Sarris, Tribal Chairman of the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, tells of the rich tradition among his people, "the lake and surrounding area was highly sacred and was considered one of three areas in all of northern California where Indian doctors from different tribes convened for sacred ceremonies and the exchange of ritual objects and songs for the purpose of healing.'' Many of the charmstones found at Tolay Lake were made from rock materials not found in the immediate region, including rocks from Yosemite Valley and northeastern California. Tolay Lake has also been called "Charmstone Lake," because of the abundance of the charmstone artifacts found there. Greg Sarris further notes, "The charmstones collected at Tolay Lake, over 1,000 and still counting, some dating back 4,000 years, mark not only the most significant discovery of cultural material for my people, but no doubt for all native people in California. Nowhere in North America is there such a collection of charmstones."
In addition to an unparalleled glimpse at the pre-European history of California, Tolay Lake Ranch also tells the story of the settling and populating of this region and of California. It provides the opportunity to both study and exhibit the history of immigrant populations that played key roles in local and state history. The artifacts and buildings present on the property document the days of the Spanish settlers and Vaqueros, and the successive waves of Chinese, Irish, Portuguese, Italian, and Mexican immigrants. Over the past forty years, the site had been used for an annual pumpkin festival, drawing crowds of nearly 30,000 each year.