When will Tolay Lake Regional Park open daily?
The park opens daily beginning Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018. Hours will be 7 a.m. to sunset. Parking will be $7 or free for Regional Parks members.
The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors approved the park's master plan on Oct. 9, 2018, eliminating the need for the special visitor permits that had been required for the past decade.
Will I see any new features at the park?
Visitors will have access for the first time to the southern, 1,600-acre section of the park via a 2-mile extension of the West Ridge Trail. The out-and-back hike will provide an 8-mile round-trip excursion from the park center to the southern reaches of the park. The walk features views of the Tolay Valley, Petaluma River Valley, and San Pablo Bay.
The park's entry road, Cannon Lane, is being repaved. Parking areas, signs and gates also will be improved.
As future funding is acquired, Regional Parks will build trails for increased access to Tolay Creek and the southern area of the park. Larger projects, such as construction of a visitor’s center, bunk house, and hike-in campsites, likely will not occur for years, due to funding constraints.
What can I do at Tolay Lake Regional Park?
Hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding: Tolay offers nearly 12 miles of multi-use trails, all of which originate from the park center. Trail users may combine several routes to form looped hikes or longer, out-and-back hikes. Trail signs and markers are in the process of being installed. Please print or download the trail map and use as a reference while hiking.
Guided activities: Parks staff often offer guided hikes and other activities at the park. See the park webpage for the latest offerings. School field trips occur regularly from September through May.
Birding: Tolay Lake is one of the best places in the North Bay for birdwatching. Golden eagles, red-tailed hawks, American kestrels, white-tailed kites, burrowing owls and other birds of prey are frequently sighted here.
Wildflower Walks: The park is known for beautiful spring wildflowers, especially along the West Ridge Trail.
Picnicking: A group picnic area can be reserved by calling Regional Parks’ main office at (707) 565-2041.
Note: Tolay Lake is a seasonal body of water that forms during wet weather and dries down in the summer. Tolay Lake is not a recreational lake. Paddling is not allowed when the lake is full, although occasional guided paddle trips may be offered in the future. When dry, the lakebed is not accessible to the public.
What are the park’s natural features?
At 3,400 acres, Tolay Lake Regional Park is the largest of Sonoma County’s Regional Parks. The park features a seasonal freshwater lake (Tolay Lake), wetlands, extensive grasslands, and open ridges with sweeping views of San Pablo Bay, the San Francisco skyline and Bay Area mountain peaks. The park also includes a large section of Tolay Creek, which drains to San Pablo Bay.
Where is Tolay Lake?
Tolay Lake is a seasonal, shallow lake on the east side of the park center. Tolay Lake historically was the largest freshwater lake in Sonoma County, before 19th century settlers altered the lake bed for farming. The lake now is bisected by an unpaved road (“Causeway Trail”) that connects the park center and eastern portions of the park.
Tolay Lake typically starts to fill in December after 7 to 10 inches of rain and is usually at its maximum levels in mid-February. (Winter paddling is not allowed on the lake at this time, though Regional Parks might offer guided boating in the future.) The lake drains down in dry months. Although most of Tolay Lake is within the park, it also spreads over private properties to the north. The park also includes several small ponds.
What will happen to Tolay Lake?
The park master plan includes long-term restoration goals for Tolay Lake. However, the lake will not be restored to its full, historic size due to impacts on nearby properties. As funding becomes available, Regional Parks plans to enhance the natural inundation and flow of the lake and to restore wetland habitat to support species like the red-legged frog and western pond turtle.
Plans also call for continued restoration of Tolay Creek. Much of the Tolay Creek watershed lies within the park.
How can I learn more about the park’s Native American history?
Tolay Lake is a sacred spiritual center and a cultural landscape for the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, who are comprised of Coast Miwok and Southern Pomo tribal citizens. Coast Miwok people are the original descendants of the Tolay Valley. The Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria are Sonoma County's partners in stewardship of the park’s cultural and natural resources.
Cultural demonstrations, such as basket weaving and flint knapping, are part of the annual Tolay Fall Festival. Regional Parks and the tribe are looking for future opportunities to expand educational and interpretive programs.
Additional cultural history is available on the park page and in the master plan, also available on the park page.
What should I do if I find a cultural artifact?
Do not touch or collect cultural artifacts. Find a park employee and inform them of the location of the artifact. Anyone who damages or collects cultural artifacts and archaeological resources may be subject to prosecution.
What should I know before visiting Tolay Lake Regional Park?
Drinking water is not available at the park, so please bring your own. (Water troughs are available for horses at several locations within the park.)
Bring a hat and sun protection. Because the park features open hillsides and vistas, expect to be hiking in the sun on warm days.
Many of the trails contain cattle gates. When you encounter a gate, look for a pedestrian entrance on the side. Be sure to close gates behind you.
Improvements are planned for the entry road, Cannon Lane, this fall and winter. Occasional park closings may be required to accommodate the work. Please check the park webpage for its current status.
Can I bring my dog to the park?
Yes, dogs on leash are allowed in the park. Drinking water is not available in the park, so please bring water for your dog.
What types of agriculture are on the property?
The parkland’s ranching and farming history dates to the mid-1800s, and agriculture remains an important element of the park's natural resources program. Livestock grazing in the park reduces wildfire risk and promotes biodiversity on the extensive grasslands. (If you encounter cattle along the trail, please continue past them and do not approach or disturb the animals.) The park also supports no-till hay production and an education garden.
What else should I know about the park?
- Tolay’s acreage consists of two large ranches acquired a decade ago by Sonoma County Ag + Open Space and the Sonoma Land Trust and transferred to Regional Parks.
- The park is a part of a 7,500-acre wildlife corridor of protected lands extending from the foothills of Sonoma Mountain to San Pablo Bay.
- The park hosts environmental education programs that each year introduce thousands of students to healthy activities while they learn about agriculture, natural resources, or cultural history. Teachers can learn more at SonomaCountyParks.org.
Why did it take more than a decade to fully open the park?
Tolay Lake Regional Park has been Sonoma County's most challenging park to study and design, due to various environmental, historical and financial considerations. The planning process required the study of issues such as lake restoration, cultural preservation, water supplies, traffic impacts, environmental protections, and recreation options. The planning included extensive outreach to Sonoma County residents to ensure their interests and ideas are reflected.
How can the public be involved in park stewardship?