On weekends, Lake Chabot’s picnic sites are full and the park completely crowded with families having parties or reunions; it’s impossible to run or ride 20 feet without calling out to slower recreants.
But early in the morning or on weekdays, the park, located 30 minutes southeast of Berkeley, just outside Castro Valley, becomes a quiet and scenic escape, perfect for avoiding the rush of traffic or the press of deadlines.
Lake Chabot was constructed in 1875 as a primary reservoir for the East Bay. In the 1960s, the park opened for recreation and currently serves as an emergency water supply only. Because of this, swimming is not permitted in the lake, but it is stocked for fishing. Boats, canoes and kayaks are available to rent by the hour or for the day.
A hiker’s heaven, the park offers 20 miles of trails around the lake, which connect to the 70 miles of hiking trails in Anthony Chabot Regional Park. There is also a 12-14 mile bike loop, partly paved, that circles the lake, as well as eight or nine miles of scenic trails that follow the lake.
Dressed in running clothes and armed only with my GPS wristwatch and cell phone, I chose to follow the bike path to the Honker Bay Trail and then the Columbine Trail, an isolated, twisting, up-and-down trail on the east side of the lake.
The Columbine Trail alone makes the trip to Lake Chabot worthwhile. For nearly two miles, my only company included little lizards, ducks and deer; I saw only three other hikers on the whole eastern shore of the lake. The trail’s not easy; I huffed and puffed up the steep climbs and picked my way precariously down the rocky slopes.
But the sights were well worth the effort. I ran through a pungently sweet eucalyptus grove, alongside steep ravines lined with rocks and moss-covered trees. For a former Midwesterner, the quiet east side of the park with its sunny hillsides and dark jungle valleys is a fairyland on the outskirts of the city, an outdoor girl’s dream come true.
At the top of the trail, nearly the highest peak in the park, a bench overlooks the whole of the East Bay shore, San Francisco Bay, and the San Francisco skyline far in the distance.
I collapsed on that bench to catch my breath in sheer delight, gazing out over the Bay. I took that moment to check my electronics: no cell phone reception and the trees were blocking my satellite access. I had managed to outrun not only the traffic, but also my own digital connections to the rest of the world. I sat there in silence, looking down on the busy city, quiet itself in the distance.