Garin and Dry Creek are two adjoining regional parks with an extensive network of trails, most of which are dirt roads over heavily-grazed open hills. Garin Regional Park is the busier of the two, mainly because of its developed picnic area and the Garin Barn visitor center, which hosts the immensely popular apple festival every September.
In the relatively sedate Dry Creek section of the park, the Tolman Peak Trail shows off a concise cross-section of the park's best scenery, with lots of rolling grassy hills, some attractive woodland, and a steep climb to some nice views of the Bay Area. Much of the hike is exposed and can be unpleasant on a hot summer day, so it's best in the late afternoon, when the sunlight isn't as harsh and the grasslands are more attractive.
Park at the staging area near the Dry Creek Garden. The trail briefly passes through a very attractive stand of large oaks before emerging into the sun-blasted grasslands. The trail runs through a shallow, open valley surrounded by rolling hills, following the edge of the woods. To your right, a low ridge completely isolates this part of the park from the suburban Bay Area.
The first mile or so of the hike can be a little dull, but after that it gets progressively more interesting. After passing a corral and a few eucalyptus trees, the canyon becomes narrower. Turn left onto a dirt road that climbs steeply through a small gully. The trail switchbacks out of the gully and climbs high enough to get some views of the Bay Area. Turn right onto the South Fork Trail, which passes by the wide, grassy summit of Tolman Peak.
The most scenic part of the hike is the backside of Tolman Peak. As the trail starts to descend, there are some great views of the rolling hills and wooded canyons to the east. The trail turns into singletrack as it enters a very nice oak grove; it then descends precipitously to the canyon bottom. The woods are surprisingly attractive, especially considering how hot and dry the rest of the park is.
The wooded part of the trail doesn't last very long, and the trail soon turns into a dirt road and leaves the woods. The road, as it winds through the canyon surrounded by grassy hills, is still quite attractive, especially when the hills are lit up with the golden rays of the late afternoon sun.
© 2014, 2017 David Baselt