Half of this popular hike around Castro Valley's scenic Lake Chabot hike is on busy and mostly paved lakeshore trails, but the rest runs through quiet woods with much more of a backcountry feel. The contrast between the two halves of the loop makes for an enjoyable and memorable hike.
About two-thirds of the hike is wooded. For a hike that circles a lake, the route is actually pretty hilly, with up-and-down undulations most of the way.
The most popular starting point for this hike is the marina lot at the south end of the lake, but I prefer the smaller parking lot in San Leandro's Chabot Park, at the base of the dam. The little Chabot Park lot is much less busy, it's shady, and it's free, plus starting there rounds out the hike to about ten miles. On the other hand there are a lot of car break-ins in this part of the East Bay, and the big, busy marina lot with its staffed entrance booth might be safer.
From Chabot Park, the paved road climbs gently up to the dam. At the top of the hill, turn right onto the paved loop trail. This part of the hike is greatly improved now that the Chabot marksmanship range is closed; a few years ago, the continuous roar of gunfire could be heard in this area.
The partly-wooded West Shore Trail undulates up and down along the lakeshore. As the trail approaches the bustling marina, the trail flattens out and becomes increasingly crowded. People with paddleboats and kayaks share the lake with ducks and geese. A lot of people fish from the little beaches along the shore. Unfortunately, swimming is not allowed in the lake.
The trail passes through the bustling marina area, which is by far the most popular part of the park. There's a snack bar that serves burgers, hot dogs, sandwiches, and salads on a patio with a superb view of the lake. Just past the snack bar the trail passes through a busy picnic area; most people seem to come here to picnic.
Stay to the left and take a wooden footbridge to reach the paved East Shore Trail. This trail is very popular, with a lot of large groups with little kids and dogs out for a stroll, and joggers and mountain bikers too. The trail is mostly open but sometimes dives into the dense woods that cover the north-facing slopes.
The crowd thins out a lot when the pavement ends a mile and a half past the marina. Turn left to cross a long narrow footbridge, then left again onto the Honker Bay Trail. This pleasant dirt road is nice and flat as it follows the shoreline, offering attractive views of the lake and the surrounding wooded hills.
The trail curves away from the lake and begins a steep climb, eventually entering an open eucalyptus grove. The number of people really drops off at this point and the trail gradually takes on more of a quiet, woodsy feel while the lake drops out of sight.
Turn left onto the singletrack Columbine Trail. The wide, well-maintained trail descends into a canyon that's densely wooded with bay laurel, a highlight of the hike. There's a lot of poison oak along the side of the trail; it's easily avoided but you have to watch for it.
At the northern tip of the route, the trail crosses a stream. This area is always a somewhat overgrown, and since there's no bridge across the stream, crossing it may not be possible in the winter.
The trail turns into a pleasant, oak-shaded dirt road that undulates along the shoreline. There's a bit of a climb up to the dam.
© 2014, 2017 David Baselt