A short hop through the Caldecott Tunnel, Lafayette has two walks worth traveling for.
The Lafayette Reservoir, which belongs to the East Bay Municipal Utility District, is surrounded by a paved nature trail just under 3 miles in length. On a weekday morning, it is busy with dogs being walked (on-leash) and pairs of friends engaging in a little movement-and-talk therapy.
The steepest hill of the entire trail may be the one from the west side of the dam, near the fishing pier, past an auxiliary parking lot to the trail’s real beginning. Keep an eye out for birds: On the morning of this walk, hundreds of swallows swooped chaotically above, snatching an insect breakfast. Two white pelicans and a flotilla of coots were on the lake itself. Red-winged blackbirds and at least a dozen turkeys could be heard, but not seen, in the brush surrounding the trail. Although I didn’t see them this time, ospreys and red-tailed and cooper’s hawks are frequently spotted at the reservoir, and a bald eagle much more rarely.
The trail around the lake is rolling, making this a little more strenuous than the Lake Merritt loop, but most of the hills are short and not steep. Benches, water fountains and pit toilets are placed at civilized intervals if you are more interested in loitering than working up a sweat. Depending on the time of year, you may see a bare tree on the southeast side of the lake covered in edible “Christmas ornaments” for the birds.
The Lafayette-Moraga Regional Trail is 8 miles long and quite flat, and the section through downtown Lafayette is flat and paved. Historically, the easement was used by the Sacramento Northern Railroad, but now it passes through shady neighborhoods so assertively charming, they could be in a Thomas Kincade painting — if Kincade painted 1950s suburban fantasies.
Entrances to the trail can be a little challenging for outsiders to find, but it crosses Foye Drive just south of Fourth Street and Moraga Boulevard. About a half-mile east of that crossing, someone has created a village of whimsical birdhouses in a lichen-covered tree.
West of Foye Drive, the trail parallels St. Mary’s Road and passes by several schools and parks in Moraga. It is popular with runners, bikers and dog walkers. You may also see people on horseback.
More information: Lafayette Reservoir is at 3849 Mt. Diablo Boulevard and offers boat rentals as well as fishing. (No swimming in the drinking water.) Larger staging areas for the Lafayette-Moraga Regional Trail are at Olympic Boulevard and Pleasant Hill Road in Lafayette and the Valle Vista Staging Area, near Pinehurst and Canyon roads, just east of Redwood Park and outside Oakland’s city limits.
Transit options: The Lafayette BART station is about 1.5 miles from the Lafayette Reservoir dam and about 1 mile from the Foye Drive crossing of the Lafayette-Moraga Regional Trail. Buses run from the BART station along St. Mary’s Road, but expect long wait times. There is no bus service on Sundays.
Cool stuff nearby: The Lafayette Public Library is an architecturally spectacular building that includes a community center, used-book store, history center and small cafe. It has a number of cozy places to sit with a book outside and free wi-fi inside. Mt. Diablo Boulevard is an old-fashioned commercial strip with a number of chic and slightly-less chic restaurants. Among the appealing low-cost options are Millie’s Kitchen, El Jarro, and The Great Wall.