DIY Hike: Jewel Lake and the Tilden Nature Area
More a tiny diamond in the rough than a polished gem, Jewel Lake in Berkeley is a rustic 1-acre pond in the 740-acre Tilden Nature Area just north of Tilden Regional Park. The Nature Area also includes the Little Farm and Environmental Education Center, making this outing fun for children. If you’re planning to visit the farm, bring some lettuce and celery to feed the barnyard animals.
Jewel Lake was created in 1922, when the area was dammed to create a water supply. However, the little waterworks was soon abandoned for more plentiful water sources, and today Jewel Lake is a place to hike and watch wildlife.
The Little Farm and Environmental Education Center
Just outside the entrance to the Tilden Nature Area, you will see a play structure and picnic tables. Past the entrance sign, a fire road goes directly to Jewel Lake. If you have little ones in tow, first turn right, cross over the wooden bridge spanning Wildcat Creek and visit the Little Farm. Here you can see a miniature working farm complete with sheep, goats, cows, pigs and rabbits as well as lots of chickens, geese and turkeys. Some heritage breeds are preserved here — Welsh Black Mountain sheep and French Alpine goats. Often you can see baby chicks and occasionally piglets.
After the farm, visit the adjacent Environmental Education Center to walk through an exhibit of the Wildcat Creek watershed. You can buy maps and books and get information about park activities. The Little Farm is open daily from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. The center is open Tuesdays through Sundays from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Walk to Jewel Lake along the fire road at the entrance to the Tilden Nature Area (about a quarter mile) or take the Jewel Lake Trail through the woods (just under a mile). To take the trail, exit the Environmental Education Center through the rear door, look for the Jewel Lake Nature Trail sign and follow the numbered “flying duck” trail markers. (You can buy a Jewel Lake Trail booklet at the Environmental Education Center for $2 that tells about each numbered trail stop.) The trail passes clearings, crosses over creeks via wooden bridges and goes by oak, eucalyptus, bay and pine trees and, unfortunately, lots of poison oak.
When you reach the fire road, turn left and you will see Jewel Lake. Here, on the west end of the lake, you can see the dam and waterworks — and often a pair of nesting black phoebes. Western pond turtles may be warming themselves on a large log. Then walk east along the shore to a log bench, where you can rest and count the ducklings. Look for mallards, bufflehead, ring-necked ducks and common mergansers. A 750-foot boardwalk spanning part of the lake was closed in April. If it’s still closed, walk back along the fire road.
By public transportation, take BART to the Downtown Berkeley Station. At Shattuck Square and Center Street, catch the AC Transit No. 67. On weekends, this bus will take you all the way to the Little Farm and Environmental Education Center. On weekdays, exit the bus at Grizzly Peak Boulevard and Spruce Street, walk through the intersection to Wildcat Canyon Road and make an immediate left into Canon Drive. Walk down Canon Drive until it ends (about a half mile). Be careful as there are no sidewalks. Turn left. The Nature Area is straight ahead.
By car, from Interstate 80, exit at University Avenue and continue until University ends at Oxford Street. Turn left on Oxford, right on Cedar Street and left on Spruce Street. Wind up to the top of the hill. When you reach the stop sign, proceed through the intersection and immediately turn left into Canon Drive. At the bottom of the hill, turn left into the Nature Area parking lot.
Photo: Daniel Parks via Flickr