An ‘urban oasis’: Early mornings at Lake Temescal

Emily Denny/Staff

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It’s Sunday morning. Local fishers stand on the dirt path, casting their lines into the gray water. A pelican floats by and families begin to lug their picnic supplies to the sandy shore. Runners jog down the path and dogs proudly lead their owners up trails. Early spring trees bloom and the gray lake grows blue as the sun rises overhead.  

It’s an ordinary early morning scene — one that seems to exist anywhere regardless of the natural space I’m in. But this time, I’m in the middle of the sprawling, urban Bay Area, at the junction of Highways 24 and 13 in Oakland at Lake Temescal a serene “urban oasis.”  

Opened to the public in 1936, Lake Temescal was originally constructed as a reservoir, from the damming of Temescal Creek, for drinking water. Today, it is a popular spot for Oakland residents to picnic, run, walk, fish, bird-watch and even swim — free of the crowds and city streets you’d undoubtedly experience at the nearby Lake Merritt. 

Emily Denny/Staff


A wheelchair accessible trail follows the east shore of the lake, passing the Temescal Beach House, a stone tiled historical event venue. On the lake’s west side, the West Shore Trail closely traces the water, granting access to small fishing piers along the way. If you’re looking for a higher elevation and views of the lake from above, the Oak Bay Trail rises above the water, offering views of the blue lake, activity below and the East Bay hills.  

Emily Denny/Staff


Fishermen line the water early in the mornings and early afternoons at Lake Temescal, hoping to catch rainbow trout in the winter and channel catfish in the summer. Other fish species in the lake include the largemouth bass, bluegill and sunfish. For those wanting to fish in the East Bay Regional Park District, a fishing access permit, available at the kiosk or Regional Parks Foundation, and state fishing license, available through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, are required. 

Emily Denny/Staff


A sandy shore lines the east side of the lake, allowing easy access for swimmers looking to be refreshed in the chilly water. Because of toxic algae blooms caused by drought and warm weather, however, the lake is closed to swimmers until April. Swimmers should also refer to the algae update website before entering the water. 

Emily Denny/Staff

Bird-watching and wildflower spotting

As spring draws closer, blooming white, purple and orange wildflowers decorate the trails at Temescal Regional Recreation Area. While walking along the Oak Bay Trail, you’ll see lush ferns lining the narrow path, while blossoming trees with small white flowers arch above. Great herons, yellow-bellied warblers and mallards busy themselves in the tree canopies and calm lake water. If swimming and fishing aren’t part of your plans, enjoying a quiet afternoon watching life at the lake can be a perfect way to relax on a sunny day. And for an urban space like this one, Temescal Regional Recreation Area hosts a unique ecosystem of different life forms that you are unlikely to see just a few concrete blocks away from the lake. 

Emily Denny/Staff

Prioritizing time outside can be difficult for those with busy schedules who live in urban areas. Lake Temescal rules out this excuse, offering itself as an accessible natural space, welcome to even the busiest of us all. 

Contact Emily Denny at [email protected] .