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Oakland’s Strange & Delightful “Troll Trail”

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If the last 15+ months of a pandemic hasn’t pushed you over into depression, I’m actually legitimately shocked. Because, for most of us, we’re just hanging on by a very un-trusty thread which could snap at any time. And what we could all use in our life is fun… just adventures, laughs, smiles and a good healthy dose of mischief.

Deep in Oakland, imaginative trolls await you along the Bridgeview Troll Trail bringing the fun of art and creativity back into your life. What started out as just a way to bring in some fun during the all-consuming sadness of 2020, has turned into a collective art project that is amazing to visit.

robot looking handmade sculpture peeping behind a bridge 

About a month or so ago, a couple of friends asked if my dog Jasper and I wanted to go for a little hike along “The Troll Trail”. I’m always one for an adventure – and, while I have lived in the Bay Area nearly all of my life, I had never heard of such a place and I had to say yes.

wooden troll sits calmly in the woods with blue eyes
What I expected was something similar to The Troll in Seattle – a single sculpture you find along the way… see the troll, take a photo… leave. But what I discovered was the most fantastical addition to The East Bay.

To get there you want to find the Bridgeview Trail, a 1.9 mile moderate hike as part of the  Dimond Canyon trail system. Diamond Canyon Trail system is a long canyon to almost dead center of Oakland between 580 & Highway 13. It’s definitely nestled in between thriving neighborhoods and tucked away enough that you may not have noticed how large the area is.

troll with volleyball head raises their arms in the air

There are many trails you can take within the trail system. But for the trailhead to the Bridgeview Trolls, you can park on Bridgeview or over on Monterey. With limited parking on Bridgeview, many suggest parking on Monterey… tho… full disclosure, the first bit from Monterey is an incline to the top of the trail. From Bridgeview, you can avoid the incline.

Dainty Tea-drinking Troll made of a pasta strainer

Here are some tips to make the most of your visit:

  • Do know that if you bring your dog, your dog should be on leash. But… many dogs aren’t and so be prepared for that if you do bring a furry friend.
  • At the head of each trailhead, you’ll find a Bridgeview Troll map. If all maps have been taken, go ahead and download the latest map from the Bridgeview Troll Facebook Group.
  • Go when there is plenty of light out – many of the trolls are hiding in the trees and the trail is not illuminated.
  • While you keep your eyes peeled for trolls, also keep your eyes peeled for poison oak on the more narrow parts of the trail.
  • There are rope swings along the trail!!! If this is your jam, wear something swing-worthy.
  • There is no troll asking for a fee on this trail – it’s free!

 

woman in red sweatshirt swings in a grove of trees as a scottish terrier looks on

Scottie puppy, Jasper, supervises as Sandwich and Bryan use the swings along the trail.

As you meander with your map (or sans map, as I explored it), you’ll find yourself stopping often to greet each troll and delight in the way each troll was made. Trolls are hidden all around you – above you and along the path nested in trees, hiding on a bridge or swinging from a tree. Lately, I find it’s hard to smile through the muck of the world around me but I could barely keep my happiness in check for the hour-ish I walked through this grove of trees. Like you, lately I find it hard to feel motivated to get out and find the more joyful parts of the world around me but it’s here on the Troll Trail, I found both silly trolls and the genuine smile I had been missing.


Many of the newest trolls have been contributed by local artists, other families and children who want to contribute and help grow the troll army along the path. Each of them made me so happy – I would bug my friends each time I spotted a troll with excitement. I was in awe of the imagination put into each little piece of art. It still brings me joy to imagine someone going home, making a troll and then finding the perfect spot for it somewhere along the trail for others to enjoy.

There were even little “love notes” by kids as you walked along as well. Letters of appreciation and drawings of their own troll favorites. There needs to be more mischief in The Bay. Honestly, there needs to be more mischief in life and this delightful hike is just what I needed right now to forget about the shit storm happening in the world right now.

 troll with garbage can hat and exed out eyes 

When I visited with friends, I left with a spark of inspiration and immediately went home and made a troll to contribute upon my next visit. And I bet you’ll want to do the same. The Bridgeview Troll instagram has a few tips they wrote to keep in mind when creating a creature of your own.

  • Choose natural materials. We try to make our trolls out of elements entirely found in the woods. They aren’t ALL 100% natural, but start there and then get creative!
  • Choose materials that are very strong and can survive wind, rain and kids.
  • Use “hard fasteners”: screws and nails work best. Wire and strong twine are fine, too.
  • If you must use glue, use epoxy. Hot glue and waterproof wood glue will not hold up.
  • Choose a location that is viewable, but hard to reach by little hands. Fasten securely but do not damage trees or surroundings. Please stay on the trails and beware of poison oak.
Girl in red sweatshirt greets scottie puppy

Mokee looks on from above as Sandwich greets Jasper

Supporting a project like this is supporting the creation of more playful public art projects – giving people a reason to believe that if they build something out in the middle of the city, folks will find it, celebrate it and participate. In this case, it is as easy as getting out of your house, putting on your explorer’s hat and preparing yourself for some fun ahead. You may find me there when you go because I think a regular visit to the trolls would be good for my soul.

stoic troll made of all wood and golf balls sits on a perch

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Katy Atchison

Katy Atchison

Katy is a professional smiling machine raised in The Bay Area since the age of 3. While other kids were attending summer camp & soccer practice, she was raised selling wares at craft shows with her working artist parents and spent vacations in a small 1920s Montana log cabin. This has all given her a unique perspective on the ever-changing texture of San Francisco and the Greater Bay Area. Currently a blend of all that is The Bay Area - she's a web designer at a tech-company, artist and DIY teacher.

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