Ron Horii's Bay Area Back Pages - Bay Area Biking
Los Gatos Creek Trail in downtown Los Gatos Los Gatos Creek Trail
Part 2: Vasona Lake, Oak Meadow Park to Lark Avenue
Los Gatos Creek Park main pond

Trail between Vasona and Oak Meadow Parks Train bridge at Oak Meadow Park
Los Gatos Creek Trail between Vasona and Oak Meadow Parks Train Bridge over Los Gatos Creek at Oak Meadow Park

The Los Gatos Creek Trail enters its most popular segment as it runs under Blossom Hill road into Vasona Lake County Park. Across the creek is Los Gatos' Oak Meadow Park. The trail follows along the east bank of the creek next to a picnic area. It passes by a restroom and rises up to a trail junction at 1.3 miles. Here a wooden bridge crosses over the creek to enter Oak Meadow Park. The bridge is actually a train crossing for the famous Billy Jones Wildcat Railroad. Pedestrian walkways on the bridge are on either side of the train tracks and lead to the train station in Oak Meadow Park.

Oak Meadow Park playground Train going through gargoyle
Oak Meadow Park playground and Shooting Star jet Phantom Express through the Gate of the Gargoyle, Haunted Forest

The miniature train has open passenger cars and is a favorite ride for young kids. (My kids loved it when they were younger.) The old steam engine, originally built in 1905, is currently being renovated, so a miniature diesel engine is subbing in for it. After the train crosses the creek, it makes a large loop through Vasona Lake County Park. Around Halloween, the train turns into the "Phantom Express" through the "Haunted Forest" with animated monsters and scary settings manned by costumed actors along the train route. The train station has a ticket office, waiting area, turntable for the engine, and a snack stand. Next to it is an hexagonal building housing a carousel. The park also has a large playground, expansive lawn play areas, shaded group picnic areas, a bandshell, and a bocce ball field. The playground has a Korean War-era Lockheed Shooting Star jet fighter plane, filled with concrete to make it stronger. This historic straight-winged plane was one of America's first jet fighters. Children can climb into the cockpit and pretend to be Top Gun pilots. The shady playground with its wide variety of play structures, the carousel, and the train ride makes this park one of the best places in the Bay Area to bring young children. Click here for a map of Oak Meadow Park.

Billy Jones Wildcat Railroad train in Vasona Lake County Park Los Gatos Creek above Vasona Lake
Billy Jones Wildcat Railroad Train in Vasona Lake County Park Los Gatos Creek above Vasona Lake from east bank
Los Gatos Creek from west bank in Vasona Los Gatos Creek in Vasona with waterfowl
Los Gatos Creek from west bank near Meadowbrook group picnic site Los Gatos Creek under Vasona Park road bridge

Adjacent to Oak Meadow Park is 151-acre Vasona Lake County Park. A particularly beautiful segment of Los Gatos Creek runs along willow-shaded banks and feeds into Vasona Lake. Trails run on both sides of the creek, part of the 6 total miles of paved pathways in the park. The west side trail goes by the covered Meadowbrook and Creekside group picnic areas. The east side, which is officially the Los Gatos Creek Trail, runs between the creek banks and the minature train's tracks, which circle a huge lawn area. At 1.5 miles, the creek passes under a low bridge, spreads out into a broad, shallow rocky bed, and passes around a narrow tree-covered island. This stretch is often crowded with ducks, geese, coots, seagulls. and other water birds. This used to be a favorite place for children to feed the ducks and geese. (My kids, when they were young, learned here that "goose" is both a noun and a verb.) There once were food dispensers along the banks. Recently, however, the park service banned the feeding of the birds. The feeding was another example of how human meddling with the environment, even though well-intentioned, can actually harm the environment and wildlife. Feeding the waterfowl causes over-population, water fouling, and the spread of avian diseases, among other problems.

Vasona Park playground Vasona Lake Bridge
Playground at Vasona Park Vasona Lake Bridge over Los Gatos Creek inlet

A large playground is on the east side of the creek. Eucalyptus trees line the west side, near a parking lot. At 1.7 miles, a large, gracefully arching steel pipe pedestrian bridge leads over the creek at its entrance to the lake. Vasona Lake was originally built in 1935 for flood control, but has since become the heart of the most popular of the Santa Clara County Parks. The perenially green lawns and trees surrounding the lake and the normally constant lake level make it the most scenic of the Santa Clara Valley Water District reservoirs year-round, even though at 58 surface acres and 410 acre-feet capacity, it's the smallest. (Compare it with giant Anderson Reservoir, which covers 980 acres and has a capacity of 91,000 acre-feet, but is not nearly as popular.) The large park has huge lawns (45 acres total), extensive picnic areas, playgrounds, fishing piers, a boat dock and rental boats, and a nature center. The park road leads to the boat docks on the west shore of the lake. A trail runs along the west shore past picnic areas and a small peninsula. It runs at the foot of a hillside below University Avenue and dead ends near a small, densely-vegetated island in the lake. Many bird species can be seen nesting on the island. In the winter, snow is sometimes trucked into the park and spread on a slope for kids to slide down on.

Vasona Lake fishing pier Vasona Lake
Fishing pier, snow-covered slope on east shore in background (12/12/98) Vasona Lake, looking southwest from near the dam

The main trail runs around the east shore of the lake. At 1.8 miles, it passes by a fishing pier in a reed-lined corner of the lake. This is a good place to take kids fishing (though catching anything is another matter). The park road climbs up a hill and leads to the Circle and Raintree group picnic areas, park administration buildings, and the Youth Science Institute. The Institute has exhibits on dinosaurs and the aquatic life in the lake. The trail runs along the base of the hill to more shady picnic areas, hugging the lakeshore. It passes by a reedy section of shoreline, then takes a short climb to the top of the long concrete dam at 2.4 miles. You can walk along the top of the dam to the spillways. The trail takes a long drop to the base of the dam and makes a sharp right turn to follow the creek. The creek emerges from the dam, usually shooting out the bottom, sometimes spilling over the top in a spectacular waterfall.

Kayak on Vasona Lake Vasona Lake Dam
Kayaker on Vasona Lake, heading towards dam Vasona Lake Dam outlet
Los Gatos Creek Below Vasona Lake Wading in Los Gatos Creek
Los Gatos Creek below Vasona Dam Wading in Los Gatos Creek between Vasona Dam and Lark Avenue

The section of the creek below Vasona Dam is wide, tree-shaded, fast in some places, and slow and deep in others. The trail is sandwiched in a narrow corridor between the creek and the backyard fences of a suburban neighborhood. Small beaches along the creek banks allow access to the creek. Children can wade in the shallow areas. (Parents should keep a close eye on them.) The trail runs under the steel-girdered bridge of Lark Avenue at 2.8 miles. Paths lead up to Lark Avenue, which leads to stores and restaurants on busy Los Gatos Blvd.

Continue to the rest of the Los Gatos Creek Trail:

Part 3 - Lark Avenue to Los Gatos Creek Park

Part 4 - Camden Avenue to Leigh Avenue

Part 5 - Leigh Avenue to Confluence Point

Go back to the previous part of the Los Gatos Creek Trail:

Part 1 - Forbes Mill to Blossom Hill Road

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Ron Horii, San Jose
Created 12/28/98