Ron Horii's Bay Area Back Pages - Bay Area Biking
Los Gatos Creek Trail
Bridge over Los Gatos Creek
Los Gatos Creek Trail, bridge over Los Gatos Creek south of Lark Avenue

Of all the trails on these Bay Area Biking Web pages, the Los Gatos Creek Trail offers the most variety of environments and surroundings. It runs through several parks and near some major shopping and dining areas, so there's plenty to do along the way. Even though it's the most urban of the trails covered in these pages, it is a rich haven for wildlife, both avian and aquatic. The trail follows Los Gatos Creek from Lexington Reservoir south of Los Gatos, runs through Los Gatos and Campbell, and ends just past Leigh Avenue in San Jose. The part of the creek just below Lexington Dam is a cement-lined channel, but it becomes a more natural creek farther downstream. The creek runs by several more reservoirs and percolation ponds before it starts to enter downtown San Jose. Though the trail doesn't follow the creek this far, the creek ends up merging with the Guadalupe River at Confluence Point, just behind the San Jose Arena. Even though the creek trail passes behind suburban and commercial areas and parallels busy Hwy 17, the scenic, tree-lined creekbed makes it a more natural experience. The trail is easily accessible from many points along the route and is very popular with walkers, joggers, skaters, and bicyclists.

Forbes Mill Museum, Los Gatos Los Gatos Creek Flume Trail
Forbes Mill Museum, Los Gatos Flume Trail along Los Gatos Creek

A good place to start along the Los Gatos Creek Trail is at the parking lot at Forbes Mill in Los Gatos. The parking lot is at the end of Church Street, off East Main Street near the Los Gatos Civic Center and Los Gatos High School. The old sandstone mill building, built in 1855, is an historical museum. If you have a mountain bike, you can head south along the creek to Lexington Reservoir. There are unpaved paths on both sides of the creek on the 1.5 mile stretch from Forbes Mill to Lexington Reservoir. The west side trail is a wider and more open gravel path. The trail is mostly flat, with some gradual climbs, but it rises very steeply as it approaches and climbs up the side of Lexington Dam. On the east side of the creek is the narrow Flume Trail footpath (no bikes), which follows the path of an old water flume. It winds and climbs through more deeply forested areas and is much more scenic. It passes through Novitiate Park and joins the Jones Trail to St. Joseph's Hill Open Space District. (Bikes are allowed on the Jones Trail from Novitiate Park, which is at the end of Jones Road in Los Gatos.) The trails reach Alma Bridge Road in Lexington Reservoir County Park. From there, it's a short distance to the even more challenging mountain bike trails at St. Joseph's Hill Open Space Preserve and the Limekiln and Priest Rock Trails through the Sierra Azul Open Space Preserve. The Priest Rock Trail is an incredibly steep, grueling, sun-baked climb to the ridge of the Sierra Azuls, where it joins the Kennedy Trail.

Forbes Mill Bridge murals Los Gatos Creek Boardwalk
Forbes Mill Footbridge murals Los Gatos Creek Trail Boardwalk

To get to the longer (almost 8 miles), easier, paved part of the Los Gatos Creek Trail, cross over Hwy 17 and Los Gatos Creek via the Forbes Mill Footbridge. The bridge is decorated with paintings on local history by school children. The other end of the bridge leads to the back side of Old Town Mall, currently under reconstruction. An elevated wooden boardwalk path follows along the creek above its west bank and crosses over it on a steel bridge.

Los Gatos Creek near Miles Ave. Shady section of trail near downtown
Los Gatos Creek Channel near Miles Avenue Bridge Shady section of trail near downtown Los Gatos

The trail becomes a paved path above the concrete creek channel. It crosses over Miles Avenue, the only street-level crossing on the trail. Fortunately, Miles Avenue is not a busy street. It leads east to the R. J. Bryant Service Center of Los Gatos, which has trail parking. Part of the service center includes a 2-story wooden farmhouse with a tall red wooden water tower. Also here is a baseball diamond with a restroom and concession building. The trail continues straight down the creek after Miles Avenue, then goes under Los Gatos-Saratoga Road (Hwy 9).

Los Gatos Creek Causeway Los Gatos Creek from Roberts Road Bridge Los Gatos Creek Trail from Roberts Road bridge
Causeway on Los Gatos Creek Trail south of Roberts Road Los Gatos Creek from Roberts Road Bridge Los Gatos Creek Trail from Roberts Road Bridge

The creek becomes liberated from its concrete confines after it passes under the Los Gatos-Saratoga Road Bridge and flows down a more natural creekbed. Here begins the shadiest, coolest, and one of the most scenic segments of the trail, even though it runs next to downtown Los Gatos. The speed limit drops to 7 mph as the path curves through the shady woodland. Trees and shrubs obscure views of the creek and Hwy 17, which runs only a few yards away. There are benches for resting along the way. The creek again comes into view near the entrance to an elevated platform perched above the edge of the creek. On the platform, high concrete sound walls shield the trail from Hwy 17, while a fence encloses the creekside of the trail. This was a challenging part of the trail for the town of Los Gatos to build. The platform and creek curve to the left. The trail opens up behind some new Victorian-style houses on Ohlone Court. The creek has some noisy stretches of fast water here. Tall sycamores and eucalyptus trees shade the trail. The creek and trail turn to the right and run under the old one-lane Roberts Road concrete bridge.

Los Gatos Creek Trail near Ohlone Court Los Gatos Creek Trail near Blossom Hill Road bridge
Los Gatos Creek Trail near Ohlone Court Los Gatos Creek Trail near Blossom Hill Road Bridge

Past the bridge, a small path leads up to Roberts Road, which itself crosses Blossom Hill Road to the main entrance of Vasona Lake County Park. There's no parking on Roberts Road, but you can park along Ohlone Court, which intersects Roberts Road. The trail winds through the trees, runs under the wide bridge at Blossom Hill Road. The creek drops down in a stretch of fast water as it leaves the channel under the bridge.

Train bridge at Oak Meadow Park Train going through gargoyle
Train Bridge over Los Gatos Creek at Oak Meadow Park Phantom Express through the Gate of the Gargoyle, Haunted Forest

The trail enters 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. 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. 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 octagonal building housing a carousel. The park also has a large playground with a retired Shooting Star jet fighter plane, large lawn play areas, shaded group picnic areas, a bandshell, and a bocce ball field.

Los Gatos Creek above Vasona Lake 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

Vasona Lake Vasona Lake Bridge
Vasona Lake, looking southwest from near the dam Vasona Lake Bridge over Los Gatos Creek inlet

Adjacent to Oak Meadow Park is 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. 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. The creek passes under a low bridge, spreads out into a broad rocky bed, and passes around a narrow tree-covered island. This stretch is often crowded with ducks, geese, coots, and other water birds. A large playground is on the east side of the creek. Eucalyptus trees line the west side, near a parking lot. A large, gracefully arching steel pedestrian bridge leads over the creek at its entrance to the lake. The perenially green lawns and trees surrounding the lake make it the most scenic of the Santa Clara County reservoirs year-round, even though it's the smallest. The large park has huge lawns, extensive picnic areas, playgrounds, fishing piers, a boat doc 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. The main trail runs around the east shore of the lake. It passes by a fishing pier in a reed-line 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 Youth Science Institute, the Circle and Raintree group picnic areas, and park administration buildings. The trail runs along the base of the hill to more shady picnic areas. It passes by a reedy section of shoreline, then takes a short climb to the top of the dam. 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, sometimes in a spectacular waterfall.

Vasona Lake Dam Los Gatos Creek Below Vasona Lake
Vasona Lake Dam Los Gatos Creek below Vasona Dam
Wading in Los Gatos Creek
Wading in Los Gatos Creek between Vasona and Lark

The section of the creek below Vasona Dam is wide, deep, and tree-shaded. 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. The trail runs under the steel-girdered bridge of Lark Avenue. Paths lead up to Lark Avenue, which leads to stores and restaurants on busy Los Gatos Blvd.

Los Gatos Creek Trail under Hwy 85
Los Gatos Creek Trail under Hwy 85

After the Lark Avenue Bridge, the trail immediately crosses over to the west side of the creek on a steel box-frame bridge. It runs parallel to and below Charter Oaks Drive next to the large condominium complex of the same name. The creek flows east of the trail behind a chain-link fence through a broad, open creekbed, surrounded by pebbled banks and shielded from view by small hillocks. Log fences line the trail to the west. The trail rises, then drops down and passes under the 3 huge concrete bridges of Hwy 85. The creek passes a few feet from the trail. The trail rises up on the other side of the highway and runs behind a nursery and high-tech businesses. The creek slows down and flows past brush and vine-covered banks, with towering over-arching sycamores providing shade. Planted redwoods line the west side of the trail, behind the businesses. Suburban homes line the east shore of the creek. The creek widens and becomes a small pond above a low dam. Fences prevent access to the area around the dam.

Los Gatos Creek from east bank near Knowles Drive
Los Gatos Creek near Knowles Drive from east bank

The trail enters the southwestern boundary of Los Gatos Creek County Park. A short path leads west out to the corner of Knowles Drive and Dell Avenue. Knowles Drive is on the border between Los Gatos and Campbell and leads out to busy Winchester Blvd. Dell Avenue continues north past small businesses to the main road entrance to Los Gatos Creek Park just north of East Hacienda Avenue.

Los Gatos Creek Park Casting ponds at Los Gatos Creek Park
Los Gatos Creek Park main lake looking south from north shore Casting ponds at Los Gatos Creek Park
R/C boat racing North shore of main pond
R/C Boat racing on Los Gatos Creek Park middle pond North shore, main lake

Back to the creek trail, it enters Los Gatos Creek County Park, which is a complex of percolation ponds and water channels. Los Gatos Creek itself runs into a wide channel with a series of dams. Percolation ponds are on both sides of the creek. The largest ponds are on the west side, separated by straight levees. The ponds are lined with reeds. The middle pond is used for radio-controlled speedboat racing. The largest percolation pond to the north is a popular recreation area. Trout are planted in the cooler months, providing good fishing. Fishermen, young and old, line the rock wall on the northern shore. Benches and picnic tables line this part of the shore. A boat launching ramp is on the northeastern corner. A fishing pier is near the southwest corner of the lake. Warmer months bring wind surfers. Children come to watch the ducks and geese.  The developed part of the park has parking areas (fee charged), restrooms, picnic tables, brick barbecues, water fountains, and a broad lawn. 2 concrete-lined casting ponds, built in 1995, draw fly and plug-casters.

Page Dam & bridge Observation platform by pond at Los Gatos Creek Park
Page Dam and bridge over Los Gatos Creek Pond, observation platform, and bridge at Los Gatos Creek Park
Los Gatos Creek Park perc. poind Los Gatos Creek Park pedestrian bridge over Hwy 17
Small percolation pond at Los Gatos Creek Park Pond and pedestrian bridge over Hwy 17 at Los Gatos Creek Park

Adjacent ponds offer warmwater fishing and bird-watching. A couple hundred yards downstream from the first small dam, the creek widens out and drops over the larger Page Dam. The 10-foot high by 200-foot wide dam, built in 1934, was named in honor of irrigation pioner George W. Page. A long bridge, suspended under a steel arch, crosses over the creek by the dam. On the other side are 4 small percolation ponds. Close to the bridge, on the shore of the southwestern pond, is a wooden observation platform (currently closed to access). The paved path crosses a levee between the two western ponds and runs up the new Mozart Pedestrian Overcrossing, which leads over Hwy 17 near the 2 small, narrow eastern ponds. You can get good views of the ponds and surrounding area from the overcrossing. The overcrossing rises high above Hwy 17, then drops into a suburban neighborhood. The paved path ends up on East Mozart Avenue, which intersects South Bascom Avenue just north of Hwy 85. A dirt path runs from the trail to a cul-de-sac at the intersection of Kilmer Avenue and Longfellow Avenue.

Los Gatos Creek from east bank of Los Gatos Creek
Looking north along Los Gatos Creek from east bank

Dirt paths run around the ponds and channels east of Los Gatos Creek. One gravel path follows the east bank of Los Gatos Creek north. Along the way, there are two concrete ramps that lead down to the creek. The path ends at a fence at Camden Avenue. A hole in the fence is a strong hint that this isn't an official trail entrance. There's no sidewalk along this part of busy Camden Avenue, so this is not a safe access or exit point.

Even though Los Gatos Creek itself is a tamed channel with concrete walls and dams, there are dirt paths along its banks, and trees and reeds along its edges still give it a natural look. Waterfowl and muskrats find it natural enough for them. The view to the east, which includes Hwy 17, isn't much to look at, but looking across the main lake to the south, you can see the soaring green slopes of the Santa Cruz Mountains reflected in the calm waters. To the northeast, you can see the Mount Hamilton Range, the highest mountains in the Bay Area.

Los Gatos Creek, looking east Camden Ave. Bridge
Looking towards east bank of Los Gatos Creek in Los Gatos Creek Park Camden Avenue Bridge, Los Gatos Creek Trail ramp on the left

Near the north end of the main lake at Los Gatos Creek County Park, Los Gatos Creek spills noisily over the gate of a wide dam. Continuing north along the trail, you pass the casting ponds and drop down a long ramp under Camden Avenue. As you cross under Camden Avenue, you leave the county park and enter the city of Campbell. 3 miles of the trail run through the Campbell. The trail approaches creek level here. The creek slows as it approaches another dam. The trail rises on another long ramp after the Camden bridge and overlooks the Lower Page Drop Structure. The 80-foot wide, 34-foot high dam is the highest of the drop dams on this part of the creek. It's a fairly new dam, built in 1971. Unlike the other dams, which are simply vertical gates that can be raised and lowered, this dam has a sloping face. The water flows down the dam in white sheets. In front of the dam, a fenced-in steel box-frame bridge crosses over the creek. The west side trail reaches a junction. You can take a short path west to reach a cul-de-sac on Camden Avenue. Camden Avenue here is a small back street, with auto repair shops, a lumber yard, and an entrance to a large mobile home park. Camden eventually hits Winchester Blvd., which is a major shopping and commercial street.

Los Gatos Creek Trail junction by Lower Page Drop Structure
Trail junction and bridge below Lower Page Drop Structure

Back to the west trail junction, the trail drops down to the level of the bridge. You can continue on the west side of the creek or cross over the bridge to the east side.  The westside trail passes by a long mobile home park, then the new Canyon Creek apartment complex, a city yard, and a lumber yard. There are benches and parcourse stations along the way. The creek here wanders through a creek bed filled with tules, vines, and shade trees. As you approach the heart of Campbell, you'll see the imposing black glass monoliths of the Pruneyard Towers, the highest buildings for miles around, looming ahead. The westside trail ends at Campbell Park, which is a nice green rest or picnic stop. The park has a kiosk with interpretive displays on the trail and wildlife, as well as community information. It also has 2 playgrounds, shaded picnic tables, and the start of the parcourse. You can exit the park and reach Campbell Avenue, which leads west to downtown Campbell. The old downtown area has a quaint small-town atmosphere, with small shops and restaurants. Campbell Avenue also leads under Hwy 17, past the Pruneyard (see below), and ends at South Bascom Avenue.

Los Gatos Creek causeway in campbell
Los Gatos Creek and Trail causeway  passing under Campbell Ave.

To continue on the creek trail, you need to cross over a steel arch bridge leading to the east side of the creek. An elevated causeway, surfaced with laminated wooden boards, carries the trail under the Campbell Avenue bridge. The causeway surface is a little bumpy, so you should walk your bike here. On the other side, you emerge behind the parking lot of the Campbell Inn. At the end of the parking lot are some tennis courts belonging to the Inn.

The trail follows along the eastern bank of the creek, on the top of steep concrete walls and elevated causeways. It passes under Hwy 17. On the right, you'll see the Pruneyard Towers, the multi-story Pruneyard parking lot, and the sign for the Pruneyard Inn. You are now next to the huge and moderately up-scale Pruneyard Shopping Center, located at the corner of Campbell Avenue and S. Bascom Avenue. The Pruneyard is one of the oldest shopping centers in the valley and is one of the few large unenclosed malls left that's still successful. The outdoor nature of the mall allows for a more rustic, garden atmosphere than the newer enclosed malls. One indicator of its success is that it can be tough finding a parking space. There are many good restaurants here, as well as fast-food places nearby, so this can be a good place to stop to eat. The big Tower Records store is across the street on S. Bascom Avenue. A little north on S. Bascom Avenue is the Fung Lum Chinese restaurant, which looks like a Chinese art museum inside and out. Their lemon chicken is great.

Hamilton Ave. Bridge
Los Gatos Creek Trail on wall, leading under Hamilton Avenue Bridge

Continuing down the trail, you'll pass under Creekside Way. A ramp just past the bridge leads up to the road, which runs diagonally between Hamilton Avenue and S. Bascom Avenue. A little farther on, the trail ducks under Hamilton Avenue. A block later, it crosses under S. Bascom Avenue. These two streets are extremely busy commercial thoroughfares. They have one shopping center after another. On Hamilton Avenue, just west of Hwy 17 is one of the meccas of the Silicon Valley: a Fry's Electronics store. Fry's is the legendary place where all the high-paid Valley techies spend their money on the latest high-tech gadgets, computers, and software. Each Fry's store has a different theme. The Campbell store has an Egyptian theme. It looks like an Egyptian tomb from the outside, and has Egyptian-style columns, fixtures, and furniture on the inside. Hamilton and S. Bascom are usually jammed with traffic, so this is no place for a bicycle. You'll feel like a hamster in a cat show. If you want to go shopping, it's best to cut through the parking lots or get off your bike and walk.

Los Gatos Creek banks near Leigh
Los Gatos Creek near Leigh in San Jose

Just past the Hamilton bridge, you'll see a car wash on the right side, just above the trail. From the road, it looks like a riverboat. This is one of the Classic Car Wash franchises. Each one has a different theme. The trail passes behind commercial buildings. Across the creek are more office buildings. The creek is narrow and channeled, but there's still enough bushes and reeds along the creek bed to give it a natural look. It's not unusual to see large snowy egrets hunting for fish in the creek in the shadows of multi-story office complexes.

Los Gatos Creek Trail near end in San Jose
Los Gatos Creek Trail in San Jose south of Leigh Avenue

The trail enters San Jose just past S. Bascom Avenue. The surrounding neighborhood becomes residential, with apartments, duplexes, and single-family homes on both sides of the creek. Trees planted along the trail make for a shady ride. This is a popular stretch for baby strollers, so watch out. Dirt paths closer to the creek parallel the paved trail on both banks of the creek, with some ups and downs for fun. There are even some paths at creek level. The creek widens out, with sunny earthen banks covered with bushes and scattered trees.

Los Gatos Creek by Blackford School Confluence Point
Los Gatos Creek next to the end of the trail at Blackford School End of Los Gatos Creek (lower right) at Confluence Point

The trail makes one last undercrossing at Leigh Avenue.  It ends at Blackford School in the Willow Glen area of San Jose, on the north side of Leigh Avenue. A new steel bridge, closed to access at this writing, hints at future expansion of the trail. The creek continues on, running behind the backyards of suburban homes to its eventual downtown rendezvous with the Guadalupe River at Confluence Point near the San Jose Arena, in the Arena Greens Park. Someday the trail will be extended to downtown San Jose to join up with the trails in the Guadalupe River Park. For now, there's no continuous publicly-accessible route that follows along the banks of the creek any further. You can only see the creek at road crossings. Unless you like riding through suburban neighborhoods, it's best to turn around and go back. Willow Glen is a nice area, but as you get closer to downtown, the neighborhoods get more rundown and industrial-looking.

Backtrack to Campbell Park, where you can either cross over and ride back to Los Gatos Creek Park on the west side of the creek, or stay on the east side. The east side is a little lower than the west side. It's closer to the creek, and is bordered by shrubbery on the east side, which separates it from Hwy 17. The east side is a littler sunnier than the west side. There are parcourse stations and benches along the way. At one point, a concrete ramp leads down to the creek. The trail rises up to the same level as the west side, then reaches the bridge at the Lower Page Drop Structure. Cross over the bridge to get back to the main trail. Backtrack all the way back to your starting point.

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Ron Horii, San Jose
Created 12/12/98