IntroductionPalo Alto's Arastradero Preserve encompasses over 600 acres in the foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains above Palo Alto. The preserve ranges in elevation from 275 to 775 feet and includes more than 6 miles of trails. It is located on Arastradero Road between Alpine Road and Page Mill Road. Parking is on the north side of Arastradero Road, while most of the park is on the south side of the road. The preserve's land was purchased by the City of Palo Alto in 1975 to protect it from development. It is a popular place for hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding. It abounds in wildlife and springtime wildflowers. The trails range from wide gravel roads to narrow single-tracks. The terrain varies from rolling grasslands to shady oak forests. The higher hilltops provide spectacular views of the surrounding area, which includes Felt Lake, Stanford's satellite dishes, Palo Alto, Moffett Field, and the Bay. On clear days, the view stretches from San Francisco to San Jose. Arastradero Creek runs along the east edge of the park below the Palo Alto Hills Golf and Country Club. The creek originates in the hills of Palo Alto's neighboring Foothills Park. It flows into the southeast corner of Arastradero Preserve feeding first into a couple of tiny ponds and then into Arastradero Lake, a beautiful reed-lined pond that is open for fishing. Arastradero Creek drains out of Arastradero Lake and flows out of the preserve. The creek eventually flows into Matadero Creek, which runs through Palo Alto and enters San Francisco Bay at Mayfield Slough in the Palo Alto Baylands Nature Preseve.
Bay Area Action, a Palo Alto-based environmental group, acts as a steward for the preserve through their Arastradero Preserve Stewardship Project (APSP). Their activities include habitat restoration, trail maintenance, storm damage repair, and environmental education. They have volunteer work days for habitat restoration. See the calendar for work days.
One of the activities of the APSP is to combat the notorinous spiny
star thistles. These non-native invaders line the narrow trails at
ankle and calf level, making for painful walking for hikers in shorts.
These plants are a major pest and are difficult to get rid of. The APSP
is using mowing and weevils to try to control them.
Guided Photo TourHere is a detailed description with mileage readings from my bicycle odometer of a 6-mile route that I took on 6/24/01. The mileage readings are just an indicator of relative distance. You mileage may vary. Most of the pictures below were taken during this trip:
Starting at the parking lot on Arastradero Road. The mileage readings start here. Pick up a park map. There is a map in the display case (at least when I was there), showing the proposed trail system map. It shows proposed names for the park trails. It gives separate names to the park's trail segments. The current preserve map shows only 4 trail names for the park's main trails, and the small side trails are unnamed. Read the bulletins on volunteer opportunies in the park. There are portable restrooms here. Near the restrooms is a display on native California grasses, some of which are being planted in the preserve by volunteers. Be sure you bring lots of water as there is no drinking water in the park. You can't cross over Arastradero Road directly to get to the preserve, as the area across from the parking lot is an in-holding of private property. Head down the dirt trail that parallels Arastradero Road to the south. It turns and crosses the road.
The creek comes into view at 0.29 miles. The creekbanks are relatively open here. A fire here destroyed much of the vegetation 15 years ago. The creek banks were lined with highly flammable eucalyptus trees. Now, only the huge stumps of these trees remain. Resoration work is evident. Small trees have been planted behind protective wire meshes.
Here are some more pictures of Arastradero Lake:
At 0.68 miles, an old paved road goes uphill to Paseo Del Roble at the park boundary. A narrow dirt trail turns right to follow along the lake bank. Follow this trail through the trees. At 0.71 miles, there is a small beach on the side of the lake lined with reeds. There is a trail that continues around the lake, but at the time I went, it was closed, so I had to turn back.
Heading back around the lake, cross back over the bridge and continue to follow the lake around to the left. At 0.87 miles, you reach a large trail junction by a pumping station. A wide dirt service road goes uphill to the right and eventually ends at park gate B on Arastradero Road.
The Corte Madera Trail continues to follow the lake to the left. A few gaps in the trees provide views of and sometimes access to the lakeshore. Soon the road reaches the end of the lake and continues to follow along the creek At 0.93, a trail leads to the left to reach the creek and circle behind the lake. This trail was closed.
The Corte Madera Trail continues to follow along the creek. The trail is wide and shady, with dense growth along the creek. The trees are mostly oak and the underbrush is mostly wild blackberries and poison oak. Spanish moss drapes from the oak trees. At 1.08 miles, the trail turns to the right and goes uphill. It levels off at around 1.13 miles. From here, the green manicured hills of the golf course can be seen above the trees to the right. At 1.28 miles on the right is the closed end of the old lower Acorn Trail. Dense vegetation blocks views of the creek to the left. The trail again begins to climb uphill to the right.
Continuing on the wide gravel road of the Corte Madera Trail, large expensive houses come into view on the hilltops to the left. There is a meadow between the trail and the trees lining the creek below to the left. At 1.49 miles, the trail crests, drops a little, rises, then levels off again.
At 1.63 miles, a new trail runs uphill to the right. Trees and brush run closer to the trail as the creek approaches it. At 1.69, the upper Acorn Trail climbs steeply up the hill to the right. We'll go up this trail later.
On the left, a small pond can be glimpsed through the bushes to the left. At 1.72, a small path leads to the pond. This is Sobey Pond. It is a shallow pond formed by an earthern dam on Arastradero Creek.
Continuing on the main trail, a sign ahead warns that the utility road ends in 0.6 miles and that there is no access to Foothills Park. The creek begins to run through a narrow canyon. The creek above Sobey Pond is not much more than a ditch.
The road turns to the right away from the creek and climbs steeply upward. The hills become dryer, with coyote bushes growing on the upper slopes. At 2.34, at the summit of the hill, a paved private road runs off to the right. A barbed wire fence on the left marks the Foothills Park boundary.
The road then drops steeply downhill ahead, but is blocked at the end by a gate. A sign on the gate, which is the Foothills Park boundary, says that no entry is allowed ahead. Since it is a dead end, there is no use continuing on, so head back.
At 3.08 miles, the trail forks as it runs on both sides of an old oak tree near the top of the hill. The trails rejoin past the oak tree. On the hill are oak plantings. Black plastic on the ground marks a restoration project. The plastic is used to heat up the ground in an effort to control the non-native invasive teasels.
At 3.16 miles, you reach a trail junction. To the left, the trail is a narrow path lined with tall grass and (ouch!) prickly yellow starthistles. On the right, a wide gravel service road, the Meadowlark Trail, can be seen. Take a side trip to the right and go down this gravel road to the right.
It runs uphill and ends at the top of a hill at 3.58 miles at a bench under
a lone oak tree. A sign says "Aladdin's View." The view from this point
is one of the best in the preserve. A good portion of the Bay Area is visible.You
can see the skyscrapers of San Francisco to the north and the buildings
of downtown San Jose to the south. Closer in, you can see downtown Palo
Alto, and the Stanford Hills. Here are some views from the hill:
The trail dead ends here, so after taking in the view, head back to the gravel service road, which you reach at 3.68 miles. Head back to the Acorn Trail junction, which you read at 3.78 miles. Take the trail back to the left.
After 3.81 miles, you reach the Acorn Trail T-junction again. Continue on to take the loop to the west. It climbs up to the park boundary at 3.90 miles, then turns right, paralleling the boundary fence. At 3.98 miles, it reaches another T-junction. The path to the left goes uphill into the woods, but it crosses into private property, so don't take it.
At 4.30 miles, you reach a crossroads. Straight ahead, the trail drops down into a steep-sided bowl, obviously a favorite spot for bikes. You can drop into the bowl and have fun riding up and down its sides. There is a path on the far side of the bowl. Otherwise, turn right. At 4.32 miles, under a big oak tree, you reach a trail junction. A trail leads uphill to the right. A trail sign points to the left. Take the trail to the left. From here, you can see the Stanford Hills ahead. The trail runs along the east edge of the bowl and rejoins the trail on the north edge of the bowl at 4.35 miles.
At 4.56 miles, it reaches a trail junction at a large oak tree. A bench provides a place to rest. The gravel service road exits the preserve at Gate C at John Marthen Lane, which leads to Arastradero Road near Alpine Road. The trail to the right is the lower Acorn Trail. Take it. It becomes a double-track dirt trail. It runs across a field, then drops downhill into a gully at 4.77 miles. A small creek runs to the right through here, marked by oaks and coyote bushes. The trail goes up a small hill, where it meets the junction of the Perimeter Trail, which branches off to the left. Bicycles are not allowed on the narrow Perimeter Trail. Continue to the right.
The trail drops down to meet a wide gravel service road at 4.82 miles. To the right, it becomes a paved road just past a bridge over the creek. Do not take this paved road, because it is just a dead end service road to a water tank. Past the bridge, the dirt Acorn Trail continues on, following the far side of the creek. However, for this trip, turn left and follow the gravel service road. At 4.94 miles, it crosses the creek. A dirt footpath goes up to the left to provide access to the Perimeter Trail.
Even though the creek is likely to be dry, it has a lot of vegetation growing along it. This is a shady route. At 5.09 miles, the road turns right and goes uphill. At the corner, a foothpath leads through the bushes to the Perimeter Trail. The service road now parallels Arastradero Road, which runs just above it to the left.
Follow the service road to the right. It runs around a field to left that may be covered with teasels. At 5.31 miles, a dirt trail goes up and over a hill to the left. The main trail continues on to the right, then passes through an area of broad, wide-open rolling meadows.
At 5.39 miles, it reaches the junction with the Meadowlark Trail. The service road continues on to the south end of Arastradero Lake, where it meets the Corte Madera Trail (see the 0.87 mile point above).
At 5.57 miles, the trail drops down. You can see the hills of the preserve east of Arastradero Road. The trail curves to the right. You can see Arastradero Road and the stables up the road to the left. At 5.82 miles, you reach the junction of the Perimeter Trail, which comes from the left. An unmarked dirt trail continues on straight ahead.
The Meadowlark Trail makes a sharp right turn and drops quickly down the hill. At 5.90 miles, it reaches the Corte Madera Trail. An unmarked dirt trail runs along the north side of Aratstradero Creek. Turn left at the Corte Madera Trail and follow it back to the preserve entrance.
Cross Arastradero Road and head back to the parking lot, which you reach at 6.15 miles. If you like, you can explore the hills to the east of the parking lot. These rolling grass-covered hills adjoin Stanford's pasture lands. The trails provide views of Hwy 280, Felt Lake, and the Stanford antenna dishes and hills. A line of eucalyptus trees runs along the eastern boundary of the preserve. Felt Lake, which is off-limits, is just beyond the northeast corner. Looking back to the west, most of the rest of the park can be seen below the Santa Cruz Mountains. Below are pictures from this section:
Beyond the fence, Felt Lake can be seen. The lake is part of the San Francisquito Creek watershed. It is an artificial reservoir created in 1929 when Stanford University built a diversion dam on Los Trancos Creek. Felt Lake is part of Stanford's nonpotable water supply. Water is used for irrigation and fire protection. In 1995, a fish ladder was built to allow steelhead trout to migrate upstream past the dam. The lake, like the surrounding lands, is a biological preserve and off-limits to unauthorized personnel.
Looking back at the main part of the preserve from this middle trail, the path of Arastradero Creek can be seen, marked by trees. In the hills above are trails running along the park boundary below the golf course.
Created 7/3/01 by Ronald Horii