Ron Horii's Bay Area Back Pages - Bay Area Biking
Los Gatos Creek Trail in downtown Los Gatos Los Gatos Creek Trail
Part 5: Leigh Avenue to Confluence Point
Los Gatos Creek Park main pond

New bridge over Los Gatos Creek at Blackford School New trail segment through Willow Glen
Bridge at entrance to new trail segment by Blackfod School in Willow Glen New trail segment on northwest bank of creek next to the Willowbrook Townehomes' park

Summer '99 Update:
This Web page is under construction because the continuation of the Los Gatos Creek Trail to the end of Los Gatos Creek is not yet complete. When I visited the segment of the trail between Leigh and Meridian in December '98, it was still under construction. In the summer of '99, this segment was completed and is now paved and open to the public. It was dedicated on 6/26/99. Here is a map of the new trail segment and planned future segments. Here also is a map of the area from the Plum Orchard Apartment's Web site

When you cross under Leigh Avenue, you cross one of the unofficial boundaries of Willow Glen, one of San Jose's most venerable and prestigious neighborhoods. Willow Glen was once a marshy region between Los Gatos Creek and the Guadalupe River. The land was drained and converted to orchard land. The current Los Gatos Creek Channel here was cut by the creek during the floods of 1867 through the orchard lands. The town of Willow Glen was founded in 1927. It became a part of the city of San Jose in 1936 to tie into San Jose's sewage system. Willow Glen has some elegant old homes and streets shaded by huge, mature trees. Because it is a well-established neighborhood, it has many long-term residents who have formed San Jose's largest and most active neighborhood association, the Willow Glen Neighborhood Association. They strongly support the completion of Los Gatos Creek Trail, recognizing its recreational and environmental value to the community. (Historical information from the Willow Glen Neighborhood Association's Web site.)

To get to the new trail segment, cross the new steel box frame bridge over the creek at Blackford School east of Leigh Avenue. Continuing from the trail segment in Part 4, this is 7.4 miles from the start. From the center of the bridge, you can see Leigh Avenue west and the heavily-wooded section of the trail through Willow Glen to the east. The north end of the new steel bridge is behind apartments at Stokes St. The trail turns right and begins as a newly paved path heading north along the creek bank. The first section runs on a concrete-block retaining wall at the creek's edge, with a wooden fence on the left and a chain link fence on the right. At 7.5 miles, it passes next to a private green park for the Willowbrook Townehomes. There's a trail entrance next to the park here leading to Stokes St. The park is a cool, green oasis, shaded by pines and towering redwoods. Redwood trees continue on next to the trail past the park. Also here next to the park, a dirt ramp leads down to the creek. A wide dirt path follows along the edge of the creek. It climbs back up to intersect the main trail at 7.6 miles. A wide dirt path path runs next to the paved trail from here.

The trail runs behind townhouses and homes, but the trailsides and the banks of the creek are lined with trees and bushes. At 7.8 miles, there is a paved area with a kiosk. On the kiosk is a sign describing the Willow Glen Neighborhood Association'sLos Gatos Creek Restoration Project. The project's purpose is to "reduce overbank erosion along a half-mile of the Los Gatos Creek in central San Jose, restore a riparian habitat, and create an urban open-space greenway." Volunteers have planted trees and shrubs along the top of the creek banks and installed a drip irrigation system. The kiosk has a solar panel on top which powers the project's irrigation system. A gate here leads to Stokes St. near the Willowbrook Townehomes pool (private). Past here, the dirt path to the right of the paved path begins to narrow. The trail follows the northwest creek banks behind the Willowbrook Townehomes, whose brick facades and tree-shaded streets, make it look like a neighborhood in New England. The steep creek banks on the southeast side are behind the backyards of houses along Willow Street and apartments along Meridian Avenue. At 7.9 miles, the trail passes by a fenced-off water pumping and storage facility. The creek bank and trail narrows. The trail runs next to wooden pole fences where the creek bank is reinforced by concrete bags and chain link fences where the creek bank is shored up by concrete block retaining walls. Tall, mature trees shade the creek, if not the trail.

Los Gatos Creek in Willow Glen Meridian Ave. Bridge
Los Gatos Creek in Willow Glen, near Meridian, looking upstream, concrete ramp leads down to the creek Meridian Avenue Bridge over Los Gatos Creek, looking downstream

At 8.0 miles, a concrete ramp leads down to the creek. The trail ends just ahead at Meridian Avenue next to Liebelt Court at 8.1 miles. This is currently the end of the developed Los Gatos Creek Trail. The creek squeezes under the old narrow concrete Meridian Bridge, built in 1949. There are no banks along the creek under the bridge. On the other side of the bridge, the creek runs through a steep, narrow ravine, with no paths along the banks, except for a short private walk at the Willowbrook Apartments. Continuing the trail on the creek banks from here would be very difficult, so the trail will continue on sidewalks and on-street bike paths between Meridian and Lincoln Avenues. Willow Street will be the main on-street bike route. Planning is underway for the segment between Lincoln and Park Avenues. Trail or not, the creek continues on past Meridian, running behind the backyards of suburban homes to its eventual downtown San Jose rendezvous with the Guadalupe River at Confluence Point near the San Jose Arena, in the Arena Greens Park on West Santa Clara Street.

For now, there's no continuous publicly-accessible route along the banks of Los Gatos Creek any further on. There's no one road that continuously parallels the creek from here on. It's a complicated route to try to follow the creek downtown, but I'll discuss it below. Click here to see a map. For the most part, you can only see the creek at road crossings. Beyond Meridian, the creek runs under Lincoln Avenue, I-280, Auzerais Avenue, West San Carlos Street, Bird Avenue, Park Avenue, West San Fernando Street, and West Santa Clara Street. Unless you like riding through suburban and industrial neighborhoods, turn around and go back at Meridian.

If you get hungry here, there's a farmer's market in a former gas station site at the corner of Meridian Avenue and Curci Drive. Across the street is a Kentucky Fried Chicken. Farther south down Meridian, at the corner of Meridian and Willow is a Pizza Hut, Papa John's Pizza, and Yum Yum Donuts.

If you're adventurous and intensely curious and want to continue to see the terminus of Los Gatos Creek in downtown San Jose, the best way is to take surface streets. From the end of the trail at Meridian, go south along Meridian, then east on Willow Street. Willow Street is a wide suburban street here with marked bike lanes. This area has some of the fine old homes and shady streets that Willow Glen is famous for. After 2 blocks, you'll come to Bramhall Park on the right. The 15.4-acre park has large playing fields, picnic areas shaded by tall redwood trees, tennis courts, 2 playgrounds, and a bocce ball lawn. Aptly-named Dry Creek forms a long, shady bowl and amphitheater on the west side of the park. After 9 more blocks, you'll pass by a bike shop, then will come to Lincoln Avenue in the historical heart of "downtown" Willow Glen. The old storefronts there make it look like the center of a small middle-American town. Lincoln is a busy street. Be careful if you ride along it. Continuing east down Willow, you'll pass by a Jack-in-the-Box, the famous Willow Street Wood-Fired Pizza Restaurant, and a Thai restaurant. The street gets a little narrower here, and the houses and apartments more modest. After 5 blocks, you'll hit Bird Avenue. On the southwest corner is Willow Plaza, which has a pizza place and a Mandarin Chinese restaurant. On the southeast corner is Willow Glen Plaza, which has a Mexican restaurant and a Walgreen's.

The bike lanes on Willow Street continue as it heads east. To get downtown, you can take Bird Avenue north. Bird Avenue is a busy street, but there are no bike lanes, so be careful. The section north of Willow is a narrow and bumpy 2-lane road. It curves sharply to the right, then reaches Fisk Avenue. At Fisk Avenue, there's a mini-park on the corner. Bird widens out here. It drops under a railroad bridge, then crosses Virginia Street. If you take Virginia Street east, you'll come to a Light Rail Station on Hwy 87. Bird continues over a long overpass, crossing I-280. Watch for traffic here.

Bird enters an industrial part of downtown San Jose. This is not the most scenic part of town. The road crosses Auzerais. If you take Auzerais west, you can see Los Gatos Creek again as it crosses under the road, just east of the huge Del Monte Cannery. There's a narrow, litter-strewn dirt path on top of the west bank between the creek and a fence. This is a lonely and somewhat grimy industrial area, so I wouldn't recommend taking this path or sticking around this area for long. It's probably not a good idea to even head out this way at all. (Note: there is a new trail segment in this section. For an update, see below.)

Bird continues north, crossing West San Carlos Street. San Carlos leads east to the shiny new heart of downtown San Jose. This is where the action is. San Carlos runs past the Children's Discovery Museum, Light Rail station, Hilton Hotel, Main Library, Convention Center, the Plaza de Cesar Chavez, and the elegant Hyatt Sainte Claire Hotel. It crosses Market Street, which has the luxurious Fairmont Hotel, the dazzling new Tech Center of Innovation, the San Jose Museum of Art, and St. Joseph's Cathedral. If you take West San Carlos west from Bird, you'll go by the big Orchard Supply Hardware Store and climb up the high arching bridge over the Southern Pacific Railroad tracks. You can also see Los Gatos Creek again as it crosses under the train tracks to the south and heads north along the San Jose Fire Department's yard and training tower. You can see footpaths along the brushy dirt banks and a gravel path on the west bank top, but I wouldn't recommend taking them. Farther west, San Carlos becomes a busy commercial street. It turns into Stevens Creek Blvd. after Hwy 17, becoming an even busier shopping area, passing the always jam-packed Valley Fair Mall (now Westfield Shoppingtown).

Continuing north on Bird Avenue, Los Gatos Creek disappears as it runs invisibly through a tunnel underneath the wide road. It then emerges to the east of Bird at a narrow channel on the north side of Park Avenue. Bird splits into Autumn Street on the east and Montgomery Street on the west. Take Autumn Street. A block north, it crosses West San Fernando Street. The creek flows under a bridge at San Fernando. On the south side of the bridge, the west side of the creek is fenced off, but there's a narrow dirt path along the east bank top, with a steep path leading down to the creek. On the north side of the bridge, there's another narrow dirt path on the east bank top. Since this is not the best part of town, I would caution against taking this. Continue up Autumn Street, which is an industrial street, but ahead looms the huge, gleaming San Jose Arena, now called the HP Pavilion.

Arena Greens Park w/creek bridge Los Gatos Creek at Arena Greens Park
Arena Greens Park, with bridge over Los Gatos Creek Los Gatos Creek in Arena Greens Park, above Confluence Point
Confluence Point
End of Los Gatos Creek (lower right) at Confluence Point in downtown San Jose, where it joins the Guadalupe River (upper left)

At West Santa Clara Street, you come to the San Jose Arena. Across the street on the east side of Autumn Street is the new Arena Greens Park. The west side of the park has columns decorated with mosaics of local sports stars. There's also a new children's carousel and playground. There are large green lawns, picnic tables, and paths along the creek. A steel bridge leads over Los Gatos Creek, just above Confluence Point. On the east side of the creek is the visitors center for the Guadalupe River Park and Gardens.  The center has 2 floors, with exhibits on the river upstairs and restrooms downstairs. The exhibit center is open from 11 to 5, Monday through Thursday. To the east of the visitors center is the Guadalupe River. Steps lead down to the river. A path leads north down to Confluence Point itself where clear Los Gatos Creek ends its journey as it merges into the murky Guadalupe River. Guadalupe River Park in downtown San Jose is currently under construction, but is complete in spots. (See here for new pages on the Guadalupe River Park and Gardens.)

Since Autumn Street is a one-way street, to head back, go down Montgomery Street. Montgomery Street runs in front of the Southern Pacific Train Station, where you can catch Amtrak or Caltrain. Head back down Bird. Just past I-280, you can catch a glimpse of the creek banks again if you head west on West Virginia Street, turn right on Helen Street, then left on Gregory Street. You'll come to the Gregory Street Tot Lot. A little farther down, you'll come to a fenced-off vacant lot at Gregory and Fuller Avenue. You can't see the creek from here, but you can see the creek banks. A creek bridge will be built here. Follow Fuller back to Bird, turn right on Bird, then right again on Riverside Drive. This is a much nicer neighborhood, with large homes and towering palm trees lining the streets. The creek runs behind the backyards of these homes. Turn right on Coe Avenue. Just before it hits Lincoln Avenue, you can see the creek again. At Lincoln Avenue, the creek runs under the street bridge, which has large lighted arches on each side. The creek on the downstream side of the bridge has dirt paths on the north side of the creek, but it's not clear how to get down there safely. On the upstream side, the creek is very narrow, with vertical walls to the south and steep riprap walls on the north. You can see why it would be difficult to build a creekside trail here. Carefully cross Lincoln Avenue and head south, then make an immediate right on Glen Eyrie Avenue. After passing some apartment buildings, the creek becomes visible on the right along a stretch of gardens perched on walls above the creek. The garden ends at Camino Ricardo, as the creek runs behind the backyards of the houses. You can get a glimpse of the creek again at the fenced-off end of Cherry Avenue. Glen Eyrie curves south as it follow Dry Creek, then ends at Bramhall Park on Willow Street.  You can take Willow Street southwest back to Blackford School to reach the Los Gatos Creek Trail again at Leigh. Or you can turn right onto Meridian and cross over to the new trail entrance along the creek. Take care as Meridian is a wide and very busy street.

Update 11/23/07, Lonus Street to Auzerais Avenue

On October, 20, 2007, a new segment of the Los Gatos Creek Trail was dedicated. (See here for more news. See here for a map.) This is a half-mile segment part of Reach 4. It provides a way to go under I-280. It connects to a short segment from Lonus Street to Gregory Street that was opened in 2004. This segment was actually built in 1985, but was closed to the public until the bridge to Gregory Street was installed. Lonus is an industrial street that branches off of Lincoln Avenue south of I-280. The trail entrance is near a corner, next to a public storage business. The trail runs along the west bank of the creek. There are parcourse stations along the way. After a short distance, there is the steel bridge over the creek to Gregory Street. At the end of the street is the tot lot. Past the bridge, the trail goes under I-280. It comes up to the end of W. Home Street, which is a trail access point. It continues around the end of the street and continues north between the creek and a future park. The trail currently ends at Auzerais Avenue. On the north side of Auzerais, the old historic Del Monte cannery site is being transformed into a housing development.

Start of the trail near Lonus Street, with parcourse station
Trail bridge on Gregory Street leading to the new trail

I-280 under-crossing
End of the trail on Auzerais Avenue,
across from the former Del Monte Cannery site

Update 11/24/07: The Willow Glen Spur/3-Creeks Trail

Three major regional trail systems run through San Jose: the Los Gatos Creek, the Guadalupe Creek/River, and the Coyote Creek Trails. They follow the creeks, which flow roughly parallel to each other, so there are no easy ways to go from one trail to the other mid-trail. This limitation can be solved by the Willow Glen Spur Trail, also called the 3-Creeks Trail. The Willow Glen Spur was once a 2.8-mile Union Pacific rail line between Los Gatos Creek and Senter Road that was abandoned in 2000. Tracks and railroad ties along the route have been pulled up. Union Pacific has been offering the land for sale. If completely developed into a trail, it will connect the 3 major creek trails, along with the Highway 87 bikeway. It begins at Lonus Street near the new Los Gatos Creek Trail segment. It goes southeast and cuts diagonally through Willow Glen, crossing Coe, Broadway, Bird, Minnesota, and the Guadalupe River and the future Guadalupe River Trail. This is primarily a residential area, with some commercial developments. From there, the rail line proceeds east, going under Hwy 87 and the existing Hwy 87 Bikeway, then crosses Almaden Road/Expressway. This is mostly an industrial area. The rail line runs behind factories and warehouses heading slightly northeast to Monterey Road. Beyond here, it runs a block south of Spartan Stadium, and at the south edge of the Logitech Ice Arena, and the San Jose Municipal stadium. It ends at Senter Road, just opposite Kelley Park. The Coyote Creek Trail runs through Kelley Park. The Willow Glen Spur trail route is in the city's trail plan and has strong neighborhood support, but the main stumbling block is money. The railroad wants $20 million for the property. The city doesn't have it yet, even through several million dollars have been pledged from Santa Clara County and the Open Space Authority. Still, the city has decided to pursue the purchase and to try to find the money. News:

Willow Glen Spur south of Broadway Avenue
Willow Glen Spur north of Minnesota Ave. near Delmas Ave.

The Future of the Los Gatos Creek Trail

Someday the Los Gatos Creek Trail will be extended to downtown San Jose to join up with the trails in the Guadalupe River Park and Gardens, which in turn will someday run all the way to San Francisco Bay to join up with the San Francisco Bay Trail. The Bay Trail is a proposed 400-mile network of paths, now 1/3 complete, that will someday circle the shores of San Francisco Bay.

On the other end of the Los Gatos Creek Trail at Lexington Reservoir, it may someday intersect the Bay Area Ridge Trail. The Ridge Trail is a proposed 400-mile trail network that will encircle San Francisco Bay along its ridgeline. About 188 miles of trail are complete. The proposed South Bay route will run from Sanborn Skyline County Park, through St. Joseph Hill OSP, Lexington Reservoir Recreation Area, Sierra Azul OSP, Almaden Quicksilver County Park, Calero Reservoir County Park to the Coyote Creek Park Chain. Sections through Santa Teresa County Park and Los Alamitos/Calero Creek Park Chain are already completed. A South County loop will go through Uvas County Park, Mt. Madonna County Park, Coyote Lake County Park, to Anderson Lake County Park.

It will take a lot of time, money, volunteer effort, and political will to complete these trails, but if and when the Bay Trail and Ridge Trail are completed, they will constitute one of the greatest urban trail networks in the world.  These trails are essentially a giant linear park that will encompass almost the entire Bay Area. Their recreational value will be incalculable. The Los Gatos Creek Trail and Guadalupe River trails will provide a vital link between these two. For hundreds of thousands of people in the South Bay, it will provide a safe, easily-accessible, and mostly car-free gateway to virtually endless journeys along the Bay's shores and ridgelines. Like the nation's highways, these trails can take people to wonderful far-off places, but like the highways, they need to be continuous and complete to do so.

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

Part 1 - Forbes Mill to Blossom Hill Road

Part 2 - Vasona Lake, Oak Meadow Park to Lark Avenue

Part 3 - Lark Avenue to Los Gatos Creek Park

Part 4 - Camden Avenue to Leigh Avenue

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Ron Horii, San Jose
Created 12/27/98, Updated 11/24/07