Arastradero Preserve
Part 1

Arastradero Preserve
Part 2

Arastradero Preserve
Part 3

Arastradero Preserve Virtual Reality Tour

Arastradero Preserve Stewardship Project




SF Bay
Rec. &

Arastradero Preserve
Part 1 - Info and the Corte Madera Trail
Arastradero Lake

Bay Area Parks

Bay Area Hiking

County Parks



Palo 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 University's open space lands and satellite dishes, Palo Alto, Moffett Field, and the Bay. On clear days, the view stretches from San Francisco to San Jose. Behind the preserve to the west are the forested slopes of the Santa Cruz Mountains.

Arastradero Creek

Arastradero Creek is the main creek running through the park. It 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, passes Bol Park, and enters San Francisco Bay at Mayfield Slough in the Palo Alto Baylands Nature Preserve

Arastradero Preserve Stewardship Project

One factor that makes Arastradero Preserve stand out from other open space parks in the Bay Area is the intense amount of restoration activities going on here. Even though California has a lot of undeveloped open space, these lands do not look the same way they did when the Native Americans were the only people living on them. European settlers brought cattle and weed seeds in their feed. They also planted trees and plants from overseas. The result is that the California "natural" environment is an unnatural mix of foreign invaders and imports. An ambitious goal of the restoration activities in Arastradero Preserve is to eliminate non-native vegetation and restore the natives. 

Acterra, 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. Restoration activities include controlling non-native teasels, planting native grasses, installing bird nest boxes, and removing eucalyptus trees. 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 notorious spiny yellow star thistles. These non-native invaders line the narrow trails at ankle and calf level, making for painful walking for hikers in shorts. They also crowd out native plants, which means less food for the animals that depend on them. These thistles are a major pest, and with their 8-foot taproots, they are difficult to get rid of. The APSP is using mowing and weevils to try to control them. 

Here are pictures of some restoration projects:
(Click on the thumbnails for a larger picture. Hit the Back button on your browser to return.) 


Here is the park map and the legend for it. You can pick up a copy of this map at the main parking lot.

(Click on the thumbnails for a larger picture. Hit the Back button on your browser to return.) 

The current preserve map shows only 4 trail names for the park's main trails, and the small side trails are unnamed. The names on the current park map will be used on these pages since these are the names on the trail signs. 

When I visited the park in June, there was a map in the display case, showing the proposed trail system map. It showed proposed names for the park trails. It gave separate and new names to the park's trail segments, renamed some trails, and named many of the currently unnamed trails. Here are pictures of that map, split into 2 parts: 

Northeast corner: northern hills, park entrance, Arastradero Lake:

Southwest corner: Sobey Pond, Foothills Park boundary, Meadowlark , Acorn, and Perimeter Trails:

When I went back to the park in July 2001, the map was gone, but there was a notice saying that the trail plan had been approved by the city. Trails will be restored. Some will be re-routed. Expect some changes in the future.

Guided Photo Tour

Here 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. Others were taken later in June and July. A few were taken on 5/13/01 and 4/28/98, when the hills were greener. I plan to come back next spring and shoot the hills when the grass is green, and the wildflowers are blooming.

(Click on the thumbnails for a larger picture. Hit the Back button on your browser to return.) 

Start at the parking lot on Arastradero Road. The mileage readings start here. Pick up a park map.  Read the bulletins on volunteer opportunities 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 park's main entrance is here at 0.16 miles. This is the beginning of one of the main park trails, the Corte Madera Trail. It is a wide gravel road at this point. 

Immediately after the entrance, Arastradero Creek flows through a pipe under the trail. It is highly overgrown with creek vegetation and will probably be dry in the summer.

Just beyond the entrance at 0.24 miles, is a junction of 2 trails leading up into the hills to the left. The one on the left will be covered in Part 3. On the right side of the Corte Madera Trail is a stand of coyote bushes, blocking views of the creek.

The creek comes into view at 0.29 miles. The creek banks 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. 

Restoration work is evident. Small trees have been planted behind protective wire meshes. 

At 0.34 miles, the trail comes closer to the creek. Stream bank erosion control efforts are evident here. Plant fiber mats are used to stabilize the steep banks. 

At 0.37 miles, the trail crosses the creek on a bridge. The vegetation upstream from the bridge is heavy and blocks views of the creekbed.

Ahead to the right is a trail junction. The Meadowlark Trail comes down from the right and joins the Corte Madera Trail, which turns to the left and climbs a hill. The Meadowlark Trail will be taken in Part 2. In the meantime, take the Corte Madera Trail to the left.

The Corte Madera Trail runs along the side of a hill. The creek runs below, marked by the line of trees and bushes.

At 0.58 miles, the trail reaches the creek again.

On the left, you see the rock-lined trough that serves as the spillway for Arastradero Lake.

In the springtime, water will likely be flowing out of the lake and down the spillway channel. 

Just ahead, a bridge crosses over the lake's outlet. Cross over the bridge to circle around the lake bank.

Trees and reeds block your view of the lake except for a few clear spots. One clear spot is near the southeast corner of the lake.

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, the Corte Madera Booster. A wide dirt service road goes uphill to the right, crosses the Meadowlark Trail, 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 oaks, 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 left. 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.

At 1.46 miles, the new lower Acorn Trail goes uphill to the right as a narrow single-track.

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 earthen dam on Arastradero Creek. 

Tall reeds grow in the marsh area on the upstream side of the pond. 

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 runs through a shady oak and laurel forest.

The deep, cool shade allows ferns to grown on the hillsides. The road begins to climb uphill. 

The creek runs alongside the trail in a narrow, deep trough at the base of a steep-sided hill. It is shaded by laurels and buckeyes.

At 2.15 miles is the closed gate and overgrown road to Foothills Park. The creek continues on to its origin in the hills of Foothills Park.

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 miles, 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. 

For more, go to Part 2 to continue the tour along the Acorn and Meadowlark trails. Go to Part 3 for other trails.


Created 7/11/01, links updated 9/27/06 by Ronald Horii