Hard to pronounce, easy to hike
Neil Wiley

My midwestern mouth has trouble saying "Arastradero," but this Palo Alto open-space preserve offers easy trails for casual day hikers, bicyclists, equestrians, and families with small children. The trails are relatively short and most of the hill climbs arenít very steep.

The 609-acre preserve consists primarily of grassland savanna, small isolated oak woodlands, and a riparian corridor along Arastradero Creek. The main trail through the preserve is wide and flat, with just enough meanders along the creek to make it interesting. Itís only about a twenty-minute walk across the road from the parking lot to Arastradero Lake, a nice little pond-like lake complete with bulrushes, ducks, and an occasional turtle. To get closer to the lake, watch for a trail sign announcing Lake Trail. The trail takes you a few hundred feet along the east side of the lake.

To see more of the preserve, backtrack a short way to the Juan Bautista de Anza Trail. Go left, then turn left again on Arastradero Creek Trail, a broad gravel trail along the creek. You can walk down to Sobey Pond, then turn right and up the hill along Woodrat Trail, or instead, you can take a short cut-off called Acorn Trail. Both of these single-track trails take you up to Meadowlark Trail, climbing to an elevation of about 300 feet along the top of big hilltop meadows with nice views of Santa Clara County. (I had lunch with a view at the top.) This trail forms a loop, taking you back to the Juan Bautista de Anza Trail and your starting point.

After a break at the parking lot, you might enjoy walking up the grassland hill behind the new visitor center (under construction) on the Redtail Loop Trail. The trail is only 1.37 miles long, but it is steep in places. You are rewarded by good views of Stanford, Felt Lake, Palo Alto, San Francisco Bay, and the East Bay hills. This trail is best to walk when itís cool. The trail takes you on a loop through a big, open grassy meadow with absolutely no shade.

In fact, the entire park is relatively short on forest cover, a problem on hot days. On the other hand, the open grasslands and low hills give you unimpeded views of birds and animals. I shared sightings with several birdwatchers. I saw red-winged blackbirds, kestrels, California towhees, coots, jays, and crows. I heard many songbirds. Although I didnít see any red-tailed hawks on Redtail Loop, I wandered into a family of deer, and saw several giant big-eared jackrabbits on Meadowlark Trail, but no coyotes or jackalopes. Mountain lions have been sighted in the park, but the large number of dogs being walked along the trails and the lack of deep cover reduces the danger.

A volunteer group called Acterra (Bay Area Action) is improving the trails, controlling non-native plants, restoring habitat, and conducting environmental education programs. In an attempt to increase the oak population in the preserve, they are planting acorns and caging oak saplings.

Facilities are limited. Until the visitor center is opened, the only bathrooms are portables in the parking lot. A few benches and small picnic tables could add a little comfort without damaging the "natural" quality of the preserve. Nevertheless, Arastradero Preserve is a pleasant place to spend a morning.


The fastest route to the preserve is via Highway 85, then 280 north, left on Page Mill Road, then right on Arastradero Road. After you enter the park, youíll see a parking lot and the new visitor center on the right. A more scenic but slower route is up Skyline, then right on Page Mill, and left on Arastradero Road. For preserve information, call 650-329-2506. The park is open to the public from 8 a.m. to sunset, every day. The preserve is open to hikers, bikers, horses, and leashed dogs. Some trails may be closed after rains or for restoration.


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