Whether you tramp along the trails, ride your
bike along the roads, or paddle along the shore by kayak, the Palo
Alto Baylands Preserve offers an interesting contrast to our Santa
Cruz Mountains. This 1,940-acre preserve is the largest tract of
undisturbed marshland remaining in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Considered by many to be the best bird-watching
area on the West Coast, the Baylands provide habitat for over 150
species of waterfowl and migrating birds. If you like your birds up
close and personal, visit the concrete-lined duck pond. Once a
swimming pool, the pond is now home for hundreds of resident and
migrating birds. Although signs discourage feeding, the ducks and
gulls encourage people to spread bread upon the waters. A giant
fountain sprays water to prevent stagnation and produce little
If you like your nature more natural, you can
hike over fifteen miles of multi-use trails. Along the way, youíll
find the Lucy Evans Bayland Nature Interpretive Center, wildlife
observation platforms, benches, and picnic facilities.
Itís not all wonderful. The preserve shares the
area with the noisy Palo Alto Airport, a smelly sewage treatment
plant, an unsightly dump, a recycling center, an animal-services
center, and an "unnatural" golf course. Then again, the birds arenít
complaining, so why should we?
One of the more interesting (and shortest) trails
extends on an elevated plank boardwalk from the rear of the Nature
Interpretive Center across a pickleweed marsh to an observation
platform on the edge of the bay. If the tide is high, you may see
endangered clapper rails and salt-marsh harvest mice.
You can also walk out to the Sailing Station
dock. The 160-foot ramp to the dock keeps your feet out of the mud
as you watch shorebirds lunch and small craft launch. This was once
the proud home of the Palo Alto Yacht Harbor. Now, itís too silted
in and shallow for all but kayaks and canoes at high tide.
Although I donít recommend freelance kayaking on
San Francisco Bay, an experienced kayak guide can take you out from
the Sailing Station dock, around Sand Point, and along the shoreline
to Dumbarton Bridge. Although the Bay is big water, it can be
relatively smooth. The big concerns are tide and wind. The channel
out to the Bay is narrow. If you miss the high tide coming back, you
could get stuck on the mud flats. Awaiting the next tide could be
quite uncomfortable. Another problem is the possibility of heavy
winds that could make it difficult to maintain headway or worse. An
experienced guide knows the tides and watches weather conditions,
preventing a pleasant cruise from becoming a frightening adventure.
Our kayak trip launched in heavy fog. Although it
was spooky, the fog added a bit of mystery as we glided up the
channel and out into the bay. As we headed north, the sun broke
through. We stopped for lunch at the pipeline, and then paddled
back. The entire trip was about seven miles long. Although I prefer
kayaking in Elkhorn Slough or smaller reservoirs, such as Lexington
or Loch Lomond, it was an interesting day, especially when combined
with short hikes and bird viewing.
Both our kayak trip and a later bayland hike were
guided by Greg Meyer, a certified kayak instructor, experienced
naturalist, and biology instructor. These nature trips are available
separately through Los Gatos-Saratoga Recreation. For more