The Bay Trail
Neil Wiley

Sheltering in place is getting old. You are either living the life of a hermit or “enjoying” too much family time. It’s hard to get out. Just when you need them the most, beaches, parks, and your favorite outdoor sports are subject to closures. The threat of forest fires has made us distrust the comfort of shady trees.

One antidote is getting out in open space. And nothing is more open than a walk along San Francisco Bay. You are surrounded by nature. It’s as if the world is 90 percent blue sky, lots of water, and a minimum amount of earth and people. You might not want to live there forever, but it feels so good to be in the open.

It reminds me of another time. My sister and I were driving across the Mojave Desert. The temperature was over 100 degrees, and our car didn’t have air conditioning. I said, “There is nothing to see.” She responded, “That is why it is so beautiful.”

That’s it. The Baylands are simply beautiful. As Midpeninsula Regional Open Space’s general manager, Ana Ruiz, says, “With just a short walk along the trail, you can quickly escape the buildings and traffic, and enter a completely different world surrounded by nature, vast open views, and the iconic San Francisco Bay.”

Midpen has made the Bay Trail more accessible with a new 0.6-mile trail that links the more than eighty miles of continuous Bay Trail through seven cities from Menlo Park to Santa Clara, and across the Dumbarton Bridge to the East Bay. You can walk the Baylands network from the Palo Alto Baylands Sailing Station to the Baylands Nature Preserve, and the Lucy Evans Baylands Nature Interpretive Center, further north to the Ravenswood Open Space featuring the Cooley Landing Park, and north again through the Don Edwards Preserve, where you can connect to a bicycle trail across the Dumbarton Bridge.

I began my day at the Palo Alto Baylands Sailing Station. From here, you can launch hand-carted, non-motorized watercraft. There wasn’t much to see, but I did photograph a woman going out through a narrow channel on her paddleboard.

Marlene and I used this same station to kayak with a group paddling up to Dumbarton Bridge and back. We were warned that if you waited until low tide you could be stranded in the marsh. Swimming in the marsh is prohibited. Leopard sharks and bat rays patrol the bay, but you are more likely to get stuck in the mud.

I could have walked the trail to Cooley Landing Park in Ravenswood Open Space Preserve, but it was easier to drive. I drove up Bay Road out to a peninsula called Cooley Landing. It was once a garbage dump, but is now a lovely park with a modern building, short walking trails, picnic tables, educational signage, bathrooms, and an outdoor amphitheater. It was there that I got my best egret pictures.

From there, it was a short walk down Bay Road to the new Midpen Trail. A turn left would have taken me back south to Martin Luther King Park and three miles more to Shoreline at Mountain View Park. A continuing stream of small planes taking off from the Palo Alto Airport disturbed the sounds of nature, so I decided to turn right toward University Avenue and the North Observation Platform.

The first section of the trail was a 0.7-mile paved walkway along the top of a small levee. The new 0.5-mile Bay Trail turned left to University Avenue on a beautiful wooden boardwalk. You could also use this trail to walk or bike across the Dumbarton Bridge. The trail to the right led me to the North Observation Platform.

A separate northern section of the preserve is accessible from another entrance off a frontage road near the Dumbarton Bridge approach. Parking is available. This trail takes you 0.7 miles into the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

You are walking on saved wetlands. Since the 1800s, the San Francisco Bay lost nearly 90 percent of tidal wetlands to farming, landfills, salt production, and development. Midpen contributed to restoration by breaking up old levees to allow bay water to bring life back. Tidal flow flushed out excess salt and filled in depressions with sediment, so that plants could grow. In turn, these environmental improvements encouraged the return of endangered species, such as the salt marsh harvest mouse and Ridgway’s rail.

While on the new trail, I met an inspector who was reporting on Midpen’s work. He said that Midpen was going beyond basic improvements by building small islands covered with pickleweed to shelter these endangered species with a refuge from high tides and predators.

In addition to these residents, millions of birds visit the Baylands marsh. Some come to breed in the summer, others come for mild winter weather. Most visit in the spring or fall during migration.
You may see great and snowy egret, sandpiper, blue heron, pelican, northern harrier, marbled godwit, willet, Ridgway’s rail, green-winged teal, and black-necked stilt.

Mammals include gray fox, non-native red fox, and feral cats. The Cooley Landing Park has a special playground for ground squirrels.
Other marsh residents are yellow shore crab, Atlantic soft-shell clam, and pile worm.

Bay Road into Ravenswood Preserve is an ugly road that takes you through an industrial district, continuing construction, and on rough pavement.
There is virtually no shade in the preserve. I recommend wearing a cap, long sleeves, and sunscreen. Have a face-covering or mask covering nose and mouth.
You won’t need boots. You won’t be walking in mud. Trails are on flat, smooth pavement and wooden boardwalks suitable for pedestrians and bicyclists.
You can use the map from this article, or get one from I didn’t see any maps at the trailhead.

Take Highway 17 north to Highway 85 north. Follow Highway 85 north to Highway 101 north. Get off Highway 101 at exit 403 toward East Palo Alto. Follow signs to East Palo Alto.
Turn right on Donohoe Street, and follow Donohoe Street when it turns left. Turn left on Clark Avenue. Turn right on Bay Road. Follow Bay Road to parking at Cooley Landing Park. You will pass by the Ravenswood trailhead.
Enjoy open space.