Foothills Nature Preserve
Los Trancos Trail
Neil Wiley

In our March issue, I wrote about the opening of a new-to-the-public park. It was too successful. On some weekends, more than 750 people showed up. Declaring an emergency, the Palo Alto City Council renamed the park a nature preserve, imposed an entrance fee of $6 per vehicle, and restricted capacity by closing the gates when attendance reached 650 visitors or more than 250 vehicles.

This nature preserve is still worth a visit. Just bring a little money, get there early, and visit during the week when other people are working. I did.

On a sunny Tuesday morning at 9 a.m., I drove by several, mostly empty, parking areas. I parked in a small lot next to the closed Interpretive Center, across the road from the only direct entrance to the one-way Los Trancos Trail.

Although I had walked several Foothills’ trails, I saved this one because I knew that walking 7.7 miles and climbing up some long hills could require an all-day effort. I gained confidence when my fitness trainer said that she had enjoyed her hike. (I conveniently forgot that she was a certified trainer who had worked for Open Space and Fire and Rescue.)

I walked over bridge 21, the first of 21 small bridges, and began my trek. The first mile was all uphill, but the grades were moderate, and the single-track trail was smooth and shady. I passed the Sunrise and Steep Hollow trails to the intersection with Trappers Fire Road.

What a beautiful location. It looked like a park, complete with lots of green grass, big oak trees, and a comfortable bench. A short walk up and to the right on Trappers Fire Road revealed a nice scenic view.

I considered turning left on Trappers. The road is a shortcut to the east branch of the Los Trancos Trail loop, but I wanted to follow the trail along Los Trancos Creek.

It was a nice walk down to the creek with some beautiful views, but as I neared the bottom of the canyon, I knew that I would have to pay going back up. What I didn’t expect was that the narrow trail followed a ledge high above the creek. At times, it was a bit sketchy, with small slides and unsure footing. The trail was also going up, too, as it took me upstream.

It wasn’t all bad. I could see and hear water tumbling over big rocks. It would be more interesting when more rain makes bigger waterfalls. I also met a fellow hiker who was sitting in the road. We talked for a few minutes, rested enough, and traveled on in solitude.

Just before the trail left the creek, I found a bench near the water. It was a pleasant place to dine on a peanut butter sandwich and a bottle of Pellegrino.

The climb continued, but trail conditions improved as I passed Pony Tracks Fire Road, Shotgun Fire Road, and Trappers Fire Road. Here at the top of the ridge I saw beautiful views to the east and north while enjoying the comfort of a nice bench. I could see the San Francisco skyline, Stanford’s Hoover Tower and radio telescope, the San Francisco Bay, and the entire San Francisco Peninsula. Just eight more bridges to go.

While enjoying the view, I met a young couple from San Francisco. They were bartenders who had been out of work for more than a year. They fill their time by hiking. They enjoyed the hike, but their little dog was too tired to walk.

The rest of the trail was an easy downhill stroll with occasional views and good footing that allowed me to take longer, faster strides. I went by Costanoan Trail and over a few bridges to the end of the trail in Wildhorse Valley.

A left turn took me by the Orchard Glen parking area and public bathrooms. I walked on through this beautiful valley to the Interpretive Center. From there, I drove up to the highest loop at Vista Point for the best panoramic views in the preserve, then back down to Boronda Lake to see people—mostly young families—enjoying walking, boating, fishing, and watching ducks and geese.

Speaking of children, the Los Trancos Trail is not recommended for them or for those unaccustomed to long walks and climbs up dirt trails, but people of every age or condition can enjoy Foothills Nature Preserve. For more general information, see our March issue, visit one of our websites, or go to

For GPS, you can use the address 11799 Page Mill Road, Los Altos Hills. My GPS and Google directions agreed on a route that takes you off 280 north at El Monte Road (Exit 16), past Foothill College to El Monte, left on Moody, right on Altamont, and left on Page Mill. Watch for the park entrance gate on the right.