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
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
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.