Pearson-Arastradero Preserve,
City of Palo Alto,

Santa Clara County
In brief:
3.7 mile loop at a grassland and oak preserve.

Distance, category, and difficulty
This 3.7 mile loop hike is easy, with about 400 feet in elevation change. The elevation at the trailhead is around 300 feet. The preserve's highest point is about 700 feet. Most trails climb on a gradual grade.

A few pockets of shade, otherwise completely exposed.

Trail traffic:

Trail surfaces:
Dirt trails and fire roads.

Hiking time:
1 1/2 hours.

Nice any time; lovely in spring.

Getting there:
From Interstate 280 in Santa Clara County, exit Page Mill Road and drive west about 0.3 mile. Turn right onto Arastradero Road, continue about 0.5 mile, and turn right into the parking lot.

Get driving or public transit directions from Transit and Trails:

GPS Coordinates* for Trailhead:
Latitude 3723'13.74"N
(* based on Google Earth data, shown as degrees, minutes, seconds)

Gas, food, and lodging:
Gas, restaurants, and stores a few miles northwest on Alpine Road. No camping.

Trailhead details:
Dirt parking which fills quickly on weekends. No entrance or parking fees. Toilets, pay phone, and drinking water near the trail entrance. Maps available at the information signboard. Although there is designated handicapped parking, and a wheelchair-accessible portable toilet, this preserve is not wheelchair accessible. There is no direct public transportation to the preserve, but you can walk into the preserve from the Sam Trans stop: visit for details.

The preserve is open from 8 a.m. to sunset. Dogs are permitted, but must be leashed. Most trails are open to cyclists, equestrians, and hikers. A few trails are open to hikers and equestrians only.

The Official Story:
City of Palo Alto's Arastradero page

Map Choices:
• Use AAA's San Francisco Bay Region map to get to the preserve.
Map from City of Palo Alto (download the pdf)
Afoot and Afield: San Francisco Bay Area, by David Weintraub (order this book from has a great map and descriptions of an Arastradero hike.
• The Trail Center's Trail Map of the Southern Peninsula (order this map from is a good guide.
The Santa Cruz Mountains Trail Book, by Tom Taber, has a simple map and preserve description (order this book from
Peninsula Trails, by Jean Rusmore, has a decent map and preserve descriptions (order this book from

Arastradero in a nutshell -- a printable, text-only guide to the featured hike.

From an August 2002 hike
View 27 photos from the featured hike (old routing of Woodrat Trail shown).
View 46 photos from the featured hike  (Acorn shortcut version).
View a few photos of spring at Arastradero.

Go to Bay Area Hiker Home page

Arastradero Preserve lacks the wild drama of open space preserves that hang off the top of the Santa Cruz Mountains a few miles west, Parking lotbut it's pleasant and easy to get to, ranking with Edgewood, Pulgas, Windy Hill, and Wunderlich as the most convenient parks along the 280 corridor. Although most of the trails at Arastradero are multi-use, the small size and location of the preserve make it relatively underused by bikers, but you will probably encounter plenty of joggers, equestrians, and dog walkers.
        Several loop hikes are possible through grassland, oak savannah, and a riparian corridor. Trails can be dishearteningly muddy during the wettest time of year, and some trails are closed seasonally.
        Start at the trailhead and follow the signed Gateway Trail from the parking lot.At 0.14 mile, you'll cross Arastradero Road and enter the preserve on Juan Bautista de Anza Trail (formerly Corte Madera Trail). This broad, multi-use trail runs along Arastradero Creek all the way to the preserve's boundary. In spring, yellow fiddlenecks carpet the meadow near the wooden preserve sign. At 0.25 mile, at a signed junction, Juan Bautista de Anza Trail curves right, while Wild Rye Trail heads to the left and uphill. Stay to the right on Juan Bautista de Anza Trail.Corte Madera Trail in late spring
     You may hear (and see) quail, redwing blackbirds, and cottontail rabbits along this level stretch. Besides the ubiquitous poison oak shrubbery, look for profligate bushes of wild roses (the red hips are dramatic in the fall), tangled blackberry brambles, white common snowberries, monkeyflower, elderberry, willow, coast live oak, coyote brush, and poison hemlock. Deciduous oak trees keep their distance from the trail. Juan Bautista de Anza Trail crosses the creek at a bridge, then meets up with Meadowlark Trail at a signed junction at 0.38 mile. Stay to the left on Juan Bautista de Anza Trail.Corte Madera Trail in spring
The trail climbs just a bit, then dips down toward Arastradero Lake. In spring, you might see blue-eyed grass, tomcat clover, bluedicks, lupines, California poppy, and California buttercup on the sides of the trail. At 0.57 mile, at a signed junction, a bridge veers left of the trail just before the lake. Continue straight on Juan Bautista de Anza Trail.
    Arastradero Lake is partially visible on the left. At 0.61 mile, bear left where the trail splits at a junction near a pump house, now on Arastradero Creek Trail. 
     Much of this small pond is kept at arm's length by thick, healthy stands of cattails and is closed to swimmers, but is open all year for fishing. In the fall, bird sounds drift away from the lake -- they seem to be sitting in some invisible patch of vegetation, as I can rarely see them. Willows flourish in this damp environment, along with monkeyflower, blackberry, snowberry, and gooseberry. Arastradero Lake in late spring
     Although Arastradero Creek Trail runs along the creek, the water is scarcely visible, blocked by thick vegetation, including coast live oak, willow, toyon, and buckeye.The trail climbs a little, but is mostly level. At 1.16 miles, you'll reach a signed junction with the Acorn Trail, which was built in June 2000. (If you'd like to shorten your hike, turn right here, and at the junction with Meadowlark, turn right and follow the remaining directions) Continue on Arastradero Creek Trail.
     At 1.33 miles, Arastradero Creek Trail reaches a signed junction with Woodrat Trail. Turn right. (Woodrat may be closed in wet conditions; if so, retrace your steps back to Acorn Trail.)Spring flowers
     The former route climbed sharply through grassland, but the new trail zigzags easily uphill through poison oak, coyote brush, coast live oak, monkeyflower, snowberry, buckeye, and California bay. Along the shaded stretches you might notice tiny-leaved yerba buena plants. Narrow Woodrat Trail steps out into grassland, and joins the former trail heading uphill to the right. At 1.69 miles you'll reach a T junction (unsigned on my last visit). Turn left.
     The slight path (not shown on the map) winds through grassland, overlooking Bowl Loop Trail at the southwest edge of the preserve. You may be able to make out trails at Windy Hill in the distance. At 1.84 miles you'll reach an unsigned T junction near a massive valley oak. Turn right. Woodrat Trail(You could extend the hike at this point, turning left onto Meadowlark, descending to Woodland Star Trail, then returning to Meadowlark via Bay Laurel Trail.)
     Meadowlark, a broad dirt road open to cyclists, equestrians, and hikers, climbs slightly through grassland. At 1.96 miles, you'll reach a signed junction with Vista Point Trail. Turn left.
     The path passes a picnic table and a string of olive trees, then ascends gently to a bench under a huge valley oak, at 2.06 miles. When ready, retrace your steps back to the previous junction, then turn left, back onto Meadowlark Trail.
      A few steps down the trail you'll reach a signed junction with Woodrat Trail. Continue straight on Meadowlark Trail.
      The trail begins a gentle descent. At 2.7 miles, there's a T junction. Continue to the right on Meadowlark Trail.
      Look for wild radish and mustard along the trail in early spring. At 2.8 miles, Acorn Trail heads downhill to the right. Continue to the left on Meadowlark Trail. A path in the southwest part of the preserve
     Wonderful views to the east, as well as of the soft rolling hills of this preserve, will unfold as you descend on the wide trail. Wildflowers are the main attraction here in spring, with mule ear sunflowers, fiddlenecks, and lupines shading the grass with subtle colors, while fresh, tender oak leaves emerge on the venerable old oaks which dot the grassland. By June the grass is usually dried out, and a few clarkia, California poppies, and pearly everlasting provide a contrast to the honey-colored grass and deep green leaves of the preserve's oaks. The grass begins to green up again as early as December, and thanks to new efforts to eradicate non-native pest plants, the grassland at Arastradero should become even more verdant in coming years. At 3.10 miles, Meadowlark Trail meets Juan Bautista de Anza Trail at a signed junction. Continue straight on Meadowlark Trail.Meadowlark Trail
The fire road shrinks to a footpath. Yellow star thistle has infested the grass and creeps in for your ankles. Look for hawks, kites, and kestrels soaring in the thermals overhead. Pretty swaths of knee-high mustard flourish in early spring. Portola Pastures Trail (formerly Perimeter Trail) meets Meadowlark Trail at 3.30 miles. Turn right, following Meadowlark as it sweeps down to the right and meets Juan Bautista de Anza Trail at a previously encountered junction at 3.39 miles. Turn left at the junction and return to the parking area.

Total distance:  3.76 miles
Last hiked:   Tuesday, March 26, 2013