Baylands Preserve,
City of Palo Alto,
Santa Clara County
In brief:
5.7 mile loop along the bay, then through an industrial area before returning to more natural low grassy hills.

Distance, category, and difficulty:
This 5.7 mile loop hike is very easy, with about 10 feet in elevation change. Almost all the trails are flat. A few climb and descend gently.

Full sun.

Trail traffic:

Trail surfaces:
Dirt trails and paved sidewalks.

Hiking time:
2 1/2 hours.

Nice any time; good birdwatching in winter.

Getting there:
From US 101 in Santa Clara County, exit Embarcadero. Drive east on Embarcadero about 0.8 mile, then turn left at the T intersection. Drive about 0.3 mile, to the second parking lot on the left, near the Duck Pond.

Get driving or public transit directions from Transit and Trails:

GPS Coordinates* for Trailhead
Latitude 3727'27.16"N
122 6'28.32"W
(* based on Google Earth data, shown as degrees, minutes, seconds)

Gas, food, and lodging
Services available off US 101. No camping.

Trailhead details
No parking or entrance fees. Parking in paved lots, with other parking areas in a few other places throughout the park. Two designated handicapped parking spots in this lot, with good access to trails for folks in wheelchairs. There are portable toilets at this trailhead, and you'll find drinking water and maps at the Interpretive Center (when it's open). There is no direct public transportation to this trailhead.

Preserve is open from 8 a.m. to sunset. Dogs are permitted on leash only (restricted from some areas). Cyclists and hikers share all trails (some paths are restricted to bikes during burrowing owl nesting season). Horses are permitted, but this is not a popular equestrian preserve.

The Official Story
City of Palo Alto's Baylands page
Park office 650-329-2506

Map Choices:
• Use AAA's San Francisco Bay Region map to get there.
Baylands map
Map from Bay Trail website (download the pdf)
South Bay Trails, by Jean Rusmore, Betsy Crowder, and Frances Spangle (order this book from has a simple map and a few hike descriptions.

View photos from this hike.

Go to Bay Area Hiker Home page

If you've spent time in some of the south bay shoreline parks and preserves, Trailheadyou could easily identify Palo Alto's Baylands Preserve as a bayfront park exclusively by the company it keeps. A golf course, sewage treatment plant, dump, and airport neighbor Baylands. Many waterfront parks are situated next to one rather unpleasant property, but Baylands seems to have inherited them all.
     Bayland's golfers, airplanes, and dump trucks can provoke some unorthodox hike choices. The preserve's longest and most logical loop (described below), is a good, bad, and ugly tour through the whole park (and then some), but since the mileage is substantial, it's good choice for runners. If you want to avoid the earmarks of civilization, you may want to take a series of out-and-back treks on San Francisquito Creek and Adobe Creek trails. You can turn back before the airport, or before reaching US 101, and see many birds (and perhaps some jackrabbits) along these trails. If you can bear a 3/4 mile stretch along US 101, you can extend a hike out of Baylands to adjacent Shoreline at Mountain View, for a 5 mile loop. A jackrabbit on San Francisquito Creek TrailA logical place to start this trek is at the Byxbee Park trailhead, although you can also begin on an out-and-back trail from the Duck Pond.
     Start at the north end of the Duck Pond parking lot. A nicely-groomed path departs to the left, heading around the pond, but instead take the unmarked trail to the right. After a few steps a path breaks off to the right. Stay to the left. In spring, tall yellow-tipped mustard plants line the flat dirt trail. The unnamed trail sweeps to the right, following the contour of the waterway on the left. At 0.20 mile, you'll reach the road. Turn left, cross the bridge, at 0.23, turn left again.
     A gate marks the beginning of San Francisquito Creek Trail. At 0.28 mile you'll pass the Interpretive Center on the right. If you need a map, stop in and pick one up. Once past the center the broad trail heads northwest. You might see stilts and avocets in the water to the left. Fennel, dock, and pickleweed are common along the trail. Walking along Embarcadero Road As San Francisquito Trail draws close to Palo Alto Airport, you'll get an up front and personal view of small planes landing, and a sign warns visitors to stay on the trail. A sharp turn to the right routes the trail away from the runway, and San Francisquito Creek Trail adopts a straight course, with the airport to the left, and a waterway on the right. Coyote brush, tree tobacco, mustard, fennel, wild radish, blue elderberry, and poison hemlock line the trail. At 1.09 miles, you'll reach an unmarked T junction. Turn left.
     It's a strange contrast -- planes take off directly overhead and at the same time jackrabbits scatter throughout trailside vegetation. I saw 7 jackrabbits in this area on a May hike. As San Francisquito Creek Trail heads west along its namesake stream, you'll have good views to the Santa Cruz Mountains. Once past the airport, Palo Alto Municipal Golf Course comes into view on the left. At 1.53 miles, you'll reach a signed junction near a footbridge. Turn left, remaining on San Francisquito Creek Trail.Along Bayshore Road, on Renzel Trail
     The trail is paved here, and still flat, as it travels along the creek, with mostly domesticated plants lining the trail. There is some poison oak, and you might also notice eucalyptus, pine, and tree tobacco. San Francisquito Trail seems to end somewhat abruptly, at Baylands Athletic Center. Cross the parking lot and pick up "the trail" again, here a sidewalk along Geng Road. The golf course still sprawls on the left, but soon offices and industrial parks line both sides of the road. At 2.33 miles the trail splits, just before Embacadero Road. In hindsight it appears that the correct route is to stay right, cross Embarcadero Road, then turn left. I crossed Embarcadero in the middle of the block, and although there is a trail marker, strangely there is no crosswalk at the spot. Walk on the sidewalk along Embarcadero to the junction with Faber Place at 2.41 miles, then turn right.
      The walk on Faber Place's sidewalk is brief, and at 2.55 miles, the pavement ends and the paved path picks up again. Renzel Trail drifts south through familiar vegetation, a mix of fennel, wild radish, and coyote brush, with a few shrubs of sagebrush. At 2.68 miles, a path breaks off to the right. Continue straight. As you make progress on the level trail, you'll draw close to US 101 and Bayshore Road. At 2.83 miles, you'll reach an unsigned multi-path junction. Continue straight. Now the path arches right and runs parallel to Bayshore Road, with US 101 just beyond. This is one of the few bay area trails that made me want to take up sprint running. On the left side, there's a pretty jumble of aquatic plants, and you might see ducks and red-winged blackbirds, apparently unfazed by the traffic. Some weedy flowers bloom along here in spring, including chicory and salsify. At 3.31 miles, the torture ends, at a signed junction. Turn left onto Adobe Creek Trail.Adobe Creek Trail
     Matadero Creek is hidden by a wall of vegetation on the right, where you might see a few buckeye and ash trees, as well as poison hemlock, fennel, willow, and coyote brush. The wide gravel trail soon leaves the noise of US 101 behind, and enters an area where wetlands stretch north, and the flood control basin lies to the south. Interpretive signs along the trail explain the Palo Alto Marsh Enhancement Project, and the creatures that live in Baylands, including the salt marsh harvest mouse. Hills rise up on the left -- these are part of the refuse area, landfill that has been shaped and covered with grass. You may see more jackrabbits in this part of the preserve. Mayfield Slough comes into view on the right, and the trail follows the watercourse northeast. At 4.42 miles, you'll reach a junction with the first of the hilltop trails. Continue straight.One of the hilltop trails, with a view east
     Look for birds including ducks and geese in the slough to the right. At 4.64 miles, another trail departs uphill to the left, from a signed junction. Turn left.
     The narrow path is closed to dogs and cyclists April 1 to July during burrowing owl nesting season. Climbing easily, the trail passes a loud fenced industrial something-or-other on the left, then ascends to a plateau. This part of Baylands, also managed by Palo Alto, is called Byxbee Park Hills. There are nice views east. In May, the only diversion in a sea of tall dry grass was two bunches of California poppy.The trail curves right, keeping a level pace. When I hiked here in May I was stopped dead in my tracks by a loud steady hissing. After about 10 seconds, I heard it again. And then again. Certainly not a rattlesnake. Perhaps an escaped mongoose? No, it seemed to be coming from a methane vent, off the trail to the right. At 4.89 miles, you'll reach a signed junction. Continue straight.Marsh Front Trail
     After only a few steps, the trail splits, at 4.92 miles. Although either fork will work, bear left. The trail descends easily, ending at an unsigned junction at 4.97 miles. Turn left.
     The wide flat trail sweeps right, nearing the recycling center. At 5.18 miles, just before the road, the trail veers right. Now you'll walk along the road, passing the sewage treatment plant on the left. At 5.39 miles, at a T junction, a path heads left toward Embarcadero Road. Turn right.
     A few more interpretive panels line the path, along with coyote brush. Before long you'll approach the first Duck Pond parking lot, and the path reaches the road at 5.58 miles. Cross the road, and return back to the trailhead past the Duck Pond.

Total distance: 5.68 miles
Last hiked: Wednesday, May 8, 2002