Ravenswood Open Space Preserve,
Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District,
San Mateo County
In brief:
2.7 mile out and back through marshlands, on the edge of East Palo Alto.

Distance, category, and difficulty:
This 2.7 mile out and back hike is extremely easy, on a perfectly flat trail.

Totally exposed.

Trail traffic:

Trail surfaces:
Wide dirt trail.

Hiking time:
Under an hour.

Nice anytime.

Getting there:
From US 101 in San Mateo County, exit #403 University Avenue. Drive northeast on University about 1 mile, then turn right on Bay Road (look for a post office on the right corner). Drive about 0.6 mile on Bay Road, through the preserve gate, then continue 0.2 mile to the trailhead on the left side of the road.

Get driving or public transit directions from Transit and Trails:

GPS Coordinates* for Trailhead:
Latitude 3728'33.07"N
122 7'26.81"W
(* based on Google Earth data, shown as degrees, minutes, seconds)

Gas, food, and lodging:
Gas, pay phones, stores, and restaurants along University. No camping.

Trailhead details:
Parking for 12 vehicles in a dirt lot (also note the last 0.2 mile of Bay Road is dirt). One designated handicapped parking spot, and the trail, although accessible to wheelchairs, is somewhat overgrown in places. No parking or entrance fees. Maps at the information signboard. No drinking water. One portable toilet on the side of Bay Road. There is no direct public transportation to this trailhead, and the walk from the nearest bus stop is not a safe trip.

No dogs or horses. Preserve is open from dawn to 1/2 hour after dusk.

The Official Story:
MROSD's Ravenswood page
MROSD field office 650-691-1200

Map Choices:
• Use AAA's San Francisco Bay Region map to get there.
Map from MROSD (download the pdf)
Peninsula Tales and Trails, by David Weintraub (order this book from Amazon.com) has an overview of the preserve, descriptions of hikes, and simple maps.
Map from the Bay Trail website
• Peninsula Trails, by Jean Rusmore, Frances Spangle, and Betsy Crowder (order this book from Amazon.com) has a simple map and trail descriptions.

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

View photos from this hike.

Go to Bay Area Hiker Home page

Ravenswood is perched on the edge of East Palo Alto. TrailheadOn the way to the trailhead the neighborhood transitions from scrappy mixed business, to shabby residential, and finally, to downright scary industrial. I'd like to say that when a visitor reaches the entrance gate all the trappings of East Palo Alto's run-down neighborhoods fall away, but unfortunately that's not the case. On my visit there were several abandoned cars right on the outside of the preserve gate, and once inside the preserve industrial businesses loom at the western edge of the property. Since I was on my own, I felt so panicked about this place I made the out-and-back hike nearly at a run.Mudflats
     The preserve consists of two parcels, kept apart by intervening private property. The northern section is a 1/2 mile dead-end trail departing from the side of the Dumbarton Bridge approach. The southern segment is larger, and features a 1.2 mile one-way path. Both are important additions to the Bay Trail, and are links in a nearly continuous shoreline wetland chain running along the southern shores of San Francisco Bay. Ravenswood's main segment, adjacent to the former port of Cooley Landing, is a restored salt pond returning to marshland. It's a good place for birdwatching, but there are parks nearby (Don Edwards, Baylands, and Shoreline at Mountain View) that offer longer hikes with more of a sense of security.Trail through marshland
      From late autumn to spring visitors can scan the marsh for migrating birds, mixed through the year-round populations of avocets, ducks, sandpipers, and other common birds. I love the way the marsh looks after the first few rains of autumn, when fresh green grass contrasts with the magenta blush of pickleweed and salt marsh dodder's electric orange hue.
     Begin at the parking area, and walk back toward East Palo Alto on a paved path running parallel to the road. You may see ducks in the slough on the right. At 0.13 mile the trail bends right, crosses a bridge, and reaches a T junction. Bear left.View east at the shoreline
     At a level grade, the broad paved levee trail, open to hikers and cyclists, passes through smatterings of mustard, fennel, and coyote brush. Initially the trail lingers near the property line on the left, and industrial properties are visible and audible. Small aircraft traffic from nearby Palo Alto Airport is nearly constant. Gradually, the buildings and barbed-wire fences fade away, and a salt marsh stretches to the west. Dock, salt marsh baccharis, and gumplant are joined by pickleweed, sea lavender, New Zealand spinach, and alkali heath as the trail bends right and heads northeast. In the tidal mudflats on the right you might see avocets and other sandpiper-like birds. The trail passes under power lines and draws near to the shoreline. A few plants have wandered from the sides of the trail to grow unchecked through cracks in the pavement. There are views to the Dumbarton Bridge, an old railroad bridge, and the east bay. At 1.34 mile the trail ends at a wooden platform from which you might view birds in the marsh and bay. When ready, retrace your steps back to the trailhead.

Total distance: 2.68 miles
Last hiked: Wednesday, December 11, 2002