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Palo Alto Baylands Preserve

The Baylands Nature Preserve, said to be the largest salt marsh preserve on the Bay, encompasses nearly 2,000 acres protected for wildlife, including the endangered clapper rail and salt marsh harvest mouse. The preserve contains a duck pond (formerly a saltwater swimming pool); tidal and freshwater marshes; a sailing station for windsurfers and hand-carried, non-motorized boats; and almost...
The Baylands Nature Preserve, said to be the largest salt marsh preserve on the Bay, encompasses nearly 2,000 acres protected for wildlife, including the endangered clapper rail and salt marsh harvest mouse. The preserve contains a duck pond (formerly a saltwater swimming pool); tidal and freshwater marshes; a sailing station for windsurfers and hand-carried, non-motorized boats; and almost 15 miles of trails, all of which have some wheelchair access. Although quite a few of the trails are along roads or in built-up areas, many are close to attractive sloughs where a wide variety of birds can be seen even without binoculars, and some are out in the marshlands, where a flock of sandpipers or a lonely blue heron may be your only company.

Jackrabbits are frequently seen in the restored wildlands above the high-water line, where gray foxes and burrowing owls are said to breed. But within the preserve you'll also find a sewage treatment plant, an airport, and a former landfill for the city of San Francisco, which is now a grassy garbage mountain named the Bixby Art Hill, home to several very understated pieces of public art. Highway 101 is nearby, as is Palo Alto's golf course.

Visitor center: A quarter-mile down the road from the duck pond is the Lucy Evans Baylands Nature Interpretive Center. Inside are displays about the wildlife you might see at the preserve and an ecology laboratory where visitors can prepare their own slides and examine them under microscopes. The microscopes are on a 25-inch-high shelf, but a video microscope that projects slides onto a monitor permits easier viewing. The center also offers videos, nature walks, and a variety of natural history programs for children and adults. On the wooden deck surrounding the nature center, use the low-mounted telescope to zoom in on shorebirds and waterfowl. A long boardwalk extending from the center across Harriet Mundy Marsh is closed for major renovations.

Trail/Pathway Details

Adobe Creek Trail along Mayfield Slough

Trailhead: Parking area closest to the Bixby Art Hill: Go .3 miles to Mayfield Slough and turn right.

Length: 2-4 total miles

Typical Width: 4 ft. & above

Typical Grade: Level

Terrain: Moderately Firm

The hard, fine gravel is not well graded over the entire distance.

Description

For some reason, Adobe Creek Trail has two branches; this one runs south along Mayfield Slough and Matadero Creek all the way to Highway 101, skirting the garbage mountain and providing a view of more Bixby art. It is fairly accessible, but it's not a very interesting walk unless you want to see the hillside art. Depending on the wind, you may smell the landfill or possibly the sewage treatment plant. Benches are provided frequently along the first half-mile, but they are placed down from the trail by the water and so are difficult for people with mobility disabilities to use.

San Francisquito Creek Trail

Trailhead: The sailing station or the nature center

Length: 2-4 total miles

Typical Width: 30 in. to 4 ft.

Typical Grade: Level

Terrain: Moderately Firm

The crushed-rock surface is dusty but firm in dry weather; during the rainy season parts of the trail may become impassable.

Description

From the nature center you can take a 3.2-mile loop beginning on the San Francisquito Creek Trail, which leads out along a levee toward the Palo Alto Airport and the municipal golf course. About .25 miles out, the surface becomes rough and small rocks slow your travel. Three-quarters of a mile farther, near the north end of the airport runway, the air traffic overhead can be startling. The trail climbs a short, moderate incline just before it turns inland along San Francisquito Creek. Past the airport, it intersects with the paved Baylands Bike Trail (still referred to as San Francisquito Creek Trail). Turn left and continue past the golf course for .5 miles to the Baylands Athletic Center.

Duck Pond Loop

Trailhead: Duck pond

Length: Less than .5 mile

Typical Width: 30 in. to 4 ft.

Typical Grade: Level

Terrain: Moderately Firm

Description

This short loop trail around a small pond busy with ducks and geese might be pleasant after a picnic, but for about half the distance it wanders away to overlook a nameless slough that had little bird activity when we visited. Though signs prohibit feeding wildlife, near the pond, ducks and geese approach visitors hopefully. Bird droppings make the area hazardous.

Marsh Front Trail

Trailhead: Any parking area in the preserve

Length: 1-2 total miles

Typical Width: 30 in. to 4 ft.

Typical Grade: Level

Terrain: Moderately Firm

Opposite the duck pond, this trail has a very rough section with a couple of small rises and some soft surfaces. In some places the surface is dirt and likely to be muddy in wet weather.

Description

The trail parallels the north side of Embarcadero Road between Bixby Art Hill and the sailing station for about half a mile, with views across the slough and a pickleweed marsh. Interpretive panels provide information along the way. Traffic on the road is light and slow-moving, and you will never be far from a restroom. The trail has some access problems, including a soft surface in places and some small hills, but a bike lane next to the level road can serve as an alternate route if the trail poses a problem.

Bixby Art Hill Trails

Trailhead: Access points are along the first half-mile of the Adobe Creek Trail and its Mayfield Slough route.

Length: 1-2 total miles

Typical Width: 30 in. to 4 ft.

Typical Grade: Steep

Terrain: Moderately Firm

Description

This maze of trails, artistically surfaced with oyster shells, meanders over the garbage mountain; all are considerably steeper than 1:12 but may be manageable in a good power chair. In addition to the sense of accomplishment if you make it to the top, you can get a closer look at the art pieces installed by landscape architects.

Accessibility Details

The facilities listed below meet all of our access criteria unless otherwise noted.

The most popular lot is at the Adobe Creek trailhead, where the one designated space is very likely to be occupied. Each of the several small lots along Embarcadero Rd. has a van-accessible space, and at the sailing station, a gravel lot has several van-accessible spaces.

Accessible Restroom: Yes

Restrooms with running water are at the nature center (open only when the center is) and Bixby Art Park parking area; porta-potties are at the duck pond and sailing station.

Several tables are by the duck pond; all are near the parking lot on firm grass or dirt, and two have shortened benches to provide integrated seating for at least two wheelchairs each.

Reviewed by Ann Sieck, November 5, 2014

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Trail leading northwest from interpretive center
Trail leading northwest from interpretive center (Dan Hill)

Features icon key

  • bicycling
  • boating
  • hiking
  • picnic
  • wildlife viewing

Additional Information

View Map  
Website: www.cityofpaloalto.org/
Managing Agency: City of Palo Alto
Address: 2500 Embarcadero Rd.
Nearest City: Palo Alto
Phone: (650) 617-3156, (650) 329-2506 (interpretive center)
Hours: Trails: Daily, 8 am-sunset. Interpretive center: Wed.-Thurs., 1-4 pm; Sun., noon-4 pm.
Fees: None
Dogs: On leash
Leashed dogs are allowed, unless signs posted in special bird nesting areas indicate otherwise.
Public Transportation: Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority
Useful Links: Trail map

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