Go to Matadero Creek to Byxbee Park Tour
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2100 acres along the Bay are part of Palo Alto Baylands Nature Preserve. The area is a complex of manmade and natural features. The manmade features include the Palo Alto Municipal Golf Course, the Palo Alto Airport, the Baylands Athletic Center, the Palo Alto Regional Water Control Plant, and the landfills of the Palo Alto Recycling Center. The natural features include creeks, sloughs, and large areas of freshwater and saltwater marshland rich in wildlife. There is also a duck pond, picnic areas, small boat launching ramp, a nature center, and park built on a former landfill. Here is a map of Baylands and a history of the area. The Baylands are technically the John Fletcher Byxbee Recreation Area, named after the Palo Alto City Engineer who first planned this area in the 1920's and 30's. The park started with the purchase of 40 acres of marshland. Over the years, it was gradually expanded to its present size. Starting in the 1960's, increasing environmental awareness resulted in efforts that have shifted from exploiting the land to restoring wetland environments and turning much of the Baylands into a nature preserve..
Despite being surrounded by developments, the Baylands has become one of the most important natural environments in the Bay Area. It is particularly rich in bird life. It has a large resident population of birds as well as being a major migratory stopover on the Pacific Flyway. Over 150 species of birds can be seen here, including the endangered clapper rail. Noted wildlife photographer B. Moose Peterson has written that the Baylands have "the West Coast's finest bird photography." The Baylands area not only attracts a wide variety of birds, it has many excellent spots for viewing them. Bird watchers, with binoculars, telescopes, and telephoto lenses, flock to the area. The endangered salt marsh harvest mouse also finds a home in the pickleweed marshes here.
The Bay Trail runs around and through the middle of Baylands. The trail begins at the edge of Shoreline at Mountain View Park on the levee between Charleston Slough and Adobe Creek, which is the Marsh Loop of the Bay Trail. The long, wide, curving levee trail eventually touches San Francisco Bay itself and curves to the west. After passing Hooks Island, the trail enters Baylands Nature Preserve in Palo Alto. It crosses over a dam on Matadero Creek. The sailing station boat launching dock is visible on the opposite shore of the channel at the mouth of the former Palo Alto Yacht Harbor. Baylands Nature Preserve surrounds what used to be the Palo Alto Yacht Harbor, now a silted-in mud flat and reed-filled marsh. It's a shelter for tremendous numbers and varieties of birds.
The trail then passes Byxbee Park. Byxbee Park is a unique place, built on hills comprising a former landfill (an active landfill is adjacent). It is a combination of nature and landscape art. The park is sandwiched between Matadero Creek and the marsh next to the former yacht harbor. Paths covered with crushed oyster shells wind up the grass-covered hills. On one side is a field of telephone poles of varying heights, following the hill contours. They are reminiscent of the pier pilings in the bay. Small hillocks resemble Indian shell mounds. A path leads along Matadero Creek, but is currently closed off at the end of the park. Past Byxbee Park, a bike path leads along Embarcadero Road to Palo Alto Airport, Palo Alto Municipal Golf Course, and the Palo Alto Duck Pond. Embarcadero Road ends at a parking lot near the boat launching ramp.
Within the park is the Lucy Evans Nature Interpretive Center. It sits on piers over the edge of the marsh. A long, straight wooden boardwalk extends deep into the marsh towards the Bay. Crossing it are narrow PG&E catwalks, which are fenced off and off-limits. At the end of the boardwalk is an observation platform near the shore of the bay.
Bicycle trails lead around the levees and connect to Embarcadero Road, which hits East Bayshore Road. East Bayshore Road is a frontage road to Hwy 101. Bike lanes are along the sides of the road. You can take this road back to Shoreline Park. A path leads into the northwestern edge of the park. Farther north is the Menlo Park Bay Trail to Bayfront Park and Ravenswood Open Space Preserve.
The tour below begins as a branch off the Shoreline at Mountain View tour. It can be continued from the middle of the Shoreline tour where it meets Adobe Creek. See that page for access instructions. To begin the tour from this point, the closest access point is at the end of San Antonio Road. Take the San Antonio Road exit from US 101 and head north. San Antonio Road ends at Terminal Blvd. Parking is available along Terminal Blvd. Then entrance to Shoreline Park is near the corner of San Antonio Road and Shoreline Blvd. The mileage readings begin from this point.
Another way to reach the Baylands from south of Hwy 101 is to take the
overpass by Oregon Expressway. It is located near the end of Oregon Avenue,
which runs parallel and along the northwest side of Oregon Expressway.
the overpass picture below. It leads to the Bay Trail between Faber
Place and East Bayshore Road.
This tour begins at the branch of the Shoreline Trail, where it meets the T-intersection at Adobe Creek. To get there, head up from the Shoreline at Mountain View entrance at San Antonio Road and Terminal Blvd. On the left side of the trail is a retired sewage treatment facility, the Los Altos Treatment Plant, which operated from 1958 to 1972. Wet marshlands, which were once the plant's drainage ponds, surround the plant. On the right side of the trail and below it is the Coast Casey Forebay. The forebay is part of the flood control system in the area. The waters of the forebay are often filled with water birds.
At 0.1 miles, the trail meets the trail coming up along Adobe Creek from the south. This will be used for the return trip. The trail now runs alongside Adobe Creek, which is on the left. Just ahead is the pumphouse at the corner of the Coast Casey Forebay.
The pumphouse has a drinking fountain and interpretive signs. Portable toilets are nearby. The trail meets a junction. Branching to the right is the trail leading back into Shoreline Park. Continue straight ahead along Adobe Creek.
At 0.2 miles, the paved trail ends and a graded gravel levee trail begins. Head north up the trail.
The wide, smooth dirt levee trail runs along the Palo Alto-Mountain View border between Adobe Creek to the left and Charleston Slough to the right.
Adobe Creek becomes a slough surrounded by salt marshlands. Behind it are Mayfield Slough and the hills of Byxbee Park and the Palo Alto landfill. This area is part of Palo Alto's flood control basin.
Charleston Slough looks like a salt pond, like the Cargill salt ponds to the east of it, but it is open to tidal flow. Pumps and gates regulate the flow through the slough. Water from the slough gets pumped into Shoreline Lake, which then drains into Permanente Creek. The slough was named after George Charleston, who came from Scotland in 1852 and purchased 160 acres of marshland in this area. Charleston Road and Charleston Court also bear his name.
Small islands on the slough provide nesting and resting areas for birds.
This part of the trail is still part of Shoreline at Mountain View Park. Interpretive signs are posted along the way. Benches are spaced periodically on both sides of the trail.
Adobe Creek widens out and runs along the edge of a huge marsh.
This is a rich feeding and resting area for waterbirds of all types. Large flocks of pelicans, the largest of these birds, can be seen here.
At 0.7 miles, the trail curves to the left. Ahead across Charleston Slough is the dam and pump structure that controls the flow of water into the slough. At 0.9 miles, the trail begins to turn back to the right.
At 1.5 miles, the trail passes a closed levee on the right. A sign announces that this is the City of Mountain View's Charleston Slough Restoration Project. It won a Public Works Project of the Year Award in 1999 from the American Public Works Association. Beyond is the tidal dam structure controlling the flow into Charleston Slough. On the other side of the dam is an inlet channel that curves to the left.
The trail makes a sharp turn to the left. It enters the Palo Alto city limits. The Palo Alto Baylands Nature Preserve begins here.
The trail turns to the left and follows the inlet channel to Charleston Slough. The trail surface changes from a firm graded gravel surface to a softer packed dirt surface. This can get soft and rutted in the rainy season.
The inlet channel on the right is surrounded by pickleweed marshes.
At low tide, the muddy banks are exposed, which are probed by shorebirds.
The opposite bank is a triangular point of marshland on the outer edge of the Mountain View Slough salt pond. The waters of the salt pond are visible to the northeast. On the left side of the trail, Adobe Creek is a wide slough.
At 1.7 miles, where the inlet channel ends, there is a small gap in the outer marshlands, which allows the waters of San Francisco Bay to directly wash the shoreline by the trail. On windy days at high tide, small waves from the Bay break along the rocky shoreline. A line of power towers and the catwalk running beneath them cross the gap between the point of land on the right of the Charleston Slough channel and Hooks Island to the west.
At 1.8 miles, Hooks Island appears, and the trail runs next to the channel between the island and the shore. This channel becomes a mudflat at low tide.
At high tide, it's a wide channel. Hooks Island is a small triangular pickleweed marsh, criscrossed by sloughs and channels. It's a protected home for marsh birds and animals.
There is a small seasonal pond on the left. Be careful venturing here,
as the ground can be soft and muddy. There is a path around the south side
of the pond. At 2 miles, this path rejoins the main trail. A wide slough
channel cuts through the marsh to the south. Beyond is the north end of
At 2.3 miles, the trail reaches a tidal dam at the confluence of Adobe Creek, Mayfield Slough, and Matadero Creek. The dam has gates, which regulate the flow of water into the wetlands to the south.
North of the tidal dam are the west end of Hooks Island, the Sailing Station docks, and the mouth of the channel for what used to be the Palo Alto Yacht Harbor. The trail, which becomes a gravel road, crosses over the dam and turns to the left, following Matadero Creek on the right.
On the left is the restored marshland of the former yacht harbor. The yacht harbor opened in 1928, but because of dredging costs and environmental concerns, it was closed in 1986. Large pickleweed marshes cover the southeast part of the harbor basin. At high tide, the northwest side is covered with water and looks navigable, but low tide reveals broad mudflats criscrossed by narrow channels. Now, only shallow-draft boats like canoes and kayaks can ply the waters of the harbor basin.
At 2.5 miles, the trail reaches a gate. Past the gate on the right are the hills of Byxbee Park. The trail branches to the left to follow Matadero Creek. This will be covered in the page on Byxbee Park. Follow the main trail along the yacht harbor basin. At 2.8 miles, there is a restroom and parking lot.
There is a choice of paths: the gravel path along the yacht harbor basin, a paved path next to the parking lot, or the parking lot itself. Take the paved path to the entrance to Byxbee Park. There at 2.9 miles, the trail meets paved Embarcadero Road, which leads to the park entrance and the nearby landfill.
There is a new off-road path that was constructed by the City of Palo Alto
in 1999, with a $50,000 grant from the Coastal Conservancy. The path winds
along the end of the yacht harbor basin and is surfaced with crushed oyster
shells. This is an alternate route to the paved path described below.
There is what looks like a small observation pier on the marsh. On closer inspection, the pier has a steel grate covering a water intake. The water here flows through a pipe at high tide and feeds the saltwater marsh south of the landfill. This saltwater marsh will be seen in the Matadero Creek to Byxbee Park tour page.
Bike lanes are on both sides of Embarcadero Road. A paved bike/pedestrian path runs next to the road on the left side. Cross the road and take this. It runs past the Palo Alto Regional Water Quality Control Plant. The huge rusty brown tanks to the left of the trail are earth filters that filter the air from the plant. The plant processes 20 million gallons of wastewater a day, producing 1.5 millions gallons of reclaimed water for nearby marshes and landscaping.
At 3.1 miles, the road hits the T-intersection by the airport. Cross over to the right side. The road straight ahead does not have bike lanes on the side, but the new oyster shell path along the yacht harbor basin can be taken.
The Sea Scouts Base can be seen ahead. At 3.2 miles, there is a parking lot on the left. Ahead is a bench and drinking fountain. At 3.3 miles, the shell path extends around the building. The base has a history that dates back to 1941, when philanthropist Lucie Stern financed the construction of the base. It is now the home of the Environmental Volunteers and a Nature Center open to the public.
The Sea Scouts building is mounted on pier pilings at the edge of the former harbor. A small boat and anchor capstan are on display outside.
There is a wooden walkway along the harbor side of the base. This walkway can be taken to reach the path on the other side.
Cross the road to the duck pond, which is on the left. The concrete-lined pond was originally a saltwater swimming pool when it was built in the 1930's, but because of siltation problems, it was converted into a bird refuge in 1947. The pond is a home for both resident and migrating birds. Some two dozen species of ducks can be seen here. Feeding the birds is allowed here and is a popular activity for families with small children. It is not allowed elsewhere and can be harmful to the waterfowl.
A fountain sprays water in the middle of the pond. For years, the 8.5 million gallon pond had become stagnant and smelly in the summer until a new pumping system was installed in the mid-1990's.
The pond also serves as a refuge for injured and domesticated waterfowl. On the far side of the pond, there are feeding stations and nesting areas in the large palm and eucalyptus trees and bushes. This area is fenced off.
Paved parking lots are on two ends of the pond. A path runs behind the lake along the edge of the saltwater lagoon next to the airport. There are benches and picnic tables along the lagoon. The back of the bird refuge can be seen through the fence. The path around the south side of the pond is paved. A new oyster-shell footpath runs between the duck pond and the park road.
Just past the pond is a small red-tile roof house with a surrounding garden. This is now serves as a ranger station. Park maps are available in the mailbox by the road.
Next to the ranger station is picnic area with tables, barbecues, drinking water, and trees.
On the right side of the road, the oyster shell path begins again past the clubhouse. There are benches along here, with views of the yacht harbor basin.
At 3.5 miles, the road crosses a bridge over a lagoon channel that leads to the yacht harbor basin. This channel can be a good place for fishing for striped bass and other fish. Pipes go under the bridge carrying water to the channel from the yacht harbor basin. Whirlpools can be seen on both sides of the bridge above the underwater intakes.
Just past the bridge is a large parking lot on the right. The road runs behind the parking lot. Take the gravel path that runs between the parking lot and the north end of the yacht harbor basin. This is a popular place for painters, who can often be seen painting the scenery here. Along the way are benches and portable restrooms.
Across the mouth of the yacht harbor entrance, the Hooks Island channel and the buildings at Moffett Field can be seen.
Across the basin are the hills of Byxbee Park, with the Santa Cruz Mountains in the background..
The trail turns to the left as it runs around the end of yacht harbor basin mouth. The Sailing Station and the channel to the Bay are ahead.
The road ends by the Sailing Station at a large parking lot. In the middle of the parking lot is a sculpture made from concrete dock blocks. The sculpture, called "The Point," by Richard F. Shirley and John M. Kennedy, was dedicated in 1980 "to the beauty and poetry of the Baylands." On it is a plaque with a poem on the Baylands by Tom Walker. The sculpture is a popular climbing structure for children and a shelter for ground squirrels.
At 3.9 miles is the Sailing Station dock. A 180-foot ramp leads out to the dock. The dock has been recently renovated, but it is the last reminder of the Palo Alto Yacht Harbor's nautical past. However, no more can large yachts and sailboats sail into the harbor. The dock is a launching point for small craft, such as canoes, kayaks, and wind surfers.
North of the Sailing Station is the beginning of the catwalk that runs under the power towers that parallel the Bayshore. This catwalk is off-limits to unauthorized personnel and is fenced off. Take either the park road or the gravel path back.
The road runs along the edge of a large pickleweed marsh. This is the Harriet Mundy Marsh, dedicated in 1982, named after the environmental activist who helped to preserve the marshes of the Baylands. It runs from Sand Point, which lies at the edge of the yacht harbor channel on San Francisco Bay, to the Nature Interpretive Center to the west.
At 4.2 miles, the road ends at a gate on a gravel-surfaced levee between the marsh and the lagoon channel. The Lucy Evans Baylands Nature Interpretive Center is here. The center is named after Lucy Evans (1903-1978), known as "Baylands Lucy," who was a teacher, historian, and community activist. For years, she and her friend Harriet Mundy lobbied for preservation of the baylands. The center was built in 1969, suspended above a salt marsh on top of 50 wooden pilings. It was rededicated in memory to Lucy Evans after her death in 1978. A deck runs partway around the outer edge of the center. The center is open on Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 10 am to 5 pm, Thursdays and Fridays from 2 pm to 5 pm, and Saturdays and Sundays from 1 pm to 5 pm.
The center has exhibits on the Bay and wildlife, photographs, an auditorium, films, a computer database on the Bay, books and journals, a nature lab, and weather instruments. Activities such as guided nature walks, dog walks, bike rides, and canoe trips are available. The center is staffed by volunteers. Call to confirm hours and for program information at (415) 329-2506.
A long elevated plank boardwalk leads from the back of the nature center across a pickleweed marsh. At extreme high tides, the boardwalk may be closed. A self-guided nature walk is available for the blind and hearing impaired, which was built as an Eagle Scout Project by Hugh Fox. Braille pads are installed on the railing of the walk. A tape guide can be obtained from the center's office.
The walk crosses over a wet marsh, which attracts wading birds and shorebirds. It then goes over a dense pickleweed and cordgrass marsh, which is home for the endangered clapper rail and salt marsh harvest mouse. They are very shy animals that are rarely seen, except when very high tides force them out of their hiding places among the vegetation.
The boardwalk crosses the path of a long catwalk that runs under the long string of power towers along the edge of the Bay. The catwalk is fenced and off-limits.
A narrow channel runs through the marsh.
At the end of the boardwalk is an observation platform on the edge of the bay.
The waters of the Bay lap against the cordgrass and pickleweed covered shoreline at high tide. Low tide reveals broad mudflats.
Go back to the levee trail and take it to the west. A wet marsh is on the right.
The channel on the left widens out into the lagoon by the airport.
The Palo Alto Airport comes into view. It opened in 1935 after moving from the edge of the Stanford campus.
At 4.5 miles, the trail passes over a channel which is a freshwater outfall from the water treatment plant. The water is clean, but it may have a faint odor of chlorine. The channel leads out to the Bay. The plants along the channel, such as reeds and cattails, are characteristic of freshwater or brackish marshes. The gravel-covered trail runs in a straight line, paralleling the airport runways.
At 5.0 miles, the path reaches the levee bank of San Francisquito Creek. A short path to the right leads to a bench by the mouth of the creek.
Across the creek is another portion of the Palo Alto Baylands Nature Preserve. The levee banks on the opposite side of the creek are off-limits.
Turn left and head down the levee path along the creek that runs by the end of the airport. This is a dirt path and may be muddy in the rainy season.
At 5.1 miles, the path crosses past the end of the runway for the Palo Alto Municipal Airport. The planes take off and land over and close to the trail, so exercise caution here. To watch the planes, it is safest to stand a good distance on either side of the runways, rather than down the middle.
Just past the airport is the beginning of the Palo Alto Municipal Golf Course.
At 5.5 miles, the dirt trail turns into a paved trail just before the bridge to East Palo Alto. On the other side of the bridge is a trail that leads along the inland edge of the north section of the Palo Alto Baylands Nature Preserve, which is actually within the East Palo Alto city limits and in San Mateo County. Beyond that are trails (not currently connected) through Ravenswood Open Space Preserve, to Menlo Park's Bayfront Park, and the Dumbarton Bridge. These areas will be covered in other tours. The trail here is surrounded by shrubs and trees.
At 6.0 miles, the paved trail along San Francisquito Creek ends at the Baylands Athletic Center at 1900 Geng Road. A gravel path along the levee continues to follow the creek until it flows under East Bayshore Road. The Baylands Athletic Center, open in 1969, is a 6-acre park that has 2 lighted ball fields with a 500-seat grandstand, snack bar, restrooms, and parking. Go through the parking lot to the entrance of the athletic center.
From the Baylands Athletic Center, follow Geng Road either on the bike paths on the side of the road or the bike/pedestrian path on the left side of the road. Where Geng road meets Embarcadero road at 6.3 miles, the bike/pedestrian path turns to the left and heads up Embarcadero Road. At the intersection with Faber Place at 6.4 miles, carefully cross the busy road (there are no crosswalks or signals) and head down Faber Place. (The safer crossing is at the signal at the Geng Road-Embarcadero Road intersection. There are bike lanes along Embarcadero Road.) Faber Place runs next to an auto dealer and industrial parks. There are no bike lanes, but traffic is usually light. At the cul-de-sac at the end of Faber Place at 6.6 miles is the entrance to the Bay Trail. Straight ahead are marshlands. In the middle of it is a large array of antennas belonging to an old maritime radio station. The paved trail turns to the right.
The trail turns slightly to the left. Right here, a path joins the trail from the right to 6.7 miles. This path leads out to East Bayshore Road. Across East Bayshore Road and a short distance down to the right is the entrance to the long bike/pedestrian bridge over Highway 101. It ends on Oregon Avenue, a frontage road next to Oregon Expressway.
At 6.9 miles, the trail crosses a road leading to the old radio station. The radio station is fenced off and off-limits.
The trail is a paved, divided path that runs along the edge of East Bayshore Road. There are also bike lanes along East Bayshore Road for bicyclists who wish to go faster and avoid pedestrians.
There is a 15-acre seasonal freshwater marsh here. The water for this marsh comes from the water treatment plant. Started in 1993, a million gallons of treated water a day flows down the marsh and into Matadero Creek to the south via a pipeline. In the summer, the marsh is allowed to dry out to reduce mosquitos and bird diseases.
At 7.3 miles is a sign showing that the 150-acre marsh site is dedicated
to Emily Renzel, who as a member of the Palo Alto City Council and the
San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission, fought for the
preservation and restoration of the marsh. Other signs here warn that the
water is recycled wastewater and should not be used for drinking or human
contact. Even though it is reclaimed water, the quality
approaches, and in some cases exceeds, drinking water standards.
At 7.4 miles, the trail reaches the bridge over Matadero Creek. Just before the bridge is an interpretive sign that explains the Palo Alto Marsh Enchancement Project and how water flows through the area. The Matadero Creek Trail to Byxbee Park tour will begin here.
There is a gravel path that leads downstream along Matadero Creek. This ends up by Byxbee Park and will be covered in that tour.
The path runs by The Palo Alto Municipal Service Center and the Animal Services Center. There is a large metal sculpture on the lawn in front of the service center.
There is an unmarked rock and gravel-covered service road on a levee next to the Animal Services Center. It runs around and behind the two service centers above the wetlands beyond. The road ends back at Matadero Creek. From there, an unmaintained informal dirt path runs along the eucalyptus shaded banks of the creek and rejoins the Bay Trail.
Just past the Animal Services Center at 7.7 miles is a series of ponds that are used for flood control. At the end of the first pond at 7.9 miles is a parking lot on East Bayshore Road.
The ponds provide a habitat for many types of waterfowl and migrating birds.
Across from the parking lot is a dirt-surface levee path that runs northeast between two ponds. The trail runs straight into this marsh area. This is a nesting area for waterfowl in the spring. No dogs are allowed here between 3/15 and 61/15.
The dirt path is surrounded on both sides by ponds rimmed with pickleweed. Beyond the first set of ponds, it crosses an unmarked dirt path that runs parallel to the main road. The cross-path goes behind these ponds. The path to the right heads towards the banks of Adobe Creek. The path to the left goes between ponds behind the city services buildings and ends near Matadero Creek. Cattails and pickleweed line this path. A narrow informal footpath connects to the rock and gravel service road behind the centers. The paths in this area may be muddy in the rainy season. Some areas may be inaccessible.
Past the parking lot of East Bayshore Road is a Bay Trail sign. The Bay Trail soon crosses over Adobe Creek at 8.2 miles. There is a concrete seasonal undercrossing that goes under East Bayshore Road and Hwy 101 to West Bayshore Road. The undercrossing is open from April 15 to October 15. It is dedicated to Benjamin Lefkowitz, a bicycle advocate who has an annual award named after him, given to deserving bicycle advocates. Large carp can often be seen cruising the waters of Adobe Creek around the undercrossing.
The trail turns left to follow along the south band of Adobe Creek. To the right of the trail is an office building. Planted landscaping trees provide shade. The creek banks are lined with reeds, eucalyptus trees, and pampas grass.
The office building ends. Behind its parking lot is the beginning of the marsh area that is part of the retired Los Altos Treatment plant. The trees end, and the creekside becomes more open. At 8.5 miles, the trail meets the Shoreline Trail by the Coast Casey Forebay pump house. The parking lot at the park entrance at Terminal Blvd. is at 8.70 miles.
The tour ends here, but can be continued into Shoreline at Mountain View Park and beyond to the Stevens Creek Trail. Hopefully someday, the Bay Trail will be completed to allow access past Moffett Field to the Sunnyvale Baylands and the San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge at Alviso.
Continue on to tour Byxbee Park, Matadero Creek, and the Emily Renzel Wetlands.
to Bay Trail Guided Photo Tours page
Information and opinions here are the responsibility of the author.