Best Foot Forward

Hike to Panoramic Views at Foothills Park in Palo Alto

Recently opened to non-Palo Alto residents, Foothills Park has 15 miles of trail surrounded by misty valleys, tender oak trees, seasonal creeks, a peaceful lake, and beautiful Bay Area vistas.

Unfortunately, too much of a good thing led to too many folks visiting the park at once! So Foothills has had to create new ways to manage crowds, and we can all be part of the solution by planning ahead. The park closes when capacity is reached, so you have to keep apprised of updates, which may come to include a parking fee. Still, if you can go, go respectfully (and be sure to have your face mask!). Here are recommended hikes:

Start at Orchard Glen at the junction of Las Trampas and Wildhorse Valleys, a prime location with trails radiating from the parking area. For a moderately rolling loop through highlights of the park, try the Foothills Highlights Loop, a 3.2-mile hike to Boronda Lake, Vista Hill, and Arbolejo Overlook with views of the Stanford Dish and Hoover Tower. On a clear day, Vista Hill boasts a 180-degree panorama of Mount Tamalpais, Mount Diablo, and the San Francisco Bay. Tiny telescopes encased inside wooden posts provide up-close views. To begin, head south to Wildhorse Valley and hike the Toyon, Woodrat, and Chamise Trails counter-clockwise.

Man hiking a trail overlooking Palo Alto at Foothills Park

If it’s elevation you’re after, head to the Los Trancos Trail, an 8-mile loop with heart-pumping climbs, woodlands, and panoramas below Los Trancos Preserve. While you could hike the whole shebang, it’s possible to take a shortcut and do a 4.8-mile, 1,000-foot-gain loop. For this, head west to Las Trampas Valley and pick up the Los Trancos Trail across from the Interpretive Center. Then, hop on the shortcut—Trappers Fire Road—for 1.3 miles, and climb to 270-degree vistas of the Coast and Diablo Ranges. Reconnect to the Los Trancos Trail, descending eight wooden bridges to Wildhorse Valley. 

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Before you go check for updates on park times and closures and any new systems put in place to manage the park's traffic. Take exit 20 off I-280 to Page Mill Rd., heading south. Drive 2.5 miles to the Foothills Park entrance on your right. Drive through the park, bearing left at the sign for the Interpretive Center, and park at the Orchard Glen Picnic Area. Park hours are 8 a.m. to sunset. No fee. Leashed dogs allowed on weekdays and non-city holidays. Download a trail map on the park’s webpage. Non-motorized, hand-launched boats are allowed in Boronda Lake. Tent camping is available at Towle Camp (May 1 through October 31, reservations required). There are restrooms in the park. Note: Since opening to non-Palo Alto residents, the park has seen high levels of visitation. Arrive near 8 a.m. to get a parking spot.

{Covid-19 Update, January 2021: Some trails are one-way for public safety. The one-way trails are signed in the park and marked on a one-way trail map. Visit the park’s webpage to download the one-way map. Picnic tables and campsites are limited to one household per site. While hiking, maintain 6 feet of distance from those outside your household.}

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