3 mile follows an interpretive guide to earthquakes and the San Andreas
Fault while passing through pretty, quiet woods.
Distance, category, and difficulty:
This 3 mile loop hike is easy. The trailhead is at about 2100 feet.
All trails descend from there (to a low preserve elevation of about 1700
feet) and then climb back to the trailhead. There is one possible medium
length hike, but the other loops are short. The featured hike has a total
elevation gain of about 580 feet.
1 1/2 hours.
Nice any time.
From Interstate 280 in San Mateo County, exit Page Mill Road. Drive west
about 7 miles, and turn right into the preserve. (From the junction of CA
35 and Page Mill Road, the entrance is a little more than 1 mile downhill to
Get driving or public transit directions from Transit and Trails:
GPS Coordinates* for Trailhead:
(* based on Google Earth
data, shown as degrees, minutes, seconds)
Gas, food, and lodging:
Gas, stores, and restaurants at the junction of 84 and 35, or on Alpine
Road, a few miles north on 280. No camping.
No entrance or parking fees. Dirt lot holds about 20 cars, and there's more
parking right across the street in Monte Bello's lot. Pit toilet across
the street at the Monte Bello trailhead. There's one designated handicapped
parking spot, but trails are not well suited to wheelchairs. Maps available
at the information signboard (pick up the Los Trancos, rather than the South
Skyline map, if it's available). Nearest pay phone is about 4.5 miles east
on Page Mill Road, at Foothills Park. There is no direct public transportation
to the preserve.
One trail is open to equestrians and hikers. The others are hiking only.
No bikes. Dogs are not permitted.
The Official Story:
Los Trancos page.
MROSD field office 650-691-1200.
Use AAA's San Francisco Bay Region map to get there.
Tales and Trails, by David Weintraub (order
this book from Amazon.com) has an overview of the preserve, descriptions
of hikes, and simple maps.
Afoot and Afield: San Francisco Bay Area, by David Weintraub
this book from Amazon.com) has a great map and descriptions of a Los
The Trail Center's Trail Map of the Southern Peninsula shows
the Los Trancos trail system.
Peninsula Trails, by Jean Rusmore, has a simple map and trail
this book from Amazon.com).
Tom Taber's The Santa Cruz Mountains Trail Book has a simple
map and preserve description (order
this book from Amazon.com).
of Northern California, by Robin C. Johnson and Dot Lofstrom (order
this book from Amazon.com) has a nice geological description of this
View 69 photos from the
featured hike (June 2000).
View 32 photos from
the featured hike (August 2001).
Go to Bay Area Hiker Home page
in an active earthquake region, there are
few of us who remain unaware of the many bay area faults. Some
people prefer not to dwell on the inevitable risks, but others choose
to learn more about earthquake geology. There are two places in the bay
area with interpretative earthquake trails for hikers, both on the San
Andreas Fault. Point Reyes National Seashore hosts their Earthquake Trail
at the Bear Valley Visitor Center, while the Midpeninsula Regional Open
Space District created the San Andreas Fault Trail at the Los Trancos
Open Space Preserve. Los Trancos' hiking-only trail features 9 stations
and an accompanying brochure, which instruct about sag ponds, benches,
and other earthquake phenomena. This is a small preserve, but you can
combine the easy earthquake circuit with two other loops at Los Trancos,
for hikes from 2 to 3 miles. There's one out-and-back hike via the Page
Mill Trail, but as that trail edges along backyards and Page Mill Road,
that's not a hike I would recommend.
From the trailhead, walk to the west
edge of the parking lot and look for the start of the San Andreas Fault
Trail. The narrow path, open to hikers only, climbs a few feet to
a viewpoint, and station 1 of the earthquake trail. From the vista
you can see south past Monte Bello Open Space Preserve (dominated by Black
Mountain), to Mount Umunhum and Loma Prieta (23 miles away). The San Andreas
Fault divides the American and Pacific Plates here, and the seismic
activity on the fault zone has altered the surrounding landscape.
The sag pond north of the parking lot was created by the 1906 earthquake.
Continue to station 2, near a stone bench with great views east to Mount
Diablo, and north to downtown San Francisco and Mount Tam. Follow the
path downhill through gooseberry and coyote brush, crossing a meadow where
you may see yellow mariposa lily, paintbrush, California poppy, clarkia,
larkspur, owl's clover, and brodiaea blooming in late spring, and then
arrive at an unsigned junction at 0.16 mile. Bear left, and a few
steps later, at a signed junction, continue straight on the San Andreas
Thick foliage lines the path, including young
madrone, blue elderberry, toyon, California coffeeberry, creambush, coyote
brush, poison oak, coast live oak, canyon live oak, California bay, and
ferns. At 0.43 mile, you'll
reach station 3, and a signed junction. Double back to the left on
the Fault Trail.
The deeply shaded trail descends gently through
California bay, oaks, creambush, wood rose, and hazelnut. Station 4 showcases
probably the most famous and photographed feature at Los Trancos, a reproduction
of a fenceline that moved 3 feet to the northwest during the 1906 quake.
After a few more steps, at 0.46 mile, the trail splits at a signed junction.
You can go either direction, but the earthquake tour progresses clockwise.
You may see fairy lanterns nestled close to the
ground in spring. In summer, rosehips add a blast of red to the understory.
Black oaks mingle with the other trees. The San Andreas Fault Trail continues
through to station 9. When you reach the formerly encountered junction,
at 1.13 miles, bear left, and return to the previously encountered
junction with Franciscan Loop Trail at 1.16 miles. Turn left onto Franciscan
The hiking-only trail ducks under a few
large California bays and a handful of huge old oaks, then gently
descends to a signed junction at 1.18 miles. Page Mill Trail sets out
to the right. Continue
left on Franciscan Loop Trail.
Once a meadow has been bisected, Franciscan Loop
Trail enters shade and follows along Los Trancos Creek. You may seen columbine,
woodland star, baneberry, snowberry, honeysuckle, and bluewitch nightshade
languishing beneath oaks and California bay. Hazelnut shrubs are plentiful,
and produce nuts in late spring. Staples for squirrels, you have to look
hard to find the nuts (in fact, if they're still on a branch in early
summer, they probably are not yet ripe). After a short, well-graded descent,
you'll cross a creek (more like a swamp), which is jungle-like in the
summer, on a volunteer-built causeway. Tangles of blackberry, tall poison
hemlock, California coffeberry, snowberry, and elderberry flourish in
the damp spot. At 1.44 miles, Franciscan Loop Trail meets a connector
to Page Mill Trail at a signed junction. Continue straight on Franciscan
Continuing to descend along Los Trancos
Creek, the trail is heavily shaded by California bays and a few big-leaf
maple. A dramatic rock reef makes an unexpected appearance; the trail
passes through the middle of the formation, then meets the connector to
Lost Creek Loop Trail at a signed junction at 1.60 miles. (If you'd like
to shorten this hike, go left, continuing on Franciscan Loop Trail.) Stay
to the right (straight really), and after a few steps, bear right
onto Lost Creek Loop Trail.
This narrow hiking only path cuts through
a tangle of underbrush, then drops down to a boardwalk over a wet area.
In summer, you may find berries on a currant bush off to the right. Upon
reentering the woods, quiet shade prevails. A large shrub of pitcher sage
puts forth blossoms in the spring, accompanied by ferns, poison oak, snakeroot,
hound's tongue, and giant trillium. At 1.80 miles, Lost Creek Loop
Trail meets Page Mill Trail (which connects to Foothill Park, where non-residents of Palo Alto are only permitted to use the Bay Area Ridge Trail segment) at a signed junction. Turn left.
two trails run together, then at 1.90 miles, Page Mill Trail breaks off
to the right. Continue straight on Lost Creek Loop Trail.
Thimbleberries are profligate along the high
banks of the creek, as are seep monkeyflower, ferns, and baneberry, which
has bright red berries in the summer, but unlike edible thimbleberry,
is poisonous. Tanoaks make an appearance, and soon you might notice pine
needles scattered across the trail, indicating the presence of Douglas
firs. The quiet of the woods may be broken solely by birds and the constant
gurgle of water. Lost Creek Loop Trail draws near to Los Trancos Creek,
than runs along the banks for a few feet, leaving the creek to begin an
ascent. The path contours around a hill, then climbs some more. In the
late spring, look for spotted coralroot among downed oak leaves. Some
madrone and big-leaf maple provide color along the trail in fall; maples
color and then shed their leaves, while madrones drop strips of their
bark, and produce large, bright berries
later in winter. Lost Creek Loop Trail ends at a previously encountered
junction at 2.50 miles; turn right onto Franciscan Loop Trail.
The trail drops down to cross Los Trancos
Creek on a bridge, then travels through a small stand of Douglas fir as
it resumes climbing. Overall the grade is easy, although there a few short
steep sections. Soon Franciscan Loop Trail makes a level return to the
chaparral-bordered grassland. You may glimpse more fairy lanterns in the
spring, or clarkia, yarrow, and yellow mariposa lily blossoms that can
persist into early summer. At 2.95 miles, Franciscan Loop Trail ends at
a previously encountered junction. Continue to the right (the unsigned
common path straight ahead ends at the same place), following the sign
back "to Page Mill Parking."
Last hiked: Friday, September 2, 2011
Friday, August 17,