a family hiking on a trail wearing face coverings

Know Before You Go

Monte Bello Preserve (Jessica Lucas)

Midpen preserves are getting a lot of love these days. Our rangers report consistently high visitation as people seek safe, local outdoor spaces for the emotional and physical health benefits that time spent in nature provides. To avoid crowding and protect each other and the natural environment, here are tips you should know before you go.

Remember to always check trail conditions and preserve pages before leaving home.

  1. Plan ahead before you leave: Check regulations and weather; download a map; pack water and first aid.
  2. Visit on a weekday: Monday through Thursday are less busy than Fridays and weekends.

    Monte Bello Preserve, by Frank Yien
  3. Arrive early: Arrive before 9 a.m. to enjoy the morning light and maybe spot some wildlife too. Preserves open one-half hour before sunrise, though parking areas with gates that aren’t automatic may not open until staff is available to unlock. Visitation typically declines in the late afternoon.

    Bear Creek Redwoods Preserve, by Rachel Pandipati.
  4. Make a backup plan: Google Maps show how busy places are: search for a preserve and scroll down to the popular time graph. For some of our more popular preserves, this crowd data is provided in real-time. Plan accordingly and have a Plan B — one or two alternate locations ready in case your destination is full.

    Google search screenshot of popular preserve times.
  5. Seek out less popular areas: Less popular does not mean less spectacular. On weekends, many popular preserves are almost always crowded. Try the Skyline Ridge Preserve parking lot on Skyline Boulevard, one mile south of Page Mill Road. If the small lot to the right from the main entrance is full, it is OK to use the large equestrian parking lot to the left. The Horseshoe Loop is a wonderful trail around Horseshoe Lake. It is a pleasant walk, just over a mile long. Ravenswood Preserve is another nice, often breezy, option on the San Francisco Bay in East Palo Alto; its small parking lot is rarely full. As always, regardless of where you go, if you are hiking alone, make sure someone knows where you are heading and when you expect to return.

    Horseshoe Lake, Skyline Ridge Preserve, by Ray Cowan.
  6. Reserve a permit: A few Midpen trailheads require permits for parking, and those tend to be less crowded on weekdays. Permits can be reserved at openspace.org/permits. While you’re there, consider really leaving the crowd behind with a weekday overnight stay at the Black Mountain Backpack Camp. It is a great way to experience Monte Bello Preserve after daytime visitors return home.
  7. Recreate responsibly: In addition to social distancing and wearing face coverings, play it safe by choosing low-impact activities, going slow and staying within your limits. We’re seeing an increase in injuries and emergencies like cardiac arrest on the trails. Remember, the farther you go, the longer it will take emergency responders to reach you.
  8. Travel lightly: Find trails close to home, and leave no trace by packing out everything that you bring in. Pack out what you pack in. Remember, there are no trash cans in Midpen preserves. Leave nature as you found it.
  9. Welcome others on the trail: Treat people of all identities and abilities with kindness and respect.

We wish you a wonderful journey on the trail less traveled. Share your experiences with us by tagging @MidpenOpenSpace on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.

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