Ron Horii's Bay Area Back Pages - Bay Area Biking
Sunnyvale Baylands
Marsh at Sunnyvale Baylands
Marsh at Sunnyvale Baylands, Twin Creeks Sports Center in background

The shoreline of San Francisco Bay includes some of the richest wetlands in the state. There's an incredible variety of life along the shores. The biological productivity of these lands exceeds that of the most productive farmlands. These are fragile and delicate environments. Ironically, they have been some of the most manipulated, abuseds and exploited lands in the area. Marshes were filled in for building construction. Feeder streams were dammed, diked, and channeled. Tidelands were surrounded by levees to form salt evaporation ponds. Sewage from the cities was dumped into the bay. Mountains of trash piled up along the shores of the bay.  The southwest shoreline of San Francisco Bay, from Sunnyvale to Palo Alto, is no exception. Here you find landfills, sewage treatment plants, salt ponds, storm channels, and a huge defense/aerospace complex. However in recent years, efforts have been made to restore and rehabilitate some of these areas and provide public access. Landscaped parks have been built on top of former landfills. Salt ponds and sloughs have bccome wildlife refuges. Levee tops have become multi-use trails. The Bay Trail runs through this region, though not continuously yet.

This is a great area for biking. The trails range from paved city park trails, often crowded with skaters, walkers, and baby strollers, to lonely dirt levee trails, passing between shorebird-covered sloughs. There's a mosaic of ponds and sloughs out here, surrounded by a maze of levee trails. Some of the levee trails are well-marked as public trails. Some are fenced-off private property posted with "No Trespassing" signs. Others are somewhat ambiguous. Some public trails aren't clearly marked. Others may not be officially public trails, but they aren't fenced off or posted. You really have to be careful around Lockheed and Moffett field. These are private defense industry and federal lands patrolled by armed security forces. If in doubt, stick to the trails that have benches, trash cans, and interpretive signs. Just remember that there's no cover out here. If you're out where you don't belong, people can see you for miles.

Bay Trail to Baylands Park
Bay Trail from Alviso to Sunnyvale Baylands

The Sunnyvale shoreline starts west of Alviso.  A bike path, part of the Bay Trail, leads to it from Alviso, paralleling the north side of Hwy 237. To get to it from Alviso, if you happen to be biking around the Alviso Slough, take Gold Street south, then turn right on Great America Parkway. The bike path leads off to the right, just before the freeway.

Marsh near Bay Trail, 3com
Marsh and pond near Baylands Park, 3Com, Bay Trail, Hwy 237 in background
The path crosses over San Tomas Aquino Creek, which eventually turns into the Guadalupe Slough. (No, the Guadalupe River doesn't flow into Guadalupe Slough. It has flowed into the Alviso Slough since it was realigned around the turn of the century.) The headwaters of San Tomas Aquino Creek are in the Saratoga Creek watershed along Hwy 9 and in Sanborn Skyline County Park. Farther along the bike trail is a bridge over another creek - Calabazas Creek. It also flows into Guadalupe Slough, and its headwaters are also in the mountains above Saratoga. There are trails along the sides of these creeks that lead out around a large pond and next to a reed-filled marsh. There are also trails leading up the creeks, past houses and high-tech companies. The legal access status of the trails along these creeks falls into the "ambiguous" category. Watch for the signs. West of Calabazas Creek west are the marshlands (not accessible) belonging to Sunnyvale Baylands Park.
Sunnyvale Baylands park and playground Sunnyvale Baylands lawn
Sunnyvale Baylands Park, lawn and playground Lawn at Baylands, marsh in background

The paved bike trail eventually runs into the end of the parking lot of Sunnyvale Baylands Park. It's located at the end of Lawrence Expressway where it turns into Caribbean Drive, next to Hwy 237. The park has 70 acres of developed parkland and 105 acres of wetland preserves.

Bayland Grove Bayland Boardwalk
Bayland Grove entrance Boardwalk over marsh at Baylands
The park has playgrounds, picnic areas, grassy playing fields, and bicycle trails. There are boardwalks and observation platforms over and near the wetlands. The strong afternoon bay breezes here make it good for kite flying. Here is park map.

Next to the park is the Twin Creeks Sports Complex, a huge softball park, which justifiably claims to be the "world's finest softball complex." The Bay Trail runs through part of Baylands Park. (Here is a map of the baylands and Bay Trail from Shoreline at Mountain View to Alviso.) Proposed trails will link it to the trails at Shoreline at Mountain View to the west. Currently, trails along Lockheed and Moffett Field properties are off-limits, so there is no continuous off-road trail route between Shoreline at Mountain View and Sunnyvale Baylands, at least not legally. There are levees that run around the salt ponds in these areas. The outer salt ponds are private lands that are used by duck hunters. They aren't fenced off, so it is possible to access them, particularly at the end of the Stevens Creek Trail on the east side of the creek. The levee trails lead out to San Francisco Bay and the banks of the Guadalupe Slough. People do come out here, but don't say I told you it was legal. Other proposed trails will link the Bay Trail at Sunnyvale Baylands to Alviso to the east.

From Sunnyvale Baylands, travel north along 6-lane (but no bicycle path) Caribbean Drive. Just past the Twin Creeks Sports Complex is a small creek with trails along both banks. They fall into the ambiguous category, access-wise. There is a "No Trespassing" water district sign next to a park sign that says "wildlife area, dogs must be on leash." There's a gate with a bicycle/pedestrian opening on the north side and (when I went by it at least), an open gate on the south side. If you take the trail along the south bank (hypothetically speaking), you would follow along the back side of Twin Creeks and would eventually come to a new steel pedestrian bridge over the channel. This appears to be part of the proposed route of the Bay Trail. A levee trail along the other side runs around a Cargill Salt Company pond. (Here is a map and description of the ponds in this area and their accessibility.)

Pond at Sunnyvale Bayland Ponds by Lockheed, Sunnyvale
Sunnyvale Water Treatment Plant ponds Ponds and channels near Lockheed

The little creek next to Twin Creeks forms the east boundary of the Sunnyvale landfill. The landfill is still in use, but the lands are part of Sunnyvale Baylands Park. Parts of the landfill have been capped and are accessible by trail. A little ways past the creek along Caribbean Drive is a signed opening in the fence, leading to a gravel path that climbs up to the top of one of the landfill hills, one of the highest points in the area. You get a good view of the salt ponds and bay from here. Unfortunately, you get a good whiff of the nearby sewage treatment plant as well. The path drops swiftly down the hill to the corner of Caribbean Drive and Borregas Avenue. The latter leads to the entrance to the landfill and recycling center on the right, and the sewage treatment and water reclamation plant to the left. If you go to the left and cross over the creek, you'll come to one of the officially accessible areas. Two of the ponds here belong to the Sunnyvale water treatment plant. The trail around them is part of the Bay Trail. The retired landfill hill to the north of the creek has gravel paths leading up and around them. These provide great views of the area (and better-smelling than the hill to the south). From here you can see many of the salt ponds, including the off-limits areas near Lockheed and Moffett Field. A path leads around the north edge of the hill and comes out where Caribbean Drive Curves to the south. Across the marsh is Lockheed property. A proposed addition to the Bay Trail will follow along the Moffett Field Drainage Ditch past Lockheed and Moffett Field. It's not there yet, so to get to the next bayshore area, at least legally, you have to go past Moffett Field to Shoreline at Mountain View.

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Ron Horii, San Jose
Created 11/27/98