Monday, April 1, 2013

Portola Valley: A trail runners paradise

Portola Valley is for trail enthusiasts.
I never fully appreciated how amazing the tiny little town of Portola Valley is until this last weekend. The town, for those unfamiliar, is in the mid peninsula just west of highway 280 sandwiched by Woodside to the north, Los Altos Hills to the south. Atherton, Menlo Park and Palo Alto, or more specifically Stanford, are all a stones throw to the east. This is by all accounts a very tiny town encompassing about 9 square miles with a population of just over 4400 as of 2011. Portola Valley has almost as many miles of trails within its town limits as it has miles of paved roads. No kidding. The two main roads are Alpine Rd running east & west and Portola Rd running north and south. Both have a trail running along side of them and I don't mean the shoulder of the road. I mean a real trail that horses and runners regularly use. Parts of these trails are paved and wide and some sections appear to be nearly brand new. Other sections are narrow, winding single track. Almost every other "neighborhood" road off of these two roads has a single track trail along side it.

Entrance to Coal Creek OSP off Alpine Rd
 The town website has a map of all of these trails and describes the best trail routes for kids to get from the town center to the soccer field and the school etc, etc. As if that weren't enough these trails, which are endless in their own right, connect you to the Stanford Dish, Windy Hill Open Space Preserve, Pearson-Arastradero Preserve, Coal Creek Open Space Preserve, and the Palo Alto Foothills Park. You could live almost anywhere in Portola Valley and step out your front door and run and endless amount of trails connecting one park to another and on and on you could go. I have a route mapped out on my routes page that starts out in the Arastradero Preserve and takes you through Foothills Park, Montebello Park & Rancho San Antonio Park. That's just the tip of the iceberg. I connected Windy Hill & Coal Creek this weekend for 16 miles of awesome trail running. The tiny town of Woodside to the North has trails that run along it's roads. Ditto for Los Altos Hills to south. This makes it possible to add Wunderlich Park and Huddart Park into the mix and all of the back roads around Los Altos Hills and beyond.


Portola Valley trail sign off Alpine Rd
I really like the trails that run west from the Willowbrook Rd/ Alpine Rd intersection. Old Spanish Trail and Toyon Trail are the two main paths running out of this area. Old Spanish is a mix of dirt path and twisty single track. Toyon is a really twisty, super narrow single track with cool little bridges and steep drop offs just 6 inches to the side of the trail. These trails can get you into the Buck Meadows neighborhood development, the Vista Verde neighborhood and the Coal Creek OSP. Very serene ponds are hidden back there and one oak tree that will blow your mind. You'll know it when you see it. Lake Trail is at the end of these two parallel trails. It will drop you down onto Alpine Rd just before it dead ends. A two minute run up Alpine Rd will get you to the Coal Creek OSP. This is a small but beautiful Preserve. Any distance you can imagine can be run. I'm certain you could string together mostly flat runs or monster hill climbs depending on what floats your boat on that particular day. This is what truly makes this area superior to all the others. Marin is the only other place that can offer such a large variety of trails to be strung together but its ALL super hilly, steep and exposed to the blazing sun. Portola has it all and it's shady. Go running on an adventure run exploring the awesomeness of Portola Valley and you'll likely run in to me. I plan to explore every inch of the area all spring & summer.

See you on the Los Trancos Trail,
Jonathan