This autumn, we discovered a wonderful multi-use off-street path: Palo Alto–Los Altos Bike and Pedestrian Path, also known as Hetch Hetchy Trail. It is about 0.5 mile long, located right next to Henry M. Gunn High School (Gunn High), connecting from Los Altos Avenue to Arastradero Road. After crossing to the high school, we continued on a path along the east side of the campus for 0.5 mile to reach another off-street path: Bol Park Bike Path, about one mile on the west side of the campus, where we encountered Barron Park Donkeys. It’s so interesting to learn about the local history and explore several parks along the way, including Terman Park and Bol Park. 

This pathway is included in Gunn High’s Walk and Roll to School Suggested Routes, with many local residents nearby using this path to exercise and relax. We highly recommend you to try out this path and pay a visit to these adorable creatures, as one of them was the model for the donkey in the 2001 movie Shrek.

Hetch Hetchy Trail

This trail is on the Right of Way (ROW) of land owned by the San Francisco Public Utility Commission (SFPUC), which manages the Hetch Hetchy Regional Water System. That system serves 3 million people in the Bay Area and has licensed this ROW to the City of Palo Alto as a trail. 

The trail is well-maintained with clean paths, clear signs, and beautiful surroundings. It even has a mini library that was converted from an old phone booth stand. The walk-score site ranks this trail a walk score of 71 and a bike score of 86, suggesting “most errands can be accomplished on foot and biking is convenient for most trips.”

It’s so interesting to read how the city council and walk-bike community worked together to build this trail back to the 1970s. Los Altos Town Crier, April 2001: “Biking has long history in Los Altos”. 

” In 1975, residents were still debating the feasibility of adding a bike path and this debate was the subject of many city council meetings. Mayor Ruth Koehler and Councilman Lee Toole favored providing bike lanes along the expressway from Arastradero Road to Edith Avenue and along frontage roads from Edith to Vineyard. Audrey Fisher voted against the bike lanes, contending that cycling was never going to be safe unless cyclists would obey the traffic laws. She added that there were more bicycle violations than motor violations in Los Altos!

In March 1975, bicyclists and pedestrians commuting between Los Altos and Palo Alto could travel via a safe and scenic route on the Hetch Hetchy right-of-way connecting the two cities at Los Altos Avenue to Arastradero Road in Palo Alto. Use of the route was made possible by the completion of a bridge over Adobe Creek…Bicycling was growing in popularity by then…”

Currently, several projects are in the works by the City of Los Altos, including a crossing ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) improvement proposed in July 2022  and vegetation management plans updated in Feb 2023.

Terman Park

The park is located along the north side of Hetch Hetchy Trail, providing 7.7 acres of open space for soccer and softball and several courts for tennis and basketball. It’s named after Lewis M. Terman (1877-1956), a Stanford University psychology professor who studied intelligence in children and introduced the term intelligence quotient (IQ). His son, Frederick Terman, a Stanford engineering professor, was mentor to David Packard and William Hewlett. Dr. Frederick Terman was considered by many to be “the Father of Silicon Valley”.

Barron Park Donkeys

At the northwest corner outside of Gunn High campus, you will notice a small donkey pasture with several names hanging on a gate. These donkeys have been receiving a lot of care and support from volunteers in the neighborhood. During our visit, we met a volunteer who bikes to take care of the donkeys weekly. The donkey standing near the volunteer in the photo is the famous miniature donkey named Perry who modeled the donkey character for the movie Shrek. This volunteer shared so many interesting stories and also pointed us to spot a beautiful artwork on an oak tree in Bol Park. On Sundays, donkeys are led by volunteers to stroll to Bol Park from 10am to 11am, and visitors can watch donkeys enjoying their dinner around 5pm at the gate. You can find out all about Barron Park Donkeys here.

Bol Park

Continuing northwest on the path, you will reach Bol Park, 13.8 acres of meadows with beautiful scenery of redwoods, oaks, Barron Creek, and a native plant garden. It’s named after Dr. Cornelis Bol, the original owner of the donkey pasture. Dr. Bol was a physicist at Stanford and he purchased a donkey in 1934 to keep his boys occupied. In the 1970s, a large piece of the Bol property was purchased by the city of Palo Alto to build a park, and the donkey pasture was preserved by a real estate developer whose 4-year-old had become fond of the donkeys. 

Watch out for little frogs from Barron Creek when you bike!

Have you got inspired by the stories of Hetch Hetchy Trail and Barron Creek Donkeys? Wish you a memorable visit to the donkeys and enjoy walking and biking on this beautiful trail!