Stanford Dish Trail Loop
The Stanford Dish Trail is an easy 3.6 mile walk in the hills above the Stanford Campus. This family-friendly walking route has a wide paved path that winds along the rolling hills adjacent to the campus. Motivated walkers and runners can easily turn this into a 5.8-mile trek by also completing the out-and-back portion to Piers Gate.
The Stanford Dish Trail is named after the two radiotelescopes, which can be seen prominently from the high points of the trail. Sometimes the radiotelescope will be moving slowly, and in my mind I always picture groups of scientists in high-tech bunkers puzzling over long equations and bits of code, trying to get the angle of the dish just right.
Although the two “dishes” are prominent features on the trail, there is plenty of time to enjoy the landscape and the sweeping views of Palo Alto and the East Bay hills. On a clear day you can see the entire northern peninsula all the way to San Francisco and the Bay Bridge.
The grassy hills are dotted with Oak trees and the area is home to a wide variety of wildlife. The university’s conservation biology program works to restore the area around the dish by nurturing native plants and grasses, and by protecting the habitats of threatened animals like the California tiger salamander. There are signs of wildlife all over the park, and for such a popular trail there are often wildlife sightings. Coyotes, bobcat, and deer inhabit the land but are often elusive, but the wild turkeys and ground squirrels are much easier to hear and spot. If you want to learn more about the animals and plants that inhabit this area I highly suggest reading Kate Marionchild’s book Secrets of the Oak Woodlands.
Getting to the Stanford Dish Trail
Hikers can access the Dish Trail from three different gates, although only two of these gates have parking areas. This trail guide begins from the gate at the intersection of Stanford Avenue and Junipero Serra Boulevard. I recommend that you start from the Stanford Avenue entrance because this area has the most parking.
The Piers gate is near Interstate 280 on Alpine Road at Piers Lane. The trail from the Piers gate adds about 2.2 miles to the full loop, making this a 5.8-mile hike. The Piers Gate has a small parking area.
The Gerona Gate entrance is the third trailhead. This gate is located on Junipero Serra Boulevard, a short distance from the intersection with Campus Drive. The Gerona Gate entrance does not have a parking area.
Know Before You Go
Dogs are not allowed on the trails.
The Stanford Dish Trail is open from sunrise to sunset. For a monthly list of hours visit Stanford’s website.
There isn’t any water at the trailhead, but there is a water fountain along the trail.
No bathrooms at the trailhead, or anywhere along the trail.
Parking can be a challenge on the weekends and in the early evenings. Be sure to get there early!
Most of the trail is exposed and it can get hot. Bring plenty of water, sunscreen, and a hat.
You can download the GPS tracks for my hike from CalTopo.
Detailed Trail Report for Stanford Dish Trail
The path is now completely paved and there are trail markers about every tenth of a mile. Parking in the area can be challenging on the weekends and in the early evenings during the week.There are three gated entrances. Most visitors use the Stanford Ave. gate, located where Stanford Ave. intersects with Junipero Serra Blvd. Parking is allowed on Stanford Ave., but be sure not to park on the side streets where Stanford residential parking permits are required or you’ll be ticketed. The Gerona gate is near Campus Dr. and Lake Lagunita, but there is no parking. The Alpine gate is near Interstate 280 on Alpine Rd. at Piers Lane. The trail from the Alpine gate intersects with the main loop trail near the big dish and adds about a mile and a half to the full loop.
Starting at the Stanford Gate, at the intersection of Stanford Avenue and Junipero Serra Boulevard, follow the trail as it climbs uphill. When you reach the split in the trail, stay to the left and continue to follow the trail uphill. You’ll get a brief bit of shade as you pass by a grove of Oak trees, and further up the hill you’ll get your first views of Palo Alto and the bay.
After about a half-mile of climbing the trail flattens out and walkers get the first glimpses of the radiotelescopes and sweeping views of rolling hills of Oak Woodlands on either side of the trail. In the spring and winter the hills are bright green and dotted with wildflowers. Continue to follow the paved path as you pass the first dish, and go up and down a short hill before passing the second dish.
As you crest the hill and pass the second dish you’ll see the L10 trailhead marker and a path to your left that leads to the Piers Gate. If you want to extend your hike an extra two miles you can follow this trail to the Piers Gate and back before continuing on the loop.
If you choose to stay on the loop, pass the dish and follow the paved trail along the ridgeline as the trail curves to the right and then starts to go downhill. Check out the view before going downhill to get views of the northern peninsula and San Francisco skyline.
When you reach the Gerona Gate (1 mile from the Dish), stay to the right to continue on the loop. There’s a hidden water fountain about a quarter-mile from the Gerona Gate. Look for a set of stairs and a fence on your left, just past the L18 marker, the water fountain is at the base of the stairs. You can also access the water fountain by taking the driveway near the L18 marker.
From the water fountain it is about a mile back to the Stanford Gate. The trail flattens out and passes by some houses before hooking to the right and going up a brief hill before it meets with the L1 trail marker and the trail to the Stanford Gate. Make a Left at the L1 marker and follow the path downhill and back to the Stanford Gate.
The loop trail has three entrances, but the most popular trailhead is at the intersection of Stanford Ave. and Junipero Serra Blvd. There is street parking available at this trailhead, but no bathrooms or water fountains. See the "Getting There" section above for information on the other trailheads.
This easy to follow, paved loop trail is popular with runners and walkers. Some sections of the trail are steep, but overall it is an easy hike. While you can hike this trail in any direction, I prefer to hike it clockwise so that the bulk of the climbing is at the beginning of the hike. Hikers must stay on the paved path. Starting at the Stanford Gate, follow the trail uphill. Stay to the left when you reach a trail junction and the L1 trail marker. Continue uphill and follow the path as it passes the two radiotelescopes. If you want to extend your hike an additional 2 miles take the trail to the Piers Gate and back (trail junction is at marker L10, just after the large dish). If you are staying on the main loop, continue straight and take in the views as you follow the path along the ridgeline before heading downhill. Stay to the right as you pass the junction with the Gerona Gate (trail marker L17). After another mile make a left at the L1 trail marker and continue downhill back to the Stanford Gate.
- Parking: Street parking is available on Stanford Avenue, but at peak times finding a space can be a challenge.
- Hours: The trail is open daily from sunrise to sunset
- There is a water fountain located on the trail, but there aren't any public restrooms available.
- Fee: No fee
Like all outdoor pursuits, hiking can be dangerous. It is up to you to assess your fitness level and education yourself about any potential dangers. While I try to regularly update these hiking guides, you should always research trail conditions before heading out.
Being prepared means arriving at the trailhead with water and some basic provisions. Each and every time I hit the trail I bring a backpack with more water than I think I need, a small first aid kit, and a snack. I also share my itinerary and plans with friends or family and I carry an InReach so I can summon help if needed. If you want to know what I carry in my pack during day hikes check out my blog post about essential gear for day hikers.
Stay safe, enjoy the trail, and soak up the magic of nature!
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