Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge - Fremont

Part 1 - Tidelands Trail and Visitor Center


Trail Description and Views
Tidelands Trail
Visitor Center

Links to Guided Photo Tours of Nearby Areas

Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge Part 2 - Newark Slough Trail and LaRiviere Marsh
Coyote Hills Part 1 - Apay Way to SF Bay
Coyote Hills Part 2 - Hills, Marshes, and Trails
Alameda Creek Trail - Coyote Hills to I-880
Dumbarton Bridge
Coyote Creek Lagoon
Alviso: Mallard Slough and Environmental Education Center
Alviso: Town and Slough Tour
Return to Bay Trail Guided Photo Tours page


Just south of the east end of the Dumbarton Bridge approach is one of the true gems along the Bay Trail. This is the headquarters for the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge, which covers 25,902 acres around the edges of the South Bay from Redwood City to Fremont. Spanning 12 cities and 3 counties, it is the largest urban wildlife refuge in the country. The Refuge was named after retired Congressman Don Edwards, who introduced the legislation that established the Refuge. It was founded in 1972, after lobbying efforts by the grassroots South San Francisco Baylands Planning, Conservation, and National Wildlife Refuge Committee. At the time, it was the first refuge of its kind in the country to be established in an urban area. By 1979, the Refuge had acquired 18,000 acres of land, of which 15,000 were obtained from the Leslie Salt Company (now the Cargill Company).  In the 1980's, thanks to the efforts of the Citizen's Committee to Complete the Refuge, headed by Florence and Philip LaRiviere, Congress authorized expanding the Refuge to 43,000 acres. It celebrated its silver anniversary in 1997. It receives over 350,000 visitors a year, with more than 10,000 using its educational programs. It is administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Its purpose is to "preserve and enhance significant wildlife habitat in South San Francisco Bay; to protect endangered and threatened species; to protect migratory birds; and to provide opportunities for wildlife-oriented recreation and nature study." (See here for a history of the Refuge.)

As the name implies, the Refuge protects a huge variety of wildlife. Most visible are the birds. The ponds, sloughs, and marshes are homes and feeding grounds for water birds like herons, seagulls, avocets, stilts, plovers, sandpipers, ducks, geese, etc. The pickleweed marshes are homes to endangered species, particularly the reclusive salt marsh harvest mouse and the California clapper rail. Raptors, such as harriers and turkey vultures, soar overhead. Mammals such as jackrabbits and foxes, inhabit the upland areas. Fish inhabit the sloughs and Bay. The Dumbarton Pier is a popular fishing spot for rays, leopards sharks, white sturgeon, striped bass, and  shiner surfperch. Waterfowl hunting is allowed during hunting season in the more remote parts of the Refuge. (See here for more information on San Francisco Bay wildlife.)

The headquarters and visitor center for the Refuge is in Fremont, west of Newark, south of Hwy 84. The building is an impressive multi-story wooden structure built on the side of a rocky hill. It provides panoramic views of marshlands to the east and salt ponds, sloughs, and the Bay to the west. Outside are viewing platforms with interpretive signs. Inside are exhibits on the wildlife, ecology, and history of the area. There's also a bookstore, auditorium, restrooms, and an observation deck.

The most popular trail in the Refuge is the Tidelands Trail. The Tidelands Trail starts from the visitor center and climbs up to the top of the hill that the center sits on. At the top is an overlook with views of the whole area. To the east, you can see the LaRiviere Marsh at the foot of the hill. Farther east, you can see civilization lapping at the shores of the marsh, as new industries and homes spread from Fremont and Newark towards the Bay. The Diablo Mountain Range, capped by Mission Peak and its neighbors, forms a backdrop to the east. On clear days, you can get sweeping view around the Bay from Alviso to Mountain View to San Francisco and to the Coyote Hills to the north. You get a good vantage point to see the sloughs, salt ponds, and trails in the area. The trail leads down the hill. At the bottom, you can take the fork to the left to go to paved Marshlands Road. If you continue straight at the junction, the trail loops back and follows along the base of the hill on the north bank of Newark Slough.

The Newark Slough Trail and the LaRiviere Marsh are covered in Part 2.

See here for more information on the Refuge.

Access Information

(Click the thumbnail for a bigger picture of the map of the entire Refuge in the South Bay.)

See here for a map and directions to the Refuge. Directions to the Refuge headquarters and visitor center in Fremont: From Highway 84 (at the east end of the Dumbarton Bridge), exit at Thornton Avenue. Travel south on Thornton Avenue for 0.8 miles to the Refuge entrance on the right. Turn right into the Refuge and follow Marshlands Road to the stop sign. Turn left into the main parking lot. The address is 9800 Thornton Ave., Fremont, CA.

The Bay Trail route through the Refuge runs along Marshlands Road from the Dumbarton Bridge to Thornton Avenue. (See here for a map.) Marshlands Road is the main road for the Refuge, leading to the visitor center from Thornton Avenue. It also leads west from the visitor center for 3 miles, paralleling Hwy 84, and ends up at a fishing pier. The road was once the access road for the old Dumbarton Bridge, which is now the Dumbarton Fishing Pier. The segment of the road from the Refuge parking lot to the pier is closed to automobile traffic (but open to bicycle and pedestrian traffic) from April 1 to August 31 every year to protect nesting nesting snowy plovers, whose chicks sometimes wander onto the road. There is a shuttle that takes fishermen from the parking lot to the pier when the road is closed.

(Click on the thumbnail for a bigger picture of Marshlands Road, leading to the fishing pier.

The Dumbarton Bridge has a pedestrian and bicycle lane on it that connects to the Bay Trail on the Peninsula. It is possible to start at Menlo Park's Bayfront Park and take the Bay Trail over the Dumbarton Bridge to the Refuge. (See the Dumbarton Bridge tour for more on Marshlands Road and the Dumbarton Bridge route.) When the Ravenswood links are completed, it will be possible to take the Bay Trail from the Stevens Creek Trail, through Shoreline at Mountain View Park, the Palo Alto Baylands, Ravenswood Open Space Preserve, then over the Dumbarton Bridge to the Refuge, almost entirely on off-road trails (see the map for this area).

Near the Refuge parking lot on Marshlands Road is a foot and bike path, the Quarry Trail, that leads to the pedestrian overpass over the Dumbarton Bridge toll plaza. This is part of the official Bay Trail route and leads north to the Apay Way Trail in Coyote Hills Regional Park. The Bay Trail runs along the base of the Coyote Hills to Alameda Creek, where it follows the Alameda Creek Trail to the Bay. The Alameda Creek Trail runs inland through Fremont, Hayward, and Union City, all the way to Niles Canyon. It also intersects some of the Union City Recreational Trails. Thus, it is possible for residents in these heavily urbanized areas to reach the Refuge entirely on these off-road trails.

Quarry Trail to Coyote Hills Regional Park

Pedestrian/bicycle over-crossing of Hwy 84 over the Dumbarton Bridge toll plaza.

Trail Description and Views

Click on the following pictures to see a larger version. The pictures were taken on different days and in different seasons over a period of several years. Note that the mileage readings below were taken from a bicycle odometer. Your mileage may vary. Trail conditions and accessibility are subject to change.

Tidelands Trail

This trail route starts at the entrance to the refuge at Thornton Avenue and Marshlands Road. Follow Marshlands Road.

Bike lanes are along the sides of the road.

Just past the entrance is the parking lot for the boat launch. Unlike the parking lots further inside the Refuge, this one is not gated so is never locked. The boat launch area provides access to the Newark Slough. Hunting for waterfowl is allowed in certain parts of the Refuge during the fall and winter. The hunting areas are only accessible by boat, so many hunters launch their boats here.

At 0.13 miles, there is a levee gate on the right side leading into LaRiviere Marsh. Just beyond is the entry gate to the Refuge. Watch for closing hours.

At 0.26 miles is the main entrance to the LaRiviere Marsh, which will be covered in its own section. Just beyond that is the bridge over the slough that feeds and drains the marsh.

The road turns right to parallel the slough.

On the left side is the entrance to the Harrier Trail.

At 0.58 miles is the entrance to the main parking lot for the Refuge. On the hill is the headquarters and visitor center building.

Go uphill to the visitor center. There are stairs and a steep service road leading to the center. Bicycles should take the service road. On the way up, a path leads down the hill to the right to reach the Newark Slough Learning Center. This will be seen later in the tour. At 0.70 miles, you reach the visitor center. The visitor center is covered separately below.

  In front of the entrance to the visitor center is an observation area. This provides an excellent viewpoint of the Bay. There are benches, interpretive signs, binoculars, and bike racks here. To the northwest, you can see Hwy 84, the Coyote Hills, salt ponds, the Dumbarton Bridge, and the Bay. Below, you can see the complex of sloughs and levees below the hill. The wooden bridge seen below crosses the Newark Slough and leads to the Newark Slough Trail.

West of the observation point, you can see the Newark Slough below and the salt ponds beyond.

Continue up the hill past the visitor center. The hillsides are covered with grass and wildflowers in the springtime (picture taken in March). On top of the hill ahead is an observation platform.

Below the hill, you can see the Newark Slough and another bridge crossing it.

Just below the summit of the hill at 0.80 miles, there's a bench and a side trail.

Take the path to the top of the hill. At the summit at 0.85 miles is a picnic table under a tree.

A short path leads up to the observation platform.

This is a view from the viewing platform, looking towards the northwest (picture taken in February).

To the west, beyond the Newark Slough, the huge salt pond is a maze of winding channels through the drying white sheets of salt (picture taken in November).

This is a view looking back down the trail from the top of the hill. You can see the sloping roof of the visitor center.

This is a view looking down the steep valley just east of the visitor center. You can see the Refuge parking lot below and the Coyote Hills beyond.

The trail drops below the summit of the hill. On the west side of the trail is a flat area at the edge of a cliff at 0.89 miles, protected by a fence. This is a good spot for observing the LaRiviere Marsh and the lands to the east of the hills. This will be seen later in the section on the marsh.

Beyond the hill, you can see the Newark Slough curving to the east. Past that is a large salt pond, which is part of the Refuge. The line near the horizon is the Hetch Hetchy pipeline, which runs east-to-west through a tidal wetland, then crosses the Bay.

Looking south on the west side of the hill, you can see the Tidelands Trail at the base of the hill and the broad marsh between the hill and the Newark Slough.

This is a view overlooking the Newark Slough and the bridge over it. This picture was taken in September. Note how much the water in the salt pond has crystallized into salt.

This is a view looking back towards the northwest below the rocky hillside.

At 1.02 miles, the trail leads down the east side of the hill.

At the bottom of the trail, at the edge of a salt marsh are picnic tables.

This is a view looking back up the slough that drains the LaRiviere Marsh. At 1.09 miles, the Harrier Trail runs from here along the base of the hills to Marshlands Road, whose bridge can be seen ahead.

There is a wide channel in this salt marsh. It drains into the Newark Slough. The channel drains a huge marsh area, so it flows like a river during the changes of the tides. The trail turns to the right at the picnic tables at 1.14 miles. A sign indicates you have reached the halfway point on the trail.

  Just ahead at 1.16 miles, the Tidelands Spur Trail branches off to the left to follow the slough. Take this side trail. Along the way is a bench.

At 1.23 miles, the spur trail ends at the edge of the slough. To the right, the slough joins the Newark Slough. Backtrack to the Tidelands Trail, which you reach again at 1.29 miles.

Turn left at the junction and follow the Tidelands Trail as it ascends slightly up the base of the hill.

On the hill to the right is an unusual sight - a stand of towering century plants on top of a rocky outcropping. These are exotic non-natives that were probably planted by previous residents of the area.

At 1.35 miles is a viewing platform. Interpretive signs talk about transportation on the Bay.

The trail continues around the end of the hill. These are views looking back.

At 1.40 miles, where the trail rounds a corner, a bench sits on the edge of the trail overlooking the Newark Slough below.

Ahead to the right is a closed trail leading uphill. The main trail continues on along the side of the hill. Ahead is the south bridge over the Newark Slough.

The trail passes the bridge near a grove of trees.

At 1.48 miles is another viewing platform at the trail leading down to the bridge.

Signs on this viewing platform talk about life in the marsh.

Below, the footbridge crosses over the Newark Slough to reach the Newark Slough Trail Loop. This is the southernmost of the 2 footbridges over the slough.

The Tidelands Trail runs slightly uphill, providing better views of the Newark Slough below. Above it is the viewing platform on top of the hill.

After passing the summit of the hill, the trail drops gradually downhill. Ahead is the north bridge over the Newark Slough.

At 1.83 miles, you reach a viewing platform overlooking the north bridge.

On the inland side of the trail is a picnic area in a eucalyptus grove below the visitor center.

The viewing platform has interpretive signs discussing the productivity of the salt marshes. The Tideland Trail drops down just beyond the viewing platform.

It runs below a canopy formed by the shade trees along the way. It reaches a junction at 1.88 miles. The trail to the left goes over the north bridge. This will be covered in the Newark Slough Trail tour. Go straight ahead.

At 1.89 miles, you reach the Newark Slough Learning Center complex. You first pass an outdoor amphitheater. Beyond are two buildings.

The nearest building is the Environmental Education Pavilion. Inside are picnic tables, a movie screen, and murals.

The small building beyond that is an old pumphouse. An old wooden water pipe emerges from it. Water from the Newark Slough flows into small channels beyond the pumphouse. There are trails on the levees beyond it.

From the Learning Center complex, you can either go up the hill to the right of the pavilion, which leads back to Marshlands Road, or cross over the north bridge to the Newark Slough Trail.

Visitor Center

The headquarters/visitor center was dedicated in 1979. The unique multi-storied structure was built along a hillside. The visitor center occupies the upper levels of the huge wooden building. It contains exhibits on the wildlife and history of the Refuge. Visitors can also find information pamphlets, reference material, a bookstore, an auditorium, and restrooms there. The center is open Tuesdays through Sundays from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm. The docents and rangers provide children's discovery programs, guided wetlands tours, and nature presentations. For information, call (510) 792-0222.

This is the landscaped main entrance to the visitor center, located up on the hill across from the observation platform (see the 0.70 mile point in the Tidelands Trail tour). There's a drinking fountain and dog watering dish outside. There are information pamphlets and newsletters available. You can pick up free copies of Tideline, the Refuge's publication, which has nature articles and lists upcoming activities in the Refuge.

Immediately inside the door is a desk staffed by rangers or docents, who can answer questions. There are maps and pamphlets available.

To the right of the main entrance is a large multi-purpose room that can be used as an auditorium. There are changing exhibits on the walls. On the far side is a diorama on the upland habitats of the Refuge.

A stairway inside leads to an upper level. There's an enclosed children's reading area, with some touchable exhibits.

Just outside this room is an observation deck that looks out onto the Refuge.

On the main level is a small book and gift store.

This is a view looking up at the ceiling of the main level. Silhouettes of soaring birds are suspended below it.

Near a stairway down to the offices, there's information about the Refuge system. There are publications by conservation agencies and environmental organizations.

The main exhibit hall contains a series of interactive exhibits.

This exhibit talks about the salt ponds around the bay. The map shows the salt ponds around the Bay and the different levels of salinity in each.  There's a large salt crystal cluster on display here.

This diorama shows the shorebirds and other wildlife that can be found in the marshlands around the Bay.

This exhibit tells about salt marshes and how some plants can tolerate the high salt content in the soil.

This is an historical exhibit about the ghost town of Drawbridge, which lies within the Refuge, and can be seen from a distance from the levee trails in Alviso.

This tells about seals, sea lions, and seabirds that live around the Bay and ocean. Next to it on the right is a high-resolution aerial photograph of the entire Bay Area.

To the right of that is a bulletin board listing the Refuge activities. Next to that is a very high-resolution aerial photograph of the South Bay, taken in 1985 showing the Refuge and surrounding urban areas.

Links to Guided Photo Tours of Nearby Areas

Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge Part 2 - Newark Slough Trail and LaRiviere Marsh
Coyote Hills Part 1 - Apay Way to SF Bay
Coyote Hills Part 2 - Hills, Marshes, and Trails
Alameda Creek Trail - Coyote Hills to I-880
Dumbarton Bridge
Coyote Creek Lagoon
Alviso: Mallard Slough and Environmental Education Center
Alviso: Town and Slough Tour
Return to Bay Trail Guided Photo Tours page

Developed: 2/04/2002 by Ronald Horii
Information and opinions here are the responsibility of the author.