No easy fix for Rancho San Antonio's crowded parking lots

Street parking restrictions have made it harder to access popular preserve

The parking lot at Rancho San Antonio Preserve in Cupertino on July 24, 2019. Photo by Magali Gauthier

Rancho San Antonio is the Peninsula's most popular open space reserve, drawing 700,000 visitors each year to its winding 24-mile network of trails.

But actually getting to the preserve is a problem that's getting worse. Despite serving as a natural resource for close to 1 million residents, Rancho San Antonio only has 315 parking spaces which are packed during peak hours. Visitors describe long waits in idling cars, hoping for a space to open up, leading to frustration and "conflicts," according to one report.

Last month, the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space Preserve resolved to do something about parking woes at Rancho San Antonio, launching a study of the scope of the problem and whether bike and pedestrian access and "green" transportation options could bring some relief. Adding new parking lots is neither the first nor the preferred option, but will be considered in the study, according to district officials.

It's no secret why Rancho San Antonio has long been Midpen's most visited preserve, said Ana Ruiz, the district's general manager. It's highly accessible -- roughly 1 million people live within 10 miles of the park -- and has a diverse range of trails for leisurely strolls and challenging hikes. Add in good weather and attractions like Deer Hollow Farm, Ruiz said, and the park can get packed.

"There's all these reasons why people want to come out the preserve, and as a result visitation is quite high and continuously increasing over time," she said.

Studies dating back to 1991 predicted that the increasing population and development in neighboring cities was bound to overwhelm the handful of on-site parking lots off of Cristo Rey Drive in Cupertino. Some of the more determined park visitors found alternatives, relying on curbside spots adjacent to the park in Cupertino or near a trail entrance on Mora Drive in Los Altos Hills. That ended in 2016 when upset neighbors passed preferential parking zones for residents only -- further exacerbating the parking problems in Rancho San Antonio's designated lots.

Residents in Los Altos Hills circulated a petition arguing that allowing hikers to use street parking created hazardous parking conditions and increased the probability of "robberies, break-ins and vandalism." The petition had 12 signatures and the parking restriction it sought was passed by the Los Altos Hill City Council without debate as a consent calendar item.

The challenge of finding a place to park has been a longstanding problem that Midpen's leadership has heard loud and clear, said Curt Riffle, Mountain View's representative on the agency's board of directors. In some ways it's been gripes and complaints from both sides: he is among the visitors who drive to the park and have trouble finding a space, while the park's neighbors are fed up with the overflow parking and vehicles crowding driveways and streets.

"We want to be a good neighbor, but on the other hand, we have constituents we're trying to satisfy as well," Riffle said.

On June 26, the district's board of directors voted to launch a multiyear effort to finally solve these parking problems, with a so-called Multimodal Access Study to better understand: who is coming to Rancho San Antonio and where they're coming from; what parking is available at specific days and times; and the pros and cons of a long list of possible fixes.

Almost all of the short-term solutions in the report are aimed at promoting alternative modes of transportation -- education campaigns, trail access and new signs aimed at boosting bike and pedestrian travel, new bike racks and information in maps, brochures and on Midpen's website to "highlight non-motorized access." The district is also considering rideshare arrangements with Uber and Lyft for pick-up and dropoff, and a potential partnership with municipal shuttle services to add a stop at Rancho San Antonio.

Many of the ideas stem from a 2017 stakeholder meeting among representatives from numerous public agencies, including Lisa Matichak, Mountain View's current mayor. In an email to the Voice, Matichak said she agrees that parking can be a challenge at Rancho San Antonio and that it is concerning to see people start their visit to the preserve with an argument over a parking space. Her suggestions included a possible valet service during peak hours, similar to the model used in downtown Mountain View, as well as ways to connect large groups of regular visitors for carpools.

The addition of onsite or offsite parking is considered a long-term action that may be considered, according to the staff report. While it might seem like the most direct solution, Ruiz said it wouldn't be easy. Along with weighing the potential environmental impacts -- including the loss of open space -- a parking project would need to go through a lengthy public feedback process that would likely raise concerns about traffic, noise, visual impacts and loss of rural character.

If at all possible, Ruiz said the district should try to avoid encouraging more vehicle travel and promote alternative forms of transportation before considering paving over open space.

"Part of our mission is preserving and protecting our larger environment, and that includes looking at our contributions to greenhouse gas emissions," she said. "We want to look at ways to promote greener forms of transportation."

The yearslong reluctance to add parking has been frustrating to Mountain View resident Anne Cheilek, who said the dearth of available parking spaces -- along with parking bans from nearby cities -- amounts to restricted access to a public environmental resource. Adding ways to walk and bike to Rancho San Antonio does nothing for the residents who live too far away to take advantage of it, she said, instead benefiting the "multimillionaires of Los Altos."

"To the average park user in the (district) boundaries, access is determined by availability of parking. Not by buses, bike lanes or additional trails," Cheilek said.

The Measure AA bond, passed by the district in 2014, explicitly calls for improving access to open space preserves for all residents, and Cheilek said she believes that money could be used to create a parking lot at the park entrance at the end of Mora Drive in Los Altos Hills. The reluctance to add parking is perplexing, she said, and it feels elitist to say parking is unnecessary.

"If (the district) continues to refuse to add parking, this regionally funded greenbelt will become a playground for those wealthy property owners lucky enough to live within walking distance of the park boundaries," she said. "That would be a betrayal of the generosity of taxpayers from all over the region, who resoundingly voted in 2014 for the expansion of access to this beautiful regional resource."

Riffle said new parking lots are still an option and nothing has been ruled out yet.

"Let's explore all of our options and understand what is going to be the best cost-benefit (option) to us," Riffle said.

Many of the short-term measures are going live starting this year regardless of the report's conclusions, Ruiz said, and she acknowledged that walking and biking to Rancho San Antonio won't be an option for everyone. The hope is that it will chip away at the parking demands from residents close by and make room for those that have to travel longer distances. No one solution is supposed to solve the parking problems, she said, and it will take a myriad of measures to solve it.

"There are so many factors that it's going to require a range of tactics to move the needle enough," she said. "There is no one solution, other than the major step of putting in a parking lot."

Results from the parking study are expected to be complete by August 2020, and updates will be provided at

What is community worth to you?
Support local journalism.


9 people like this
Posted by Ed
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jul 29, 2019 at 11:50 am

Ed is a registered user.

I'll bet almost no one in Mountain View even knows there is a quite pleasant bicycle route to the heart of the preserve via St. Joseph Avenue.

There are no signs marking this route (unless you take a hint from all the RESIDENT PARKING ONLY signs along the way). Both the preserve's website and map indicate Cristo Rey Drive is the one and only way into the park. The St. Joseph Avenue access isn't even shown on the map.

So step one would be making people aware that a low-stress alternative exists to driving a car to the preserve.

7 people like this
Posted by MV Resident
a resident of Waverly Park
on Jul 29, 2019 at 11:53 am

There is actually a pretty easy way to bike there already -- through St. Joseph Ave. in Los Altos. The street takes you under 280 and right to the park. For Mountain View residents, Grant Rd. feeds into St. Joseph.

4 people like this
Posted by SteveD
a resident of North Whisman
on Jul 29, 2019 at 1:08 pm

I too take St. Joseph Ave. to ride into the park, beginning with a run up the Steven's Creek trail to get to Grant avenue, then cut through Los Altos on a pleasant and level-ground ride into the park. Last time I did there was a kind family with kids near the entrance selling lemonade. It was delicious.

The parking lot doesn't NEED a fix. it' works perfect as it is serving as a regulator to keep the park and trails from becoming over-crowded. I already ride slow through the park weaving and dodging countless people on foot or riding. The park cannot accommodate everyone all at once, and should not try to. If you want to go there in your car, go early. If you live too far to ride, tote your bikes to someplace closer, park and ride in from there The exercise is good for you, and the ride is awesome.

4 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jul 29, 2019 at 1:12 pm

If you do bike to the park, remember that bicycles are not allowed on most park trails. If you want to go on a day hike, bring a heavy duty lock with you because the bike racks in the park give you only iffy security.

Like this comment
Posted by Can't Imagine Driving There
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Jul 29, 2019 at 1:15 pm

I like to ride into the park as well but I generally leave through the St Joe's exit, I enter a little higher up. That road under 280 used to be the main road into the seminary btw.
It's a nice ride from MV and it's an even better ride home because it's all down hill.

10 people like this
Posted by RanchoHiker
a resident of St. Francis Acres
on Jul 29, 2019 at 2:07 pm

I am all for biking to Rancho and thanks to the people who pointed out the St. Joseph’s Ave entrance whicb I did not know existed. But it is a 36 min 6 mile ride from my home to the Rancho entrance. Not something which my kids can do easily and then hike inside.
This to me just points out the elitist attitude that only people living close enough to bike or hike there should be able to use a public facility.

15 people like this
Posted by Common sense
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jul 29, 2019 at 2:17 pm

Common sense is a registered user.

"Rancho San Antonio only has 315 parking spaces which are packed during peak hours..."

Yes, during peak hours. Because so many people insist on going there at exactly the same time, which doesn't work.

There was a time when a car could arrive at 8AM Saturday or Sunday and have no trouble parking. But by the middle 1990s an 8AM Saturday arrival would find the parking lots full (and BMWs -- it always seemed to be BMWs -- prowling vulture-like for any space that might open up).

"The yearslong reluctance to add parking has been frustrating to Mountain View resident Anne Cheilek..."

Hate to break this to you, Anne, but if you doubled the current numer of parking spaces they still would all be filled at those same "peak hours" (and you'd also have more crowding on the trails).

A solution is not to go there during those "peak hours."

Like this comment
Posted by Easy Biking
a resident of Gemello
on Jul 29, 2019 at 3:30 pm

Biking to Rancho San Antonio is easy and helps preserve the beautiful ecosystem. The St. Joseph Avenue and Rhus Ridge entrances provide easy access. People come from all over the county to use the park, it's fortunate Mountain View residents can use the park without parking hassles.

7 people like this
Posted by Isn't Deer Hollow supported by MV?
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Jul 29, 2019 at 3:34 pm

Isn't Deer Hollow supported by MV? is a registered user.

Kevin, thanks for writing this article. Could you look into who is financially responsible for the costs of running Deer Hollow Farm? I believe it may be MV.

In which case MV taxpayers are subsidizing a program that LA/LAH residents are using but (in typical fashion) not wanting to share. If MV residents are not able to park and enjoy the space then we should not be the ones paying for it.

3 people like this
Posted by emre
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Jul 29, 2019 at 3:35 pm

if only there was some open space to build some additional parking!

9 people like this
Posted by Proud Taxpayer
a resident of another community
on Jul 29, 2019 at 3:40 pm

Proud Taxpayer is a registered user.

Easy solution. Charge an entrance fee of $2/car for single occupancy and $1/car with 2 or more passengers. 700,000 visitors each year would pay for a kiosk and the salary of people to staff it.

10 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jul 29, 2019 at 4:13 pm

Easy. Just apply the same parking enforcement rules as the RVs enjoy. Problem solved.

5 people like this
Posted by BDBD
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Jul 29, 2019 at 4:29 pm

@Commonsense said: "A solution is not to go there during those "peak hours."

For those of us with weekday commitments, weekend hikes are really the only option. I have found the parking lots packed all day, both Saturday and Sunday. If I didn't work, or my kids didn't go to school, then we could happily take your advice.

11 people like this
Posted by bibi
a resident of another community
on Jul 29, 2019 at 5:26 pm

I just looked at the satellite view near the entrance. There's still a lot of room for paving on what seems to appear as "wasteland", not an area where you would hike.

That being said, while you might think adding parking is the easy solution, you have to consider what would happen if you add 10 more parking spaces. These parking spaces would be taken. Add 100 more. These parking spaces would be taken as well. And so on... And now some of the people who were biking / walking there just because they couldn't park are going to drive there as well.
So just adding parking is not going to solve the problem. What needs to be done is, like she says, to implement various solutions: improving signage for pedestrian and bicycle access, add pleasant and short paths for pedestrians to get to the park, add motorcycle parking, free bus or at least add a damn bus stop near that popular location (that one seems so obvious...)

What I would start with:

1. Survey if people would actually use the bike/pedestrian paths, busses, etc. and where they come from.
2. Charge a PARKING FEE during peak hours / on weekends.
Because the problem when you consider bus vs free parking, people are going to choose to drive there... Add a fee to the equation, and now it costs the same / less to take Lyft or the bus.

2 people like this
Posted by bibi
a resident of another community
on Jul 29, 2019 at 5:29 pm

Another thing: Muir Woods might be of inspiration. It has the same issue. They ended up requiring reservations.
That also, should be considered.

16 people like this
Posted by Common sense
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jul 29, 2019 at 6:27 pm

Common sense is a registered user.

BDBD: My point wasn't about whether anyone had the flexibility to visit Rancho on weekdays. It was that we DON'T have the option to park conveniently on weekends, which won't change soon. It's the reality we live under.

Given the huge demand on certain days, parking will be full. Even if you build more of it (bibi, above, has that figured out too). And if you did eventually add more parking, not only would many people still find it filled on weekends, but you'd create new problems, as SteveD pointed out.

So even if it's difficult or impossible to adapt your usage to Rancho's limitations, still that is something you have more control over than over Rancho's reality. (I dealt with that reality by making parking at Rancho a special-occasion thing, during vacation times and so on.) And yes, lack of bus service is another good point (VTA way too busy running empty busses along ECR, I guess.)

14 people like this
Posted by Additional Parking
a resident of Cuernavaca
on Jul 29, 2019 at 10:14 pm

The comments suggesting that additional parking would get filled (as a reason to not provide more parking) are ridiculous.

It's like saying that if we add more airplane options between SF and LA they'll get filled...and stating that's a good reason not to add them.

We want people to visit open space. That's a good thing. 100 more people during peak time will not overcrowd the miles and miles of trails. And guess what, those 100 more people are coming anyway...they're just hovering awaiting spaces.

PS - Just judging visually, for 90%+ of the folks I see at Rancho, biking is not a viable option.

2 people like this
Posted by JR
a resident of another community
on Jul 30, 2019 at 8:04 am

With the exception of ADA parking, there is no need for any parking at Rancho. It boggles the mind that folks would get in a multi ton fume spewing automobile in order to arrive and then hike for miles. Just hike the entire way, or bike part of the way.

10 people like this
Posted by LAH old timer
a resident of another community
on Jul 30, 2019 at 8:42 am

Easy Biking wrote: “Biking to Rancho San Antonio is easy and helps preserve the beautiful ecosystem. The St. Joseph Avenue and Rhus Ridge entrances provide easy access.”

In my opinion, Rhus Ridge does not provide easy access.
1. The RR parking lot only holds 10 cars. It is even fuller than RSA.
2. RR cannot be biked. It’s a hike-in entrance. Very steep — 900 feet elevation gain over 0.9 miles. And it enters RSA at the farthest corner of the park.

5 people like this
Posted by Polomom
a resident of Waverly Park
on Jul 30, 2019 at 9:47 am

Polomom is a registered user.

@Easy Biking, I thought no bikes are allowed west of the farm. Rhus Ridge would definitely fall under that rule.The actual trails in Rancho are hiking only.
In a way Deer Hollow Farm (owned by the City of MV) is comparable to Foothills Park in Palo Alto (located also in the Foothills above the city). Palo Alto made that park accessible only to citizens of Palo Alto and their guests. I am glad MV did not limit their community asset to MV residents, but it seems with our growing population in Silicon Valley this recreational asset has reached its limits. Families with youngsters will more likely walk in pulling a wagon than riding bikes. Seniors likely want to take a car there. Whatever we suggest, different groups of people have different needs. A weekend shuttle seems to make a lot of sense. De Anza College has a huge parking lot, might be a good starting point.

18 people like this
Posted by Common sense
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jul 30, 2019 at 10:09 am

Common sense is a registered user.

"Additional Parking" wrote "The comments suggesting that additional parking would get filled (as a reason to not provide more parking) are ridiculous."

What is it about the basic realities here that you don't grasp? Maybe if 2000 spaces were added, there would even be parking for everyone who'd like to go there Saturday noon. But 2000 spaces won't happen. There might be a place for 100 more spaces. That's an incremental increase over today's 315. There are certainly far more than 100 cars ready to park at the popular times. You yourself acknowledged it later, contradicting your own assertion above ("100 more people [are] just hovering awaiting spaces"). The unfilled demand is enormous. Bibi (one commenter who is thinking clearly here) pointed out the obvious: the number of potential parked cars isn't even fixed. More people would certainly drive than do now, if they knew more spaces were available.

Thus the basic fallacy in notions like Anne Cheilek's quoted "frustration" that more parking hasn't been added. That reaction assumes, without thinking about it, that 50 or 100 or 150 more parking spaces would magically mean there's now a place for you to park. WRONG. It just means another filled-up parking lot, with cars still prowling for openings and people still fighting over spaces, at the same peak times.

22 people like this
Posted by 50 years on these local trails
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Jul 30, 2019 at 10:25 am

I'm pleased as punch that everyone goes to Rancho. It leaves the other more enjoyable parks uncrowded.
Ranch is like Tahoe or Yosemite: If you must go, expect and enjoy the crowds.

It almost sounds like some here expect that they should be able to drive up to the most crowded park in the area at any time of the day and expect to park their car without any hassle at all.
Good luck with that.

4 people like this
Posted by B Minkin
a resident of Sylvan Park
on Jul 30, 2019 at 2:58 pm

Rancho San Antonio is flatter than a lot of the regional parks, and so inevitably is a favorite of those who do not have the physical ability to enjoy some of the other POST trails. Its hard to beat that for small children and elderly.

I wonder about the wisdom of adding parking at the end of Mora. Those streets leading to the trail head are very narrow and winding, not really made for much traffic. Once you are at the trail head, the road down to the valley is so steep that only a few could enjoy returning to the parking lot. I conclude that this suggestion seems to be intended only to punish "multi-millionaires".

Many of these postings have sensible remarks, especially in setting expectations for the capacity of the park, not just the parking lot. There are many alternatives for able-bodied hikers that I prefer.

8 people like this
Posted by Lennie
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jul 31, 2019 at 7:11 am

How? Just park your RV there forever and never leave.

18 people like this
Posted by Self Regulating
a resident of another community
on Jul 31, 2019 at 9:47 am

I also support the current parking arrangements as they regulate the flow of people into the park.

People REALLY need to think outside their little boxes when it comes to their walks. There are alternatives to Rancho which provide trails with an easier gradient. We like the trails around Hidden Villa if we want to avoid peak crowds at Rancho. Rancho is great very early in the morning on most days though. That's when you see the most wildlife as well.

Like this comment
Posted by Old Steve
a resident of Rex Manor
on Aug 2, 2019 at 1:22 pm

Old Steve is a registered user.

Another beautiful Friday morning, same as last week. At least 50 empty parking stalls about 8:30 am, same as last week.

14 people like this
Posted by Local Knowledge
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Aug 2, 2019 at 1:53 pm

@Old Steve, it's like when people say traffic is always a nightmare. It's not always. Many times it's not bad in the least.

I can picture the type of person who shows up at Rancho at 10:30 on a Saturday and complains about something needing to change because they can't park.
Same sort who would complain something needs to change because at 10am Sunday they had to wait an hour for breakfast Hobee's.
Note to Rancho users, restaurant diners, movie goers, and anyone else who does things outside the house: If it's popular and you go at peak times expect the crowds and the wait.

Like this comment
Posted by I ride my bike
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Aug 3, 2019 at 5:47 am

Y'all can have my parking space.

4 people like this
Posted by B Minkin
a resident of Sylvan Park
on Aug 3, 2019 at 7:34 am

It is nice to have choices, as some posters do, to visit Rancho San Antonio at off-peak hours, but knowing that space is available is not of any benefit for people whose jobs or families keep them occupied at those times.

A day at the park is a welcome one for many who want to experience the outdoors, but are occupied on weekdays. You can say that it is a problem that defies an easy solution — too much pressure on insufficient resources — and understand that the limits keep some people from using the park.

But, no one will see you at superior because you can go to the park when most people are at work.

14 people like this
Posted by Old Steve
a resident of Rex Manor
on Aug 3, 2019 at 12:16 pm

Old Steve is a registered user.

Going to a park in the middle of a nice Saturday is like going shopping on Black Friday. We don't design retail parking lots for holiday shopping, so why should we pave over parklands to provide parking for people to use parks?
I agree, we have too many people, and not enough parks. Castle Rock SP has a new parking lot, built with donated funds. If we are trying to be greener, we should make better use of existing paved parking lots. Also, a lot of folks who work have some flexibility as to hours, they just need encouragement. Instead of circling at Rancho, once in awhile try driving a little further to Stevens Creek, Sanborn Skyline, or Castle Rock.

4 people like this
Posted by Dave
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Aug 3, 2019 at 6:47 pm

They don't need to "study" this for over a year, just add a dirt parking lot and be done with it, minimal expense and it allows more parking immediate, even 20-30 more spots improves parking by 10%. I remember when the other parking lot was dirt, it was much better than when they paved it; they dramatically reduced the parking capacity with their layout. Nothing in their alternate methods addresses family access for ones that need strollers for deer hollow farm, adding parking directly is the only safe/viable alternative for families with jogging strollers.

We rarely go there now because of the parking, if I can't get the family up and out the door to get there by 7:30am I won't find parking. Its a waste if I arrive 8am or later (far from a peak time); I'll sit there waiting for parking for more than 15 minutes, by then my children are bored/acting up, and if I do find parking they are already in a bad mood from waiting in an idle car. Same would happen with any type of alt transportation method or remote parking lot, it just seems absurd.

I don't need another parking fee, its already cost punitive enough in the bay area having children.

14 people like this
Posted by 8am weekend = peak time
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Aug 4, 2019 at 7:08 am

That's when many start their weekdn hikes and runs. That's also when it's time to go to other parks instead of hitting your head with a hammer and wanting someone else to stop it.
What happens when you STILL can't find parking after 10% more spots are added?

2 people like this
Posted by B Minkin
a resident of Sylvan Park
on Aug 5, 2019 at 1:01 pm

There is another parking area, but it adds 10–20 minutes of walking time. Near the alternate entrance on St. Joseph Ave. that other posters have mentioned is Montclaire Elementary School. It had several empty spots this past weekend.

Web Link

2 people like this
Posted by Old Steve
a resident of Rex Manor
on Aug 5, 2019 at 5:52 pm

Old Steve is a registered user.


That's gutsy if you take your stroller kids (plural) to Deer Hollow as the driver and only adult. I agree you need to be able to park. A technique I have used forever, with stroller kids as well as Scouts: An adult passenger to shepard children/youth, and all the gear they may need for the day. The driver either waits for parking, or hopefully someday soon, parks at De Anza and returns on a dedicated shuttle. I always appreciate a quiet beginning and /or end to a day otherwise full of noisy young voices.

6 people like this
Posted by They paved paradise and put up a parking lot
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Aug 7, 2019 at 9:57 am

Except (hopefully) logical and rational thought won out and they didn't do actually it. This is a tiny "squeaky wheel" issue. Don't let the small group of squeakers, who will never be satisfied, rule the decision making.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

All your news. All in one place. Every day.

Chick-fil-A quietly starts delivering out of DoorDash kitchen in Redwood City
By Elena Kadvany | 45 comments | 8,017 views

Differentiating Grief from Clinical Depression
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 1,637 views

Palo Altans and their Virtue Signaling
By Sherry Listgarten | 14 comments | 1,565 views