Walking the Dog at Big Canyon Park


Big Canyon Park, San Carlos


"The everlasting lure of round-the-corner, how fascinating it is!"

- Christopher Morley, “Sauntering”


Directions: Big Canyon Park is located in the 3100 block of Brittan Avenue in San Carlos.

Grade: Moderate.

Distance: One-mile loop.

Time: One-half hour.

Special Conditions: Watch for poison oak at trailside. No rest rooms or drinking water. Dogs permitted on leash. Take and use the doggy-bags available at trailhead. Administered by the San Carlos Parks and Recreation Department, 600 Elm St., San Carlos (650-593-8011).


Neighborhood walking can be a fascinating experience. All you have to do is keep your eyes and ears open to the unexpected. Much of your urban walking experience can be categorized as “expected.” Broken sidewalks, curbs and gutters, low-hanging tree limbs, wet and slippery steps, cars parked over the sidewalk, and controlled intersections. Each of these hazards can be expected while walking through town. As a result, we often walk with our heads down, fearful of what we may stumble over, bump into, or slip on.

Consider the “unexpected”: a glorious sunrise or sunset to greet or complete the day, a tree that suddenly takes on a familiar image, a home being reconstructed, a stream channel disappearing into the vast underground collection system. Or an open space park set aside for exercise and relaxation.

So it is at Big Canyon Park in San Carlos. If you are taking an aerobic walk up Brittan Avenue to Crestview Drive, you are likely to walk right by it. Watch for the park in the 3100 block of Brittan Avenue. Parking is available at the curb.

Dogs are allowed in Big Canyon, but keep them on a leash and pick up any droppings. A doggy-bag dispenser is available at the trailhead, as is a trash can for your convenience.

The Big Canyon Loop Trail leads into a secluded canyon. Just ahead is a dry stream that drains the upper slopes during winter rains. A catch-basin and culvert system carries the runoff under city streets to the Bay. Arrows point to either end of the loop trail. Mack (some kids call him “Brownie” because of his thick, furry coat) and I usually turn left and start the climb on this single-track trail. After crossing a low wooden bridge, the trail soon switchbacks and climbs out of the oak forest to a grassy hillside.At the next switchback you will see a side trail leading uphill to a green water storage tank. From the tank, you can walk a short distance to Crestview Drive, cross the street, and walk over to Crestview Park (Nannarone Field).

For this hike, stay on the main trail and turn into the steep wooded hillside. You will cross a ravine and continue climbing through low-lying chaparral. Houses above are on Melendy Drive and to the east on Cabot Court. At the next ravine are three more switchbacks, and soon you will pass a trailside bench—the highest point on the trail—with great views to South Bay. This is a fine place to view a beautiful winter sunrise.

From there, the trail switchbacks down, crosses another bridge and traverses the grassy slope on the east side of Big Canyon. A few more switchbacks, and you’re back on the short service road.

For information on the flora and fauna of this park, pick up a copy of the “Eaton-Big Canyon Trail Map with Trail Notes” at San Carlos City Hall, 600 Elm St. The guide was prepared by the San Carlos-Belmont Regional Group, Loma Prieta Chapter, of the Sierra Club. The guide lists 21 birds in the area, eight mammals, and four reptiles. It also lists five tree types, 19 shrubs and vines, five ferns, and 61 plants, most of which bloom in the spring. This is not the most spectacular wildflower walk,, but if you slow down and look closely, you will find enough variety and beauty to keep you and your “plant finder” busy for hours.The guide also includes the Eaton Trail, which runs from Brittan Avenue to Eaton Avenue. This portion of the trail will be reviewed in a future issue of Weekly Walker.

Your comments and hiking suggestions are always welcome.

Email <tom@tomdavids.com>

Footnote: Check out the Weekly Walker Web site at www.weeklywalker.com.