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A Bike Ride Through Coal Creek Open Space Preserve


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Summer 1999

A Bike Ride Through Coal Creek Open Space Preserve

     by Scott Heeschen

Along with Windy Hill, Coal Creek Open Space Preserve is one of the most easily-accessed open preserves from Palo Alto, where I lived when I first moved to the Bay area. When I felt adventurous, I would pedal up to the end of the paved part of Alpine Road, stop to eat a small snack, then proceed up the roughly 2 miles of dirt road to Page Mill. From there I could turn left to head down Page Mill Road and return home, cross into Monte Bello Open Space Preserve to descend towards Stevens Creek, or turn right and meet up with Skyline Boulevard, where the options for cyclists (road and mountain) are very open.
      All my visits to Coal Creek while I lived in Palo Alto were simply to get up to Page Mill. I never left the fire road until a few years ago, when a landslide completely eliminated about 100 feet of the road. When that happened, the Open Space District opened up a short section of singletrack to allow users to continue hiking or riding through. The slide still remains, a reminder of how dynamic the Santa Cruz mountains really are.
      Since I've moved to Campbell, most of my riding has been concentrated around there, so I looked forward late this Spring to revisiting Coal Creek and seeing what I hadn't seen when I was simply "passing through". Starting out from Palo Alto, I took my old standard route, following Alpine Road to the south, crossing under Highway 280 and through the town of Portola Valley. After passing Portola Road (about 3 miles from 280), the road starts to climb and becomes less traveled. One of the parking lots for Windy Hill (and Coal Creek, for that matter) is about a mile later, at the intersection with Willowbrook. There is no parking further along Alpine Road, so you must hike or ride your bike or horse along the road for a while to get to the gate for Coal Creek.
      For the next mile and a half (roughly), Alpine Road follows Corte de Madera Creek, which provides a cool, fresh feel to the air, before the pavement turns into a dirt fire road. The scenery along this stretch of road is often lush and rugged. There is very little traffic on the road here, and the only sounds I heard were the leaves rustling in the trees and the creek rushing down the canyon to my right.
      The preserve's namesake flows into Corte de Madera Creek about half a mile before the entrance to the preserve, so you actually don't see the creek while traveling the trails.
      After entering the Preserve, Alpine Road becomes a fire road and starts switchbacking while rising out of the canyon. I soon left the coolness of the creek behind and began to feel the warmth of the day on my back. After less than a mile, I came upon the slide that had taken the road out years ago. The slide is impressive, having completely eliminated the road and leaving in its place a sheer cliff of dirt and rock. Just a little further back on Alpine Road is the singletrack that the Open Space District opened up as an alternate route. The poison oak is thick in places along this route, so beware! As careful as I tried to be, I still brushed against it a few times. In addition to being singletrack, this route differs from Alpine Road in that it is well-shaded, a big plus in the summer months, I'm sure.
      The singletrack shortly dropped me back onto Alpine Road, where I continued for a short time before coming to the intersection with Crazy Pete's Road. It was a little hard to notice because it heads backwards to the right. This trail isn't as winding as the detour around the slide, and is really a nice, gentle, shaded trail through the oaks and madrones. I soon came to a fork in the trail and went

View of Coal Creek Preserve
View of Coal Creek Preserve
Photo by Scott Heeschen
to the right to enjoy the Valley View Trail. True to its name, there were great views to the northeast of the Santa Clara Valley. A few small trickles of water were running down and across the trail, but nothing too major. I would guess, though, that this trail could be a mess in the wintertime.
     I then actually descended the Valley View Trail back to the fork and took the other branch, up Crazy Pete's Road. The two routes are very comparable, both with good views (though Valley View did have more), and similar terrain. I then continued up to Skyline Boulevard and the Crazy Pete's parking area, roughly 1.7 miles north of Page Mill.
      Once on Skyline, I headed southeast about half a mile to the Caltrans vista point. People often use this parking area to visit Russian Ridge, but it also provides good access to Coal Creek. Just before getting to the parking for the vista point, I took a small road heading off to the east, which is the trail back into Coal Creek. I followed this trail for a little less than half a mile to where it intersects with the Meadow Trail. This junction has fantastic views out to the Bay and made it very clear that these trails were different from the Valley View/Crazy Pete's pair. They're much more open and have less shade, so they're probably nicer in the early spring and fall.
      I chose to go down the trail on the left, and met up with Alpine Road after about a half mile. At this point, I was only a fifth of a mile above the junction with Crazy Pete's Road that I had taken earlier. I chose instead to go up the hill to the southeast and towards Page Mill Road. This hill climbs at a gentler grade than the lower part of Alpine Road, and I was soon at the junction with the Meadow Trail. By continuing on, I would have reached Page Mill Road in another half mile, but I decided to continue covering new ground and took the Meadow Trail.
      After a half mile on the Meadow Trail, I was treated to what I can only describe as a "very cool view experience". The great view I had seen earlier became nicely framed by the trees to the left and right, as well as their branches on the top.
      Overall, Coal Creek Preserve is not huge, but it provides a variety of terrains to enjoy - thick oak and madrone in the Crazy Pete area, and open grasslands in the Meadow Trail area. Alpine Road itself varies from being somewhat open to sheltered. I would classify most of the riding in the preserve as beginner level. The alternate route to get around the slide on Alpine Road requires a little more skill, but can be done by someone with a little experience. Most rides within the preserve can be done in little over an hour, but they can be combined with trails in Russian Ridge, Long Ridge, Montebello and Los Trancos for a longer ride.
      Dogs are allowed on all the trails in the Preserve as long as they're on a leash. For more information on the preserve, call the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District at (650) 691-1200.


Map of Coal Creek Preserve - Click for larger version
Coal Creek Preserve (click for larger version)
Note: this map is also available as a separate PDF file for printing)

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