From the corral the reunited Hotel Trail crosses a watercourse and begins a steady uphill climb. Here is the good stuff. Depending on the luck of the year, you will encounter entire meadows mixed of California goldfields (Lasthenia californica), owl's-clover, johnny-jump-up, broadleaf filaree (Erodium botrys), purple sanicle (Sanicula bipinnatifida) and slender popcornflower (Plagiobothrys stipitatus), studded with buttercups and padres shooting stars (Dodecatheon clevelandii ssp.) in the tree's edge. You will pass the Canada de Pala trail at 0.5 miles from the corral, and can continue another 1.2 miles up to the Foothill Pine (Digger Pine on some maps) intersection, with each step finding a new mixture of flowers. Along the way, you will probably dodge some cattle, and an occasional bicycle. Check the stock ponds by the trail for springtime pollywogs as well.
At the Foothill Pine intersection you will find Eagle Lake, a good place for a rest and picnic. For the shorter hike, turn and retrace your steps from here. For the longer climb, turn onto the Foothill Pine Trail and enter the woodlands. Here, watch for Calif. saxifrage (Saxifraga californica) on the banks, buttercups, and deep magenta shooting stars. After about a mile, you will climb to the side of a stock pond.
Walk across the dam and check for yellow Calif. falselupine (Thermopsis macrophylla) bushes. Returning to the trail, it's just a few yards to the turnoff left onto the steep Bonhoff Trail. You can admire the views of the Mt. Hamilton observatory while taking rest stops. In addition to more wildflower meadows, look for red maids along the sides of the trail here.
After 0.9 miles the Bonhoff trail brings you to a recently improved parking lot along the Mt. Hamilton road (you can also do the hike as a loop from here, if you don't mind finishing uphill). Continue across the road and join the Canyon de Pala trail along the ridge. After one-half mile, turn left and downhill onto the Yerba Buena trail. This drops steeply from the ridge, eventually arriving at McCreery Lake. Along the way, keep your ears open for kamikaze bikers whizzing downhill, and watch for small intense patches of bird's eyes gilia (Gilia tricolor) along the trail and in rocky places in the meadows. In a wet year, meadowfoam will be visible in the valley below - the El Nino year of 1998 carpeted all of fields with white.
Below McCreery Lake, you can recross Mt. Hamilton Road to pick up the north end of the Hotel trail, and follow it for a quarter mile back to your starting point
Getting there: From I-680, east on Alum Rock Ave. to Mt. Hamilton Road, a right turn. About eight miles of narrow steep roads take you to the park entrance. Park near the headquarters, where a gate gives access to a short trail across San Felipe Creek to the east.
Hike distance and elevation: 6 mile, 600' out-and-back, or 8.1 mile, 1100' loop
Best time for flowers: First half of April - a good place for an Easter hike
On the Web:Grant Ranch on the Santa Clara County Parks site
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