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Theme: Long Hikes for Long Summer Days

A 20-Mile Hike through the South Skyline Region

Skyline to Sea

A Mid-Summer Experience

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Summer 2000

Theme: Long Hikes for Long Summer Days

A 20-Mile Hike through the South Skyline Region

Six Open Space Preserves and One County Park

     By Tom Davids

"I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in."

John Muir, 1913

The South Skyline Region is about as close to the ultimate "Hiker's Paradise" as you will ever find. Grassy hillsides, wildflowers, expansive views, dense forests, deep canyons, streams, and lakes are within easy reach of a number of trailheads and parking lots. But for the hiker, the ultimate draw is a system of interconnecting trails that form a loop through six open space districts and one county park. Add to this a beautiful spring day and an eager group of family and friends, and you have the ingredients for a perfect hiking experience.
      We scheduled our adventure a few weeks ago on a splendid Saturday between rainstorms. Our hike began at 9:30 a.m. at the Skyline Ridge Open Space Preserve off Skyline Boulevard, from the parking lot north of Horseshoe Lake. From the trail sign, we climbed the Bay Area Ridge Trail up a grassy hillside, through a pocket of oak and bay trees, and over to the west side of the ridge.
      On a clear day, the westerly view is quite grand, as your line of sight passes over a series of ridges to the distant Pacific Ocean. But this morning, the ridge was shrouded in fog with visibility limited to a few hundred feet in all directions. For the next two miles, we continued along the Ridge Trail, passing by Alpine Pond, through the large culvert under Alpine Road, into and out of the Russian Ridge Open Space Preserve parking lot, and up into the grassy hillside of Russian Ridge, which is well known for its display of wildflowers in the spring. Fog continued to blanket the ridge as we hiked on to Gate RR01 next to Skyline Boulevard.
      We continued north along Skyline Boulevard for a block or so, then crossed the highway and turned southeast on the short access road to Coal Creek Open Space Preserve. In .4 miles, we passed by two large homes under construction and through Gate CC03, continuing a short distance to the intersection with Meadow Trail. Here we turned left and descended rather steeply .5 miles and some 400 feet with views to the east, including Foothills Park and Los Trancos Open Space Preserve. At Gate CC02, we connected with Alpine Road (closed to vehicles), turned right, and climbed through the heavily forested canyon for one mile, gradually regaining our elevation at the intersection with Page Mill Road. After crossing the road, we turned left and hiked up and over a grassy hill and caught our first views of Monte Bello Open Space Preserve and Stevens Creek Canyon below. In another hour, we would be hiking into the canyon, but first, we diverted to the Monte Bello parking lot and the welcome chemical toilet facility. Then we crossed back over Page Mill Road, crossed the Los Trancos Open Space Preserve parking lot, and quickly plunged into the Los Trancos Creek Canyon via the Lost Creek Loop Trail. This is a scenic, cool trail any time of the year, but it is especially nice in the spring when the creek is full, the trail is damp, the ferns are pushing out new growth, and fresh tree moss is adding a vibrant green tone throughout the forest. Breaking away from Los Trancos Creek, we hiked parallel to Lost Creek, which was also running high until it suddenly disappeared from view--hence the name: Lost Creek. We crossed the now dry creek bed and climbed out of the forest onto a clear hillside. We continued .2 miles to Gate LT01, another access point from Page Mill Road. Here we turned back along the grassy hillside and continued our intermittent climb for 1.1 miles to Gate LT02, where we again crossed Page Mill Road into Monte Bello Open Space Preserve.
      It was now about 12:30 p.m., and we had been hiking for three hours. After a half-hour lunch stop, we started our 3.5-mile hike down the Canyon Trail, with an elevation loss of 700 feet. Along the way, we saw a number of old fruit or nut trees in bloom, a sign that this was once an active ranch. We also passed by several sag ponds, a reminder that we were hiking along the San Andreas Fault Line. As the earth shifts, benches are formed, natural water courses are interrupted, and small sag ponds develop. As our route steadily dropped to the level of Stevens Creek, our view up to the west and Skyline Ridge was a constant reminder that this downhill interlude would soon be replaced by a sustained uphill climb.
      Passing by the Grizzly Flat Trail, we arrived at Stevens Creek in .4 miles. Over the creek, we could see Table Mountain Trail [Upper Stevens Creek County Park], our ticket out of the canyon, but first, how to cross the swollen creek and stay dry. Fortunately, we found a log over the water a few hundred feet upstream, and one by one, we scooted on the log to the opposite shore.
      The climb back to Skyline is 3.1 miles, mostly along the alternate trail, which is for hikers only. The hiking is always up, but a pleasant mixture of firs, madrones, bays, and oaks with intermittent grassy areas and distant views. The trail actually crosses a "table" or level area about halfway up. Nearing Skyline Boulevard (listen for traffic noise) is a junction with the Bay Area Ridge Trail. Turn right on the Ridge Trail, and continue for .3 mile to Skyline Boulevard and Gate LR01 [Long Ridge Open Space Preserve].
      After a short climb to the ridge, we turned right and began to enjoy the distant views to the west. We skirted around stone outcroppings, an ideal place for a picnic with views and only a short distance from the highway, doubled back through forest, and then hiked back onto the Ridge Trail, which traverses the hillside. We passed the intersection with Hickory Oaks Trail and continued .2 miles to the intersection with Ward Road. In another .1 mile, the Ridge Trail turns right (Ward Road left), but we continued straight along the hillside to a stone bench built to the memory of Wallace Stegner, the award-winning novelist and environmentalist.
      From there, the trail moves down into Peters Creek drainage basin for 1.5 miles before intersecting with the Ridge Trail. Turning left, we hiked along the grassy hillside into Skyline Ridge Open Space Preserve, past the Christmas tree farm and on to the parking lot.
      A fitting close to this adventure would have been a hike around Horseshoe Lake, but it was 6:30 p.m. and growing dark, so this tired team of hikers were in no mood to extend the day for any reason. And so it ended--20 miles--nine hours--and enough memories to last until we visit this "Hiking Paradise" again.

Directions: Take Page Mill Road west to the intersection with Skyline Boulevard. Or take Highway 92 west to Skyline Boulevard, then south 20 miles to the intersection with Page Mill and Alpine roads. Continue on Skyline another mile, and turn right into the Skyline Ridge parking lot. Turn right and park in farthest lot north, at the base of the hill.
Grade: Strenuous. Cumulative elevation gain is 2,000 feet plus.
Distance: 20 miles.
Time: Eight to 10 hours.
Special Conditions: This is a long hike. The trails are good, but sometimes steep and sometimes muddy. There is one difficult stream-crossing (Stevens Creek). There is no potable water, so carry a good supply and a purifier or safe water tablets for use if necessary. Take a flashlight in case your hike lasts longer than expected.
Maps: Trail Map of the Southern Peninsula (Trail Center), South Skyline Region (MROSD); USGS 7.5'quad Mindego Hill.

      The six preserves are managed by the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District (650-691-1200). Upper Stevens Creek County Park is operated by Santa Clara County (408-358-3741).

      This hike originally appeared in Tom Davids' "Weekly Walker" column, which is carried by seven SF Peninsula newspapers published by the Independent Newspaper Group. Reprinted by permission. Many of Tom's hikes can be found on hisWeekly Walker website.

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