The Trail Companion
Theme: Long Hikes for Long Summer Days
A 20-Mile Hike through the South Skyline Region
Six Open Space Preserves and One County
"I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to
stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really
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
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
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
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.
Trail Center. All rights reserved.
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