Almaden Quicksilver County Park,
Santa Clara County Parks,

Santa Clara County
In brief:
7.6 mile loop through oaks and grassland at a former mercury mine site.

Distance, category, and difficulty
:
This 7.6 mile loop hike is moderate. Trailhead elevation is about 700 feet. The park's highest elevation is about 1740 feet. The featured hike climbs in two stages from the trailhead to about 1600 feet, with one brief moderately steep trail. One section on the return leg descends steeply in sections. Total elevation change for this hike is about 1200 feet.

Exposure:
Mostly exposed.

Trail traffic:
Moderate.

Trail surfaces:
Dirt trails and fire roads.

Hiking time:
4 hours.

Season:
Nice any time; lovely in autumn and spring.

Getting there:
From Interstate 280 in Santa Clara County, take CA 85 south (toward Gilroy). After about 12 miles, exit at Almaden Expressway, stay in either of the ramp's two right lanes, make the first left, then the next right onto Almaden Expressway. Drive about 4 miles, then turn right onto Almaden Road. Drive on Almaden about 3 miles to the Hacienda Trailhead on the right side of the road. (If you reach the Hicks Road intersection you've gone too far.)

Get driving or public transit directions from Transit and Trails:
http://www.transitandtrails.org/trailheads/108

GPS Coordinates* for Trailhead:
Latitude 3710'26.28"N
Longitude
12149'30.95"W
(* based on Google Earth data, shown as degrees, minutes, seconds)

Gas, food, and lodging:
Pay phones, gas, stores, and restaurants back near CA 85. No camping.

Trailhead details:
No entrance or parking fees. The Hacienda Trailhead is a large unpaved lot (can get crowded with horse trailers). Two portable toilets are located near the trailer on the north side of the lot. Maps available at the information signboard. There are other trailheads at Webb Canyon Road (street parking only) and Mockingbird Hill Lane and Hicks/Wood Road. Public transportation is available: visit Transit Info for details.

Rules:
Some trails are multi-use, others are restricted to hikers and equestrians, and a few are designated hiking only. Pets on leash are permitted. The park is open from 8 a.m. to sunset.

The Official Story
:
SCCP's Almaden Quicksilver page
Park office 408-268-3883

Map & book choices/More Info:

• Use AAA's San Francisco Bay Region map to get to the park.
Map from SCCP (download the Almaden Quicksilver pdf).
This hike is described and mapped in 60 Hikes within 60 Miles: San Francisco, by Jane Huber (yup, that's me, the creator of this website). Order this book from Amazon.com.
Afoot and Afield: San Francisco Bay Area, by David Weintraub (order this book from Amazon.com) has a great map and descriptions of an Almaden Quicksilver hike.
South Bay Trails, by Jean Rusmore, Betsy Crowder, and Frances Spangle (order this book from Amazon.com) has a simple map and trail descriptions.
The Bay Area Ridge Trail, by Jean Rusmore (order this book from Amazon.com) has a good map and descriptions of Almaden Quicksilver's Ridge Trail segment
The Santa Cruz Mountains Trail Book, by Tom Taber, has a map and park description (order this book from Amazon.com).
• View photos at the Wildflowers of Almaden Quicksilver County Park website.
• Geology Trails of Northern California, by Robin C. Johnson and Dot Lofstrom (order this book from Amazon.com) has a nice geological description of this park.
Read the Bay Nature article "Legacy of the Red Ore"

Almaden Quicksilver in a nutshell -- a printable, text-only guide to the featured hike.

View photos from this hike.





Go to Bay Area Hiker Home page


At the Hacienda Trailhead to Almaden Quicksilver County Park, you're bombarded with warning signs. TrailheadDon't eat the fish (too much mercury in the water). Don't hike off trail (old mine shafts and whatnot). Don't climb on any structures (they're old, and also may harbor rodents with Hanta Virus!). But don't be daunted, because this is a large and spectacular park with abundant hiking trails and a fascinating history.
        Almaden Quicksilver occupies the site of the first mining enterprise in California (check out the historical marker across the street from the Hacienda Trailhead entrance). It became the richest mercury mine in North America, and the most productive mine in California history. Cinnabar, a mineral composed of sulfur and mercury, was used by the Ohlone Indians for painting and religious ceremonies. They introduced cinnabar to early settlers, who heated the mineral to release the mercury. You may know of mercury as the silver stuff in old thermometers, but it's also essential to the mining of gold and silver, and historically was used in the production of hats (think "mad as a hatter"). Mine Hill TrailQuicksilver is another word for mercury, referring to its liquid properties (it's the only metal that is liquid at room temperature) and shiny silver color. Mining began here in the 1840's, and the New Almaden Mines (later, after a shift in ownership the name was changed to the Quicksilver Mining Company) became a thriving area with several settlements, including Englishtown and Spanishtown, a company store, and school. By 1865 there were 700 buildings, and 1,800 people living on Mine Hill. By 1927, with the cinnabar largely depleted, large-scale mining ceased and a only few small operators continued to process mercury. When, in the 1970's, mercury was found to be an environmental toxin, all mining ceased. Santa Clara County acquired the first parcel of what is now Almaden Quicksilver County Park in 1973. More land has been added, and the Mine Hill area,previously classified as a hazardous area and closed to the public since its acquisition in 1978, is now cleaned up and accessible. Randol Trail If you want to learn more about the mining legacy of Almaden Quicksilver, visit the Almaden Quicksilver Mining Museum, at 21350 Almaden Road (you'll drive past it on the way to the Hacienda Trailhead).
     This is a park you will probably want to visit many times. Although it is popular, because of the (relatively) remote location, it is one of the quieter parks in the bay area. On many trails you won't hear chainsaws and other aural reminders of urban life. In spring, Almaden Quicksilver is famous for grand displays of wildflowers, but the park is pretty in autumn as well, when bigleaf maples, and black and blue oaks shed their colorful leaves. Anyone with a curiosity about mining and local history will enjoy the remnants of the mines. And with over 33 miles of hiking trails, you can design many different loop hikes of varying lengths.Blue oaks on Randol Trail
      For this featured hike, start at the Hacienda Trailhead. Walk around the gate and uphill on Mine Hill Trail. This trail, a wide dirt road, was used as a road during years of the mining operations. In fact, you may notice about 0.85 mile up this trail, two old crashed cars down the slope on the east (right) side of the trail (click here for a photo). A few steps up Mine Hill Trail there's an interpretive display on the left side with some old photos and a history of the mining operations. A few valley oak mingle with California bay and big-leaf maple near a creek on the left. The multi-use trail makes a sharp turn right and climbs at a moderate grade, with coast live oak, blue oak, poison oak, sagebrush, and coyote brush along the sides. In spring, you might see bluedicks, filarees, vetch, buttercups, blue and white lupine, and fiddlenecks. At 0.39 mile, you'll reach a signed junction, with Hacienda Trail departing to the right, and English Camp Trail setting off to the left. Continue straight on Mine Hill Trail. Prospect #3 Trail
      On a clear day the views to the east (Mount Hamilton) and back behind you to the west (the Sierra Azul) are outstanding, and the stillness of the well-graded climb through California bay, coast live oak, toyon, California coffeeberry, chamise, and buckeye is only broken by the buzz of airplanes and bird cries. A few ravines on the left side of the trail, dry in the summer and fall, become tiny waterfalls when the winter rains begin in earnest. From time to time roadcuts expose sections of dirt and rock, giving mineral hounds a close-up look at this park's geology. In spring, look for manroot, shooting stars, monkeyflower, mule-ear sunflowers, woodland star, milkmaids, and miner's lettuce on the left side of Mine Hill Trail. At 1.13 miles, after climbing about 300 feet, Mine Hill Trail reaches Capehorn Pass. A picnic table at this flat spot makes a good place to consult the map, and drink some water. From this signed junction Hacienda Trail runs north through chaparral, then cuts east and loops back south to meet up with Mine Hill Trail. This is a good option if you're ready to turn back down the hill. You could also continue on Mine Hill Trail, turning onto Castillero Trail, then picking up English Camp Trail, for a shorter loop. Turn right, pass the picnic table, then turn left onto Randol Trail.View west to Mount Umunhum
     To be blunt, this is my least favorite trail at Almaden Quicksilver. There are pretty sections along the trail, but thanks to urban sprawl a lot of noise drifts into the park from nearby housing developments and streets on the northeast side of the mountain. Nonetheless, Randol is part of a convenient loop, and delivers visitors to a very scenic part of Almaden Quicksilver. The wide, nearly level multi-use fire road heads northwest, passing some historical mining sites and drifting through a variety of plant communities. Initially Randol Trail is lined with chamise, sagebrush, coyote brush, and coast live oak. Look for zigadene and saxifrage in early spring here. As the trail sweeps around the broad mouth of a canyon, there are unobstructed views to gigantic piles of rock debris on the right. At 1.60 miles, you'll arrive at the site of Day Tunnel. An interpretive sign explains the origin of the tunnel, which has been sealed. A few steps later you'll arrive at a signed junction with Day Tunnel Trail, on the left. Continue straight on Randol Trail.Mine Hill Trail
     Still keeping to an easy grade, Randol Trail creeps along the hillside, arching around another broad canyon and mining site. At 2.10 miles, Randol Trail breaks off to the right, while Santa Isabel continues straight at a signed junction. Either fork is an option; Randol is about twice as long. Continue straight on Santa Isabel Trail.
     When I hiked here in March, there were great drifts of baby blue eyes and sprinklings of shooting stars on the left. Multi-use Santa Isabel Trail ascends slightly through the shade of a California bay grove, then immediately drops back into coast live oaks, and grassland marked by a stand of lovely blue oaks. At 2.51 miles, Santa Isabel ends at the other end of Randol Trail. Bear left onto Randol.
     You might see johhny-jump-ups and blue and white lupine along the trail in spring. California bay, coast live, and blue oak are common, but Randol Trail also passes through sunnier stretches where coyote brush is dominant. Near Bull Run, on Mine Hill TrailGradually, the vegetation shifts to chaparral, and black sage, manzanita, and chamise makes appearances. After one last pass through some shade, Randol Trail emerges into grassland. The hillside rolls away on the right, revealing long views east. At 3.63 miles, you'll reach a signed junction with Prospect #3 Trail. Turn left.
     The hiking-only path ascends at a sharp pace, through grassland dotted with massive black and blue oaks. Wildflowers bask in the sunshine here, and you might see patches of small flowered linanthus, johnny-jump-ups, popcorn flower, filaree, and fiddleneck, as well as smatterings of blue-eyed grass, blue and white lupine, and bluedicks. The sojourn through oak grassland ends as the trail veers into the woods. The grade is moderate, with some steep sections, as Prospect #3 Trail ascends through poison oak, black oak, toyon, and coast live oak. At 4.16 miles, Prospect #3 Trail steps out into grassland, then ends at a signed junction with Mine Hill Trail. Turn left.Castillero Trail
     This is a picturesque setting with lots to admire. In spring there are colorful blasts of blooms in the grassland, from plants such as California poppy, popcorn flower, blue and white lupine, johnny-jump-up, and fiddleneck. Graceful oaks beckon from the fringes of the ridge. And views unfold to the west encompassing the Sierra Azul, with Mount Umunhum's artificial knob prominent. Mine Hill Trail gently climbs along the ridge, where trees block views to the east. Coast live oaks are common along the multi-use trail, but blue oaks, conspicuous in autumn and spring, can be glimpsed on the sloping hillsides to the right. The trail curves left, avoiding a short climb along the ridge by angling across the hillside, through the shade of California bays. When Mine Hill Trail leaves the woods,coyote brush lines the trail, nearly obscuring a signed junction, at 4.87 miles, with tiny Catherine Tunnel Trail, on the left. Continue straight.English Camp
     Mine Hill Trail, here nearly level, reaches a signed junction with Castillero Trail at about 4.93 miles. The junction, called Bull Run on the map, is a logical place for a rest stop, with a few shaded picnic benches on the right. Continue straight, now on Castillero Trail (Mine Hill Trail, which veers to the left, is an optional route).
     Castillero Trail, open to hikers, equestrians, and cyclists, winds levelly through coast live oak, a few madrone, and patches of grassland. I happened upon a rattlesnake, stretched across the trail, on my March 2002 hike. Invasive broom appears on the sides of the trail, accompanying sagebrush, poison oak, coyote brush, and California coffeeberry. Castillero Trail crests, then starts an easy descent. Old mine buildings are visible downslope on the right. The trail curves left near a tall eucalyptus tree and ramshackle old building. At 5.68 miles, Hidalgo Cemetery Trail heads out on the right. Continue left, downhill on Castillero Trail.English Camp Trail
     The broad trail continues to wind downhill at an easy grade. At 6.03 miles, you'll reach the edge of English Camp, and a series of signed junctions. Yellow Kid Tunnel Trail heads doubles back to the right, toward Hidalgo Cemetery Trail, while Castillero Trail bends left, on its way to connect with Mine Hill Trail. Continue straight, to the right of the flagpole, downhill. A few old buildings stand crumbling on the right, as well as uphill on the left. There are a few picnic tables nearby, and this is a good place for a last rest before completing the final leg of the hike. You can explore the area, but return to the fire road heading southeast, downhill past the picnic tables, English Camp Trail.
     English Camp Trail, open to hikers and equestrians only, descends. A grassy hillside on the left side of the trail is a sure bet for spring flowers including blue and white lupine, shooting stars, redmaids, California buttercups, and fiddlenecks. A few coast live oaks fail to provide adequate shade on a hot afternoon. At 6.23 miles, a road sets out on the right side of the trail -- this is the Deep Gulch Trail, which is an excellent hot weather alternate descent back to the trailhead. Continue straight on English Camp Trail. View from the return on Mine Hill Trail
     English Camp Trail, a bit steep in sections, drops down to run above a creekbed shaded by California bay and a few maple, then descends along the edge of a deep canyon, with coyote brush, toyon, black sage, and manzanita bordering the path. Clematis tangles itself in trailside shrubs and trees. Unfortunately, this trail follows a string of power lines down the hill, a less than lovely hiking accompaniment. The mountains of the Sierra Azul stand in a rugged cluster to the west. There is one brief but unwelcome uphill stretch. Gradually the vegetation shifts back to chaparral, grassland and oaks, with bluewitch nightshade, sagebrush, and monkeyflower accompanying blue and coast live oak. At 7.26 miles, English Camp Trail ends at a signed junction with Mine Hill Trail. Turn right and retrace your steps to the trailhead.

Total distance:  7.66 miles
Last hiked:  Thursday, March 28, 2002