Coal Creek Open Space Preserve,
Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District,
San Mateo County
In brief:
3 mile partial loop through grassland and woods on the eastern slope of the Santa Cruz Mountains.

Distance, category, and difficulty:
This 3 mile partial loop hike is easy, with about 700 feet in elevation change. Preserve elevation ranges from about 2350 to 1200 feet. The featured hike drops to about 1680 feet, then gradually climbs back to the trailhead, elevation 2350 feet.

Mix of shade and sun.

Trail traffic:

Trail surfaces:
Dirt trails.

Hiking time:
1 1/2 hours.

Nice any time.

Getting there:
From Interstate 280 in Santa Clara County, exit Page Mill Road. Drive west on Page Mill about 8.5 miles to the junction with Skyline Boulevard (CA 35). Turn right and drive north about 1.2 miles to the vista point pullout. This roadside parking area is rarely full. The other two preserve entrances (with limited parking) are at Crazy Pete's Road, about 0.5 mile north of the vista point near the emergency call box, and at the end of Alpine Road.

Get driving or public transit directions from Transit and Trails:

GPS Coordinates* for Trailhead:
Latitude 3719'28.25"N
(* based on Google Earth data, shown as degrees, minutes, seconds)

Gas, food, and lodging:
Gas, restaurants, store, and pay phone at the junction of 35 and 84, about 6 miles north.

Trailhead details:
No entrance or parking fees. There are no facilities (drinking water, toilets, pay phone), although since the pullout was paved there are a few designated handicapped parking spots. Maps are available at the Russian Ridge information signboard across Skyline Boulevard. There is no direct public transportation to the preserve. The preserve trails are not wheelchair accessible.

All trails are multi-use. Dogs are permitted on all trails, on leash only.

The Official Story:
MROSD's Coal Creek page.
MROSD field office 650-691-1200

Map Choices:
• Use AAA's San Francisco Bay Region map to get there.
Map from MROSD (download Coal Creek/Russian Ridge pdf).
Peninsula Tales and Trails, by David Weintraub (order this book from has an overview of the preserve, descriptions of hikes, and simple maps.
Peninsula Trails, by Jean Rusmore, has a simple map and trail descriptions (order this book from
The Santa Cruz Mountains Trail Book, by Tom Taber, has a map and trail descriptions (order this book from
Trail Map of the Southern Peninsula, published by the Trail Center, includes Coal Creek.

View photos from this hike.

Go to Bay Area Hiker Home page

Windy Hill Open Space Preserve is the preeminent hiking spot on the Santa Cruz Mountains eastern slope. Vista Point parking on Skyline BoulevardThe loop hikes there are lovely and dramatic, but may be too strenuous for beginning hikers. A few miles south of Windy Hill, Coal Creek Open Space Preserve has a similar profile of rolling grass hills and mixed oak woodlands, with seasonal streams running down the slopes to the east. At Coal Creek there are short trails that provide relatively easy 2 hour loop hikes. Dog lovers should note that they are welcome to bring their canine companions on all of the Coal Creek trails. Check with the MROSD for rules and details.
     Coal Creek is small compared to the other preserves along the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District's south skyline region. It is often overlooked in favor of two sprawling neighboring preserves, Russian Ridge and Monte Bello. Unfortunately there's no connecting trail from the northern edge of adjacent Russian Ridge to the northern section of Coal Creek. Approaching Cloud's Rest on Skyline BoulevardThen it would be possible to hike an over 3 mile loop through both preserves. As it is now, there are two main short semi-loop options through Coal Creek. From the Crazy Pete's Road trailhead, hike downhill on Crazy Pete's Road, then take Valley View Trail, and return to Skyline Boulevard on Crazy Pete's Road. This is a 1.6 mile hike than can be extended with some out and back walking on Alpine Road (the trail). The second loop departs from the vista point trailhead and is described below.  If you are interested in a longer hike, you could extend the featured hike from the junction of Alpine Road and Meadow Trail southwest to the end of Alpine Road, then enter Monte Bello Open Space Preserve, take White Oak Trail to Skid Row Trail, cross Skyline Boulevard into Skyline Ridge Open Space Preserve, take the Bay Area Ridge Trail north to Alpine Pond, then cross Alpine Road (it's a road again here) to Russian Ridge Open Space Preserve and continue on the Bay Area Ridge Trail to the Vista Point parking. This hike is about 7 miles.Meadow Trail
     Coal Creek has some small parcels of hilly grassland and lots of woods, making the preserve a favorite destination for wildflower lovers in spring. Alpine Road hosts a bevy of deciduous trees, and on an autumn walk you might see blazing orange and red leaves on black oak and big-leaf maple. Although the trails get muddy in winter, it's worth strapping on waterproof boots for a hike to a small but pretty waterfall on Crazy Pete's Road.
     For the featured hike, start at the vista point parking area. Carefully walk north on the side of Skyline Boulevard about 0.1 mile. Look to the right for a small road (Cloud's Rest) marked by a MROSD Coal Creek Open Space Preserve sign. Turn right.
      This road accesses private homes to the north, so stay to the side and alert for vehicles. In July, look for thimbleberries on the right side of the road as you descend. There's a nice view south to Monte Bello's Black Mountain straight ahead. A road breaks off to the left, but continue straight (the district gate is visible ahead at the end of the road). Crazy Pete's RoadAt 0.37 mile the road ends and Meadow Trail begins a MROSD gate. The multi-use trail is a wide level path, initially taking cover under a canopy of Douglas fir and live oaks, then emerging into grassland (unfortunately infested with yellow star thistle) with a great view to the east. Almost right away, at 0.45 mile, the trail forks at a signed junction. Stay to the left on Meadow Trail.
      The trail, open to hikers, cyclists, and equestrians, starts a descent. Deep ruts score the sandy (or muddy) trail surface, and bike tire treads attest to the popularity of this trail for cyclists. Deer are frequently sighted in the grassland, but you might only see their prints on the trail. The spring wildflower display is a delight, but in summer the beige uniformity of dry grass is broken only by shrubs of coyote brush and mule ear sunflowers, with a few blackberry bushes fruiting near the creeks off the left side of the trail. Some fairly steep downhill grades give your knees a workout. If you're visiting on a clear day, you should be able to make out the San Francisco city skyline, and Mount Tamalpais to the north, as well as all the east bay hills and Mount Diablo. Alpine RoadNear a power tower the trail curves right and ducks beneath a dense stand of black oak, California bay, coast live oak, and madrone. In early spring vetch, milkmaids, and pinkflowering currant bushes add some color to an understory of creambush, blackberry, gooseberry, common snowberry, wild rose, and fern. Meadow Trail continues downhill, and a gate marks the end of MROSD land, at 0.95 mile. A few steps further and you'll reach an unsigned junction. Turn left onto Alpine Road (Alpine Road used to be open to vehicular traffic all the way to Page Mill Road; now this section is a trail), which is managed by San Mateo County. (You can turn right here if you want to skip the trip to the waterfall or shorten this hike.)
      The wide, multi-use dirt trail descends easily, through a pretty mixture of buckeye, maple, black oak, coast live oak, toyon, and coyote brush. At 1.12 miles, under a massive black oak, a trail heads uphill to the left, back into MROSD's jurisdiction. Turn left onto unsigned Crazy Pete's Road. Meadow Trail
      You'll climb a few feet, and pass a MROSD sign, then begin to descend easily along the narrow multi-use trail. Black oak, Douglas fir, and live oaks block any views. In winter, sounds of rushing water grow louder until you reach a wooden bridge and waterfall at 1.28 miles. A big-leaf maple guards the diminutive 5 foot fall on the left, but the true drama is on the right side of the bridge, where water cascades under arching branches of California bay. When you're ready to continue, retrace your steps back to Alpine Road and the junction with Meadow Trail, at 1.57 miles. Bear left and continue uphill on Alpine Road.
      The gentle grade makes for an easy ascent through a mixed woodland. Look for a small stand of big-leaf maple on the right, especially pretty in autumn. A break in the trees to the left reveals a view to the valley. In the winter, seasonal creeks trickle downhill on the right side of the trail. Corte Madera Creek can be heard burbling all year long to the east. At 2.00 miles, you'll reach a signed junction with the other end of Meadow Trail, and a MROSD information signboard with a map. Turn right onto Meadow Trail.Meadow Trail
      You'll soon leave behind the shade of tanoak, madrone, California bay, and live oaks, and return to grassland. Stop along the trail every once and awhile to pick out animal footprints in the dust (or mud). Some prints may be from the dogs who visit this preserve, but you should be able to pick out the distinctive spade-shape of the coyote, the very feline looking print of the bobcat, and racoon and skunk prints. Mountain lions have been spotted in this preserve as well, and a stray footprint may be the closest most visitors will ever come to a cougar encounter. Meadow Trail winds easily uphill through coyote brush, with some wooded stretches where you might notice madrone, live oaks, and California bay. At 2.58 miles you'll arrive at a previously encountered junction. Turn left and retrace your steps back to the trailhead.

Total distance: 2.97 miles
Last hiked:  Friday, December 7, 2001