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.
1 1/2 hours.
Nice any time.
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:
(* 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.
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:
Coal Creek page.
MROSD field office 650-691-1200
Use AAA's San Francisco Bay Region map to get there.
from MROSD (download Coal Creek/Russian Ridge pdf).
Tales and Trails, by David Weintraub (order
this book from Amazon.com) has an overview of the preserve, descriptions
of hikes, and simple maps.
Peninsula Trails, by Jean Rusmore, has a simple map and trail
this book from Amazon.com).
The Santa Cruz Mountains Trail Book, by Tom Taber, has a map
and trail descriptions (order
this book from Amazon.com).
Trail Map of the Southern Peninsula, published by the Trail
Center, includes Coal Creek.
View photos from
Go to Bay Area Hiker Home page
Hill Open Space Preserve is the preeminent hiking
spot on the Santa Cruz Mountains eastern slope. The 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
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. Then 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.
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). At 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. Near 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
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.
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.
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