Mount Madonna County Park,
Santa Clara County Parks,
Santa Clara County
In brief:
4.6 mile loop features grassland, woods, and quiet trails.

Distance, category, and difficulty
:
This 4.6 mile loop hike is moderate, with about 1200 feet in elevation change. Trailhead elevation is around 500 feet. The featured hike climbs to about 1700 feet, contours through a forest, then descends back to the trailhead. Some stretches on the ascending and descending trails are moderately steep.

Exposure
:
Full sun throughout.

Trail traffic
:
Light-moderate.

Trail surfaces
:
Dirt fire roads and trails

Hiking time
:
2 hours.

Season
:
Nice any time, but probably best in spring.

Getting there
:
From US 101 in Santa Clara County, exit CA 152 West. Drive through Gilroy, following 152 West, which jogs south on Monterey Street, then turns west. After about 7 miles (distance from 101), turn right into the park at the Sprig Lake sign.

Get driving or public transit directions from Transit and Trails:
http://www.transitandtrails.org/trailheads/105

GPS coordinates* for trailhead:
Latitude 37 0'18.26"N
Longitude
12140'54.16"W
(* based on Google Earth data, shown as degrees, minutes, seconds)

Gas, food, and lodging:
Gas, stores, restaurants, and pay phones back in Gilroy (there's also a pay phone at the visitor center area of the park, further uphill along Pole Line Road). In-and-Out lovers: there's one just on the east side of US 101, on Leavesley Road (conveniently located near the northbound highway entrance ramp). Mount Madonna has several campgrounds with group, tent, and RV camping.

Trailhead details:
Parking along a dead-end dirt road. No parking at the trailhead at the end of the road. No parking or entrance fees ($6 day use fee if using main park trailhead). No drinking water, pay phone, or designated handicapped parking. Trails are poorly suited to wheelchairs. There is a portable toilet. Maps at the start of Merry Go Round Trail. There is no direct public transportation to this park.

Rules:
Park is open from 8 a.m. to sunset. Most trails are open to hikers and equestrians only. A few are signed hiking only. No bikes are permitted on the trails. Dogs are permitted on leash.

The Official Story:
SCCP's Mount Madonna page
Park office 408-842-2341

Map Choices/More Info:
• Use AAA's San Francisco Bay Region map to get there.
Map from SCCP (download the pdf)
South Bay Trails, by Jean Rusmore, Betsy Crowder, and Frances Spangle (order this book from Amazon.com) has a simple park map and trail descriptions.
The Bay Area Ridge Trail, by Jean Rusmore (order this book from Amazon.com) has a good map and park descriptions.
• Tom Taber's The Santa Cruz Mountains Trail Book has a simple map and park description (order this book from Amazon.com).

Mount Madonna County Park in a nutshell -- a printable, text-only guide to the featured hike.

View photos from the featured hike.





Go to Bay Area Hiker Home page

Zipping past Mount Madonna County Park on CA 152, theTrailhead  3,219 acre parcel appears to be yet another Santa Cruz Mountains redwood preserve. That it is, but once you get into the park you'll see that the park offers surprises and bonuses to visitors. The terrain and vegetation are varied, and hikes traverse grassland and chaparral-swathed hills with sweeping views, and travel through forests of redwood, madrone, and coast live oak. The park also offers picnic grounds and campgrounds, with 117 campsites in the park's main area, along Pole Line Road.
     You can skip the hustle and bustle of the park's main area, by entering the park at Sprig Lake, on Mount Madonna's eastern flank. If you don't mind a no-frills staging area,Merry Go Round Trail  squeeze your car into a spot among the horse trailers along a dusty dirt road and begin climbing on one of three fire roads. Steep climbs level out near the summit, where you can use restrooms, have a picnic, and visit penned white fallow deer. Then it's all downhill on the return to the trailhead. I visited in late summer, but I bet Mount Madonna is at its best from late winter to mid-spring, when wildflower enthusiasts can search for blossoms in chaparral, grassland, and woods, and the temperatures are cool.
      Begin on the dirt road at the Sprig Lake entrance. Depending on where you park, you'll face an up to about 0.2 mile walk to the trailhead at the end of the road (this is not included in the following trail mileage figures). At the end of the road, two fire roads head off to the right and left. Take Merry Go Round Trail, to Merry Go Round Trailthe right.
      The broad trail, open to hikers and equestrians only, begins to ascend along a seasonal creek. Sycamore, coast live oak, madrone, poison oak, buckeye, snowberry, and California bay line the trail. Almost immediately all the extraneous noise of civilization seems to fade away. Initially the grade is easy, though it stiffens to moderate occasionally. As Merry Go Round Trail climbs out of a canyon, there are a few short stretches through grassland, where you might see coyote brush, bush lupine, and valley oak. There's a long shaded section with big leaf maple, massive shrubs of poison oak, and some young redwoods along the trail. Still climbing, Merry Go Round Trail steps out of the woods into grassland and some patches of chaparral. After skirting A steep climb through chaparrala little hilltop, the trail sweeps left and levels out on a ridge. There are great views northeast and southwest. I visited too late for the bulk of seasonal wildflowers, but there were still some California fuchsia and vinegarweed in bloom along the trail. At 1.19 miles, dead-end Old Mine Trail sets out to the right, from a signed junction. Stay to the left on Merry Go Round Trail.
     At a mostly moderate grade, the trail climbs through chaparral, with thick stands of coffeeberry, manzanita, scrub, coast live, and interior live oaks, madrone, and chamise nearly walling off the sides of the trail. At 1.37 miles, you'll reach a signed junction with Tie Camp Trail. (Tie Camp is a shortcut to Ridge Trail, and offers an escape route from the steepest trail segments.) Continue straight on Merry Go Round Trail.
     The trail gets steeper, and you may find yourself thinking twice about skipping the shortcut on Tie Camp Trail, especially on a hot day. Loop TrailChaparral pea makes a strong showing along the trail, mixed through oaks, buckbrush, manzanita, chinquapin, goldenfleece, and even a few redwoods -- even though these are hot, dry, and exposed slopes, fog drifting east from the ocean must provide adequate moisture for these giants. Merry Go Round Trail heads into the woods and blissful shade. Tanoak, madrone, and redwood line the trail as it continues to climb. At 1.86 miles, you'll reach a signed junction. Bear left onto Loop Trail.
     At a level grade, the wide hiking and equestrian trail winds along the contour of the hillside. Redwood, tanoak, madrone, and some surprisingly huge eucalyptus create a thick tree cover. At 1.91 miles, Tan Oak Trail sets out uphill from a signed junction. (You can add about 0.6 mile to this hike with an out and back visit to the fallow deer pen via Tan Oak.) Continue straight on Loop Trail.
     The hillside A level stretch on Loop Trailfalls away steeply on the left, but the trail through these pretty and quiet woods remains nearly flat. Look for huckleberry and wild rose shrubs in the understory. At 2.23 miles, signed Lower Miller Trail begins on the right. Continue straight. A few steps later, Upper Miller Trail departs uphill on the right. Stay to the left, still on Loop Trail.
     There's a brief dip, then Loop Trail rises slightly and emerges from the woods. A sign warns visitors to stay on the trail -- an archery range is off the right side of the trail. Tall redwoods loom over more diminutive vegetation including manzanita, chaparral pea, coast live oak, and tanoak. In late summer and early autumn red honeysuckle berries dangle off other plants. The trail follows along a string of utility poles, then ends at a signed triangle junction at 2.46 miles. Turn left, onto Ridge Trail.Ridge Trail
     Descending at a moderate pace, broad Ridge Trail, open to hikers and equestrians only, passes through a blend of shrubby chaparral and tall trees. You might see lots of chaparral pea, toyon, chinquapin, interior live oak, coast live oak, manzanita, madrone, and redwood. When I stopped and sat down on a berm along the trail for a water break, a coyote stepped out of the brush about 100 feet up the trail. It looked around, gazed at me briefly, then turned and vanished back into the chaparral. Ridge Trail drops back into a woodland of huckleberry, tanoak, madrone, and redwood. Some sections are moderately steep. At 3.08 miles, you'll reach a signed junction with Contour Trail. Stay to the left, on Ridge Trail.
      The trail stays under tree cover for a bit, then exits the woods for another stint through chaparral. Views extend east across the valley to the ridges of Henry Coe Lower section of Ridge TrailState Park. Still more chaparral pea, manzanita, toyon, chamise, and ceanothus cling to the hillsides like a fuzzy sweater. At 3.73 miles you'll pass the other end of Tie Camp Trail, on the left. Continue straight at this signed junction.
     Ridge Trail twists and turns, all the while descending. You may begin to hear traffic noise from CA 152. At 4.27 miles Blackhawk Trail sets off on the right, from a signed junction. Continue straight/left on Ridge Trail.
     A pretty blend of coast live oak and California bay shades the trail. Creambush makes an appearance in the understory. Ridge Trail takes a broad arc to the left, then descends to end at a gate, back at the trailhead.

Total distance: 4.58 miles (plus up to 0.4 mile out and back the park road)
Last hiked: Thursday, September 12, 2002