This 3 mile loop near the crest of the Santa Cruz Mountains has it all: two cute
ponds, grassland, woods, chaparral, and excellent views west to the
ocean. A Bay Area Ridge Trail segment.
Distance, category, and difficulty:
This 3 mile loop hike is easy, with just two short moderate uphill
stretches. Total elevation change is about 650 feet. Trailhead elevation
is around 2100 feet. The featured hike climbs to about 2480 feet, drops
a bit, then keeps an easy pace, eventually ending up at the low point of
about 2020 feet.
Dirt trails and fire roads.
Under 2 hours.
Nice year round.
From Interstate 280 in Santa Clara County, exit Page Mill Road (exit #20).
Drive west to the junction with Skyline Boulevard (CA 35). Turn left and
drive south about 1 mile, to the preserve entrance on the right side of
the road. Park at the north lot (to the right).
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:
Restaurants, gas, pay phone, and store at the junction of 35 and 84, about
8 miles north. No camping in the preserve.
Lots of parking. (You can also park at the Russian
Ridge Open Space Preserve parking lot, at the intersection of Page Mill
and Alpine, and walk through a tunnel under Alpine Road to access the north
portion of this preserve.) No entrance or parking fees. There are two designated
handicapped parking spots, and a separate lot reserved for handicapped visitors
just to the south. Maps are available at the information signboard. A
wheelchair-accessible pit toilet sits on the northeastern corner of the
lot. No drinking water. There is no direct public transportation to this
Most trails are multi-use. A few are designated hiking only. No dogs.
The Official Story:
Skyline Ridge page.
MROSD field office 650-691-1200
from MROSD (download Skyline Ridge pdf).
within 60 Miles: San Francisco, by Jane Huber (yup, that's me, the creator
of this website) has a simple map and a featured hike. Order
this book from Amazon.com.
Tales and Trails, by David Weintraub (order
this book from Amazon.com) has an overview of the preserve, descriptions
of hikes, and simple maps.
Afoot and Afield: San Francisco Bay Area, by David Weintraub
this book from Amazon.com) has a great map and descriptions of a Skyline
The Trail Center's Trail Map of the Southern Peninsula is
a great map to this preserve.
Peninsula Trails, by Jean Rusmore, has a simple map and preserve
this book from Amazon.com).
Tom Taber's The Santa Cruz Mountains Trail Book has a simple
map and preserve description (order
this book from Amazon.com).
Jean Rusmore's Bay Area Ridge Trail (order
this book from Amazon.com) has a map and preserve description.
Ridge loop in a nutshell -- a printable, text-only guide to the featured
View 56 photos from this
Go to Bay Area Hiker Home page
Ridge is one of my favorite spots to sit still. The hiking is great, but the two ponds are what makes this preserve so special
to me. They are quiet, tranquil, meditative places, and usually empty
on weekdays. The trails around Alpine Pond
and Horseshoe Lake are all-access
trails very close to parking, so if you want to share the outdoors with
a mobility-challenged person (or are challenged yourself), Skyline Ridge
is a great choice.
For the featured hike, start at the northernmost
parking lot and begin hiking on the Bay Area Ridge Trail (follow the signs
"to Alpine Pond"). The trail, open to hikers only, begins
in grassland, climbs slightly, then darts into a woodland comprised of
Douglas fir, coast live oak, big-leaf maple, California bay, and buckeye.
Springtime blooms include Chinese houses, yellow mariposa lily, and an
occasional fairy lantern. Deer are commonly spotted in these woods. Look
for thimbleberries at a dark and damp
spot, and gooseberry, wild rose, and hazelnut on the shaded slopes. At
0.37 mile, the trail reemerges into grassland at a signed junction. From this junction the views to the west are
fabulous, even though Butano Ridge arches its spine, blocking the view of the ocean.
Fog sometimes collects in the southern crook of the hills, hanging across
the mountains like a canopy. Turn right.
Sunny Jim Trail
heads somewhat steeply uphill, with coyote brush, coast live oak, madrone,
and some nonnative conifers on the sides of the wide fire road. When you
reach the crest of the hill, keep going straight past two undersigned
junctions (at 0.56 and 0.61 mile) with trails heading to the left. Across
the valley to the east, views are dominated by Monte Bello Open Space
Preserve, and Black Mountain(2800
feet). The elevation under your feet, at is almost 2500 feet, one
of the highest points in the Santa Cruz Mountains. The trail ushers you
under the canopy of coast live oak, tanoak, and California bay as you
descend to the north. At 0.83 mile, at a signed junction, turn
right, toward Alpine Pond, remaining on the Sunny Jim Trail.
You may catch a glimpse of a small stand
of lovely white poplar trees, their deciduous silvery leaves seeming to
sparkle in the wind. When you reach a paved service road at a signed
junction at 1.07 miles, turn left, then after a few feet, at 1.09 miles,
turn right at a signed junction and walk downhill toward Alpine Pond.
Continue straight at a junction
with a trail that sets off to the left at 1.14 miles, marked "not
a through trail." Snowberry and creambush line the understory, where
you might see fairy lanterns and
Chinese houses in spring. Go straight at the signed junction with
the Bay Area Ridge Trail segment at 1.16 miles, straight again at a signed
junction at 1.19 miles, and walk a few feet more down the paved road to
Alpine Pond. If you are hiking on a weekend day between mid-March and
November, the Daniels Nature Center (visible in photo) may be open. If
not, let Alpine Pond draw you into its busy world. Fish, ducks, and turtles
disrupt the smooth surface of the water as they splash about. Crawfish
can sometimes be seen in the mud. And of course there may be birds
and brightly-colored dragonflies drifting about. There's a tiny platform
near the water's edge; a nice place to sit and bask in the sunshine. When
you're ready to continue, walk back uphill on the paved road to the
previously encountered junction with the Bay Area Ridge Trail/Ipiwa Trail at
1.28 miles, and turn right (south).
Take note of the sign warning about rattlesnakes, which
are active in warm weather on this stretch of hiking-only trail. I once got myself so worked up and panicky here that I literally scared myself with my own shadow. Now I try
to stay calm, yet attentive to the trail. It's worth it; this portion features incredible views to the west. The
trail starts out under cover of live oaks, then crosses a grassy hillside.
Then the trail creeps along the edge of the ridge. The ocean can be glimpsed,
weather permitting. I often spot footprints of bobcat and/or coyote along
this stretch. A bench dedicated to Norbert Eberhardt, a hiker who died
while visiting this preserve in 1999, is a fitting location for a rest
break. Some rocks look inviting to climb,
but note the poison oak, and the long drop off the side of the hill. There
is an easy-to-miss junction near the most prominent rock formation (where
a fence and trail have been built into and around the rock), at 1.79 miles. The
path to the left climbs up to meet the crest of the hill, but stay
to the right, go around the rock, and continue through chaparral,
mostly comprised of chamise, ceanothus, pitcher sage, monkeyflower, coyote
brush, toyon, California sagebrush, holly-leaf cherry, and manzanita. You might also see silktassel and cercocarpus. Ridge Trail dips beneath
some live oaks, then emerges to a fantastic view south, with Mount Umunhum
visible on a clear day. As the trail curves to follow the contour of the
hill, it cuts through a slope of land that has been overtaken by yellow
star thistle, an invasive, nonnative pest. You might see owl's clover
in early spring,and
clarkia, yellow mariposa lily, and brodiaea later in the season. At a
previously encountered junction at 2.13 miles, turn right and head
downhill toward Horseshoe Lake.
Sunny Jim Trail, open to equestrians,
hikers, and cyclists, drops easily downhill through coyote brush and more
Christmas tree farm escapees. At 2.54 miles, turn right at a signed
junction, continuing toward Horseshoe Lake. As you descend, the sounds
of the lake will probably drift up to meet you. Blue-eyed grass is common
in early spring. Lambert Creek Trail (not a through path) departs to the
right at a signed junction at 2.66 miles. Continue toward the lake,
and at 2.68 miles, you'll reach a signed junction. (There's a bench just
past this, near the water, that makes a good lunch stop.) Turn left
onto a full-access section of the Ridge Trail.
The path is open to hikers (and wheelchair
users) only. It takes a level tack along the shore of the lake, through
coyote brush and willow. I saw a bobcat here once, and often see
their tracks in the soft mud around the water. Shy ducks squawk in alarm
at outsiders. Iris are lovely in early spring on
the left. At a bridge crossing, look to the right for a cloud of snowberries
in autumn. The trail switchbacks gently uphill, and reaches the handicapped
parking lot at 2.91 miles (you can take either path at a split; the trail
left is at a wheelchair accessible grade, but the stairs dump you out
into the parking lot immediately). Cross the lot and look for the signed
continuation of the trail at 2.93 miles. This last stretch of the
hiking-only path passes levelly through coyote brush and marshy grassland.
In late summer, the blush of buckwheat in bloom shades the grass a strange
pink. At about 3.08 miles, the path ends back at the trailhead.
Total distance: 3.08 miles
Tuesday, April 3, 2012