Skyline Ridge Open Space Preserve,
Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District,

San Mateo County
In brief:
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.

Mostly exposed.

Trail traffic:

Trail surfaces:
Dirt trails and fire roads.

Hiking time:
Under 2 hours.

Nice year round.

Getting there:
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:
Latitude 3718'44.19"N
(* 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.

Trailhead details:
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 preserve.

Most trails are multi-use. A few are designated hiking only. No dogs.

The Official Story:
MROSD's Skyline Ridge page.
MROSD field office 650-691-1200

Map Choices:
Map from MROSD (download Skyline Ridge pdf).
60 Hikes 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
Peninsula Tales and Trails, by David Weintraub (order this book from has an overview of the preserve, descriptions of hikes, and simple maps.
Afoot and Afield: San Francisco Bay Area, by David Weintraub (order this book from has a great map and descriptions of a Skyline Ridge hike.
• 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 descriptions (order this book from
• Tom Taber's The Santa Cruz Mountains Trail Book has a simple map and preserve description (order this book from
• Jean Rusmore's Bay Area Ridge Trail (order this book from has a map and preserve description.

Skyline Ridge loop in a nutshell -- a printable, text-only guide to the featured hike.

View 56 photos from this hike

Go to Bay Area Hiker Home page

Skyline Ridge is one of my favorite spots to sit still. Photo of Skyline Ridge parking lotThe 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. Photo of view from Ridge TrailSpringtime 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. Photo of Bay Area Ridge TrailAcross 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.Photo of 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. Photo of the Ridge Trail, around a rock formationThere'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. Photo from the Ridge Trail, with a view south 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.Photo of Ridge Trail, about to reach a junction  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.Photo of Horseshoe Lake
      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
Last hiked Tuesday, April 3, 2012