St. Joseph's Hill Open Space Preserve/
Lexington Reservoir County Park,
Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District &
Santa Clara County Parks,
Santa Clara County
In brief:
3.1 mile partial loop on a hill overlooking Los Gatos and Lexington Reservoir.

Distance, category, and difficulty:
This 3.1 mile partial loop hike is easy, with two short steep stretches. Elevation in this small preserve ranges from slightly under 600 to 1253 feet. Total elevation change is about 650 feet.

Almost completely exposed.

Trail traffic:

Trail surfaces:
Dirt fire roads.

Hiking time:
1 1/2 hours.

Nice any time.

Getting there:
From Interstate 280 in Santa Clara County, exit CA 17 south (exit 5b). Drive south about 10 miles, then exit Bear Creek/Alma Bridge Road. At the stop sign, turn right, cross over 17, then turn left and return to 17, heading north. Stay in the right lane and exit onto Alma Bridge Road. Drive over the dam and park in the paved lot on the right side of the road.

Get driving or public transit directions from Transit and Trails:

GPS Coordinates* for Trailhead
Latitude 3712'0.51"N
(* based on Google Earth data, shown as degrees, minutes, seconds)

Gas, food, and lodging
Gas, stores, and restaurants in Los Gatos, a few miles north. Pay phone in parking lot. No camping.

Trailhead details
$6 parking fee via automated ticketing machine in lot. Some people park on the side of the road, but I've been warned that the county issues tickets for that. Portable toilets in parking lot. Maps available under glass at an information signboard, and to take with you at the MROSD signboard on the trail inside the preserve. There is no direct public transportation to this preserve. Although there are designated handicapped parking spots, trails are very poorly suited to wheelchairs.

All but one trail are multi-use. Dogs are permitted on leash only.

The Official Story:
MROSD's St. Joseph's page.
SCCP's Lexington Reservoir page
MROSD field office: 650-691-1200.
Lexington Reservoir Park: 408-356-2729

Map Choices:
• Use AAA's San Francisco Bay Region map to get there.
• Map from MROSD (download pdf)
• Map from SCCP (download pdf)
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 St. Joseph's hike.
• South Bay Trails, by Jean Rusmore, Betsy Crowder, and Frances Spangle (order this book from has a simple map and trail descriptions.
• Tom Taber's The Santa Cruz Mountains Trail Book has a simple map and preserve description (order this book from

St. Joseph's in a nutshell -- a printable, text-only guide to the featured hike.

View 43 photos from the featured hike.

Go to Bay Area Hiker Home page

A preserve that blends Santa Clara valley views with remnants from a Jesuit sanctuary and a pistol firing range, St. Joseph's Hill Open Space Preserve is popular with local dogwalkers, runners, and cyclists.Trailhead  Los Gatos is nestled just north of the preserve, and you can hike into St. Joseph's from that town's Novitiate Park. Lexington Reservoir, a popular fishing spot, sits to the south: the reservoir and southwestern portion of St. Joseph's is managed by Santa Clara County. St. Joseph's western border is CA 17, and traffic noise (especially trucks downshifting for the grade) is a companion on some trails. Directly east (through Lexington County Park) is MROSD's huge and rugged Sierra Azul Open Space Preserve, dominated by 3,486 foot Mount Umunhum.
     St. Joseph's is small, but features a few short steep trails, and a couple options for loops. All hikes starting at Lexington Reservoir climb on Jones Trail, but once in MROSD territory you can choose 3 loops all around 3 miles. Whatever trails you choose, be sure to wear sturdy footwear, because the trails are rocky.Jones Trail
     For the featured hike, start at the Lexington Reservoir parking lot. Cross Alma Bridge Road and begin walking uphill on Jones Trail, marked by a SJ03 gate. This old, crumbly once-paved road, open to hikers, cyclists, and equestrians, shoots straight uphill, lined with eucalyptus, broom, and sagebrush. The steepest bit is over after 0.15 mile, and the grade tapers off (as well as the pavement) near a MROSD information signboard, where you can check your progress on a map. As Jones Trail edges along a hillside parallel to CA 17, look for cercocarpus, scrub oak, toyon, hollyleaf cherry, black sage, sticky monkeyflower, pitcher sage, and chamise. In summer, puffy-winged seed pods on clematis vines are conspicuous. A curve in the trail affords a lovely view back to Lexington Reservoir, and the forested slopes of the Santa Cruz Mountains. California bays thrive at a bend in the trail, creating a pleasant shaded stretch, but then Jones Trail returns to sunny (and hot) chaparral. View from the trail to Lexington ReservoirTwo opposing signs mark the transition from Santa Clara County managed land to MROSD. You may see silktassel, a shrubby plant with unusual catkins and evergreen wavy leaves; it grows in abundance at St. Joseph's. At 0.47 mile, Jones Trail meets Novitiate Trail at a signed junction. Jones Trail continues north to Novitiate Park in Los Gatos. Turn right onto Novitiate Trail.
      The ascent picks up a bit, as the multi-use trail climbs along an ugly chain-link fence at the preserve boundary. Thick stands of tall manzanita shrubs crowd the trail, which winds uphill and reaches a signed junction at 0.70 mile. Turn right onto Manzanita Trail.
      This aptly-named trail easily climbs along the contour of a hillside, initially through California bays, a buckeye or two, and some coast live oak. You'll soon enter a landscape dominated by manzanita, with some black sage,silktassel, toyon, chamise, and scrub oak keeping the manzanita company. At 1.10 miles, Serpentine Trail departs on the left. Continue straight.Manzanita Trail
     The wide path offers wonderful views of the reservoir, and an unfortunate glimpse of an ugly quarry to the south. This eyesore, which surely takes away from the beauty of the Sierra Azul, makes me think of an anatomy illustration; the "skin" removed from the mountain reveals bare rock that resembles a bundle of muscles. Traveling away from CA 17, traffic noise abates, and your hike gains some peace and quiet. You may notice serpentine rocks lending a greenish color to the sides of the trail. At 1.34 miles, Manzanita Trail meets Range Trail at a signed junction. The flat clear spot to the left, backed by a berm, is the old pistol range. Yellow star thistle has invaded this treeless patch. Bear right to stay on Manzanita Trail.
     As the trail continues to wind gently uphill, oaks, and then grassland overtake the chaparral community.At 1.54 miles, a shortcut trail departs to the left at an undersigned junction. Remain to the right on Manzanita Trail. Near the top
     After a straight stretch, then a sharp curve left, Manzanita Trail sweeps uphill to the level summit of St. Joseph's Hill. When it's clear, expect to see Mount Hamilton to the east, and the Santa Clara Valley. There's also an unobstructed view of Mount Umunhum, but I think this close-up vista pales in comparison to the views from other south bay parks such as Calero and Almaden Quicksilver. Jesuits first lived on top of this hill in 1888; they planted grapes and made wine, in addition pursuing spiritual devotion. MROSD is attempting to restore this area's oak population, so you may see baby trees, or volunteer crews removing non-native broom (on one project I attended, we wrenched 5 truckloads of broom from the eastern slopes of St. Joseph's Hill). Once past the summit, the trail heads downhill through coyote brush, toyon, poison oak, and broom. Look for buckwheat in bloom in late summer. At 2.06 miles, an unsigned path heads uphill to the left. Continue straight.View north from near the top
    The trail turns right and descends somewhat steeply. Ignore a path doubling back to the right at 2.13 miles. Unlike the chaparral on the dry exposed hillsides on the south side of the hill, here the vegetation is mostly comprised of shade loving plants including madrone, coast live oak, California bay, and blackberry. At 2.25 miles, you'll reach a multiple junction. Novitiate Trail to the right, is not a through trail, and ambles uphill for 0.5 mile before ending. Continue straight.
      Once more, a chain-link fence defines the preserve border to the right, and manzanitas, eucalyptus, coast live oak, some young Douglas fir, and toyon line the trail. At 2.41 miles, you'll reach the previously encountered junction with Manzanita Trail. Continue straight, and retrace your steps back to the trailhead.

Total distance: about 3.11 miles
Last hiked: Monday, October 14, 2002