Upper Stevens Creek County Park,
Santa Clara County Parks/

Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District,

Santa Clara County
In brief:
5.5 mile loop up and down the eastern slope of the Santa Cruz Mountains. The return climb is shaded, but sustained.

Distance, category, and difficulty:
This 5.5 mile loop hike is rated moderate, with about 1100 feet in elevation change. Trailhead elevation is about 2545 feet. The featured hike descends to about 1600 feet, then climbs back to the trailhead. Both legs are moderately steep.

Mix of sun and shade.

Trail traffic:

Trail surfaces:
Dirt trails and fire roads.

Hiking time:
3 hours.

Nice any time; lovely in spring and autumn.

Getting there:
From Interstate 280 in San Mateo County, exit Page Mill Road (exit 20). Drive west on Page Mill to the junction with Skyline Boulevard (CA 35). Turn left (south) and drive about 4.9 miles. Roadside parking for about 6 cars. The trail entrance is easy to miss; it's a small unsigned path on the east side of Skyline.

Get driving or public transit directions from Transit and Trails:

GPS Coordinates* for Trailhead:
Latitude 3716'9.52"N
122 8'27.57"W
(* based on Google Earth data, shown as degrees, minutes, seconds)

Gas, food, and lodging:
Restaurants, gas, pay phone, and stores at the junction of 35 and 84, about 11 miles north. No camping in the park.

Trailhead details:
No entrance or parking fees. No toilet facilities. No Santa Clara County Parks maps available at the trailhead; there is an information signboard with a map (but none to take with you) 0.3 mile inside Upper Stevens Creek County Park. Across Skyline Boulevard at Long Ridge Open Space Preserve, there are maps available at the information signboard (barely visible from the road), about 50 feet inside the preserve. MROSD's South Skyline Region and Long Ridge maps cover the trails of Upper Stevens Creek County Park. The main trailhead to Upper Stevens Creek County Park is the Grizzly Flat Trailhead, on Skyline Boulevard 3 miles south of Page Mill Road. Roadside parking for about 10 cars, with more roadside parking across the street. No toilet facilities. No entrance or parking fees. There is a map at the trailhead, but no maps to take with you. There is no direct public transportation to this park, or designated handicapped parking.

Most trails are multi-use. One trail is designated hiking only. No dogs. Park is open from 8 a.m. to dusk.

The Official Story:
SCCP's Upper Stevens Creek page

Map Choices:
• Navigate to the park with the assistance of AAA's San Francisco Bay Region map.
Map from SCCP (download pdf)
• The Trail Center's Trail Map of the Southern Peninsula has a great map of the park.
Afoot and Afield: San Francisco Bay Area, by David Weintraub (order this book from Amazon.com) has a great map and descriptions of hike through Upper Stevens Creek County Park.
• Tom Taber's The Santa Cruz Mountains Trail Book has a simple map and park descriptions (order this book from Amazon.com).
• Jean Rusmore's The Bay Area Ridge Trail book (order this book from Amazon.com) describes some of the western part of the park.
Peninsula Trails, by Jean Rusmore, has a simple map and descriptions of some trails (order this book from Amazon.com).

Upper Stevens Creek County Park in a nutshell -- a printable, text-only guide to the featured hike.

View photos from this hike

Go to Bay Area Hiker Home page

Upper Stevens Creek County Park is an important piece in the south skyline region open space preserve and park region. Photo of Upper Stevens Creek County Park Trailhead on Skyline Boulevard The park connects Monte Bello, Long Ridge, and Saratoga Gap open space preserves, and hosts a portion of the Bay Area Ridge Trail. This connectivity benefits bicyclists the most, as it enables them to string together trails and preserves to create long, challenging loop rides. For hikers the only multi-preserve loop is a 8.5 mile jaunt combining the Bay Area Ridge Trail, Charcoal Road, Table Mountain Trail, Canyon Trail, Grizzly Flat Trail, Peters Creek Trail, and Hickory Oaks Trail. This fairly strenuous hike drops down to the actual Stevens Creek and then regains 1000 feet of elevation on the way back to the trailhead, with a certain amount of roller coaster elevation changes in between. Both the trailheads at Upper Stevens Creek County Park afford access to Long Ridge Open Space Preserve. All hikes starting at Upper Stevens Creek County Park are the upside-down variety (a descent followed by an ascent). Ridge Trail
     I've enjoyed hikes here all year round. In autumn black oaks, which blend in to the forest most of the year, pop with color. Fall is also the season when poison oak is literally red-flagged by nature; you'll be grateful for the warning along Alternate Trail, which has a shocking amount of the noxious plant, some of it crowding the trail at an alarming face-height level. In winter Charcoal Road is muddy, creeks swell with storm runoff, and manzanita bloom, but there might be storm damage along Alternate Trail. Mid to late spring may be my favorite, for that's the peak bloom of two of my favorite chaparral shrubs, bush poppy and chaparral pea.Charcoal Road
        Start this hike on the east side of Skyline Boulevard, across the street from the Long Ridge Open Space Preserve gate (LR01). Look for a narrow, unmarked path heading east. After a few steps a small sign marks your entry into Upper Stevens Creek County Park. The Bay Area Ridge Trail segment winds slightly downhill through the shade of black oak, madrone, California bay, and tanoak. Hazelnut is a common understory plant. At 0.22 mile, you'll reach a four way junction. Sandstone is the dominant rock here, and this clearing is so deep with sand sometimes in summer it's like a walk on the beach. Under the trees near the information signboard are a few small Indian grinding bowls worn into a broad rock. Stop at the information signboard here if you'd like to consult the map. Then take the broad trail to the left and downhill, Charcoal Road. Charcoal Road
     A trail signed hiking only departs to the left just a few feet down Charcoal Road; this is the path you'll take on the return leg of this hike. Charcoal Road is signed for uphill bicycle traffic only, which means you shouldn't have to check your back every 20 seconds to make sure you won't be run over as you descend. Initially the descent is slight, but soon the grade becomes sharp. The fire road features a panoply of plants, including bigleaf maple, madrone, Douglas fir, chamise, manzanita, coyote brush, black oak, coast live oak, canyon live oak, poison oak, and California bay. Chaparral pea and bush poppy bloom in late May, on the left side of the trail. In October, look for lovely red-berried honeysuckle vines hanging down off the trees. Later, in November, madrone berries dangle off their branches. Occasionally the vegetation clears to offers views to the hills southeast, including Mount Hamilton and Mount Umunhum. Table Mountain TrailThe deeply dusty surface of the trail makes for great animal tracking, particularly in the subsequent mud after a rainstorm. Briefly Charcoal Road enters MROSD land. At 1.00 mile, stay to the left at a signed junction with a service road.
    Charcoal Road narrows, and the jurisdiction returns to Santa Clara County. Madrone, Douglas fir, coast live oak, and redwood crowd the trail. At 1.50 miles, you'll reach an unsigned T junction. Turn left (the trail to the right is not a through trail).
     Now on Table Mountain Fire Road, the grade softens to a more moderate descent. Tree cover deepens, with a few redwoods accompanying a forest of Douglas fir and madrone. Eventually, the trail levels out, and you'll enter a clearing. Alternate Trail This meadow is astonishingly quiet. Through the grassland an odd assortment of madrone, non-native conifers,coyote brush, California coffeeberry, and black and live oaks are sprinkled here and there. The views uphill to the rolling hills of Monte Bello Ridge are pleasant. Somehow this meadow seems out-of-place in Santa Clara County. I always feel like I'm in the Sierra, or some other place far from civilization. Stay to the right at an unmarked junction at 1.90 miles, just past a pretty perfectly-shaped conifer. 
     Wider here, Table Mountain Fire Road curves around a gently sloping hill. Nonnative trees (firs) still can be glimpsed on the sides of the trail, although there are huge piles of removed trees clustered throughout the grass to the left. Oaks, Douglas fir, and madrones are reclaiming their native soil. The trail sweeps back to the left, still skirting the "summit" of Table Mountain, and reaches an unsigned junction at 2.52 miles, under the shade of some coast live oaks. The path to the right descends to Stevens Creek. Continue straight on Table Mountain Fire Road . After a short straight stretch, a hiking-only trail sets out on the right side of the trail at 2.57 miles. Turn right.View from Alternate Trail
        On every one of my hikes it's been apparent that the trail is used by cyclists. All along the length of this trail, Santa Clara County Parks has tried to keep cyclists off of the path, stretching logs across the trail, leaving fallen trees partially obstructing the trail, and installing a fence-like shoot impossible to navigate while on a bicycle. Nothing has worked. Bicyclists have simply gone over, under, or around every obstacle. Be alert, for a collision with bike descending this trail would be a serious incident. Also beware of poison oak, which drifts toward the trail and hangs off trees (in winter when the plant is leafless but still dangerous, treat every bare skinny vine branch as a potential poison oak threat). It is really difficult to avoid some contact. I recommend wearing long pants and long sleeves, and taking a cool shower as soon as you get home. Alternate TrailAside from these caveats, it's a lovely long ascent, with no (legitimate) trail junctions the entire length of the trail. After drifting downhill through woods and some little meadows, Table Mountain Trail crosses a creek, and climbs through California bay, tanoak, coast live oak, canyon live oak, interior live oak, hazelnut, Douglas fir, and madrone. You might also see creambush and pitcher sage. A few early switchbacks lull you into the false confidence that this will be a gently graded ascent. As you get further uphill, steeper sections set you straight. Eventually the trail emerges into a clearing of some chaparral, and for a while short stretches of open trail alternate with more shady sections. Tall chaparral plants (manzanita, chaparral pea, yerba santa, chamise, shrubby oaks, wartleaf ceanothus, golden fleece, and coyote brush) sometimes tower over 6 feet tall, blocking most views. At some clear spots, look south and east for the best views of the hike. Table Mountain Trail heads back into the woods, still climbing at a moderate grade. Alternate TrailOn the left you'll pass a trail, blocked off but still clearly in use. The trail descends a bit. In autumn, beware of loose rocks covered with fallen leaves on the trail surface. You might see California nutmeg trees on the right side of the trail. At a sharp corner, a straight channel reaches up to Charcoal Road (a path created by cyclists), while the trail continues to the right. Table Mountain Trail ends shortly after, at 5.27 miles, at a junction just before the large 4-way sandbox intersection. (This trail is tough to spot when you're traveling north from the sandbox. If you want to see a photo of the junction, click here. It's the small trail on the left by the reflective post.) Take the Bay Area Ridge Trail to the right, retracing your steps back to the trailhead.

Total distance: about 5.50 miles
Last hiked: Tuesday, May 21, 2002