This 3.2 mile loop visits a series of waterfalls in this secluded canyon park.
Distance, category, and difficulty:
This 3.2 mile loop hike is easy, although there are a few
short moderately steep sections. Trailhead elevation is about 1100 feet.
This hike's highest point is about 1800 feet. Total elevation change is
about 700 feet.
Dirt trails and fire roads.
Nice any time; best in late winter for waterfalls.
From Interstate 280 in Santa Clara County, take CA 85 south (exit 12b, toward
Gilroy). After about 12 miles, exit at Almaden Expressway (exit 6),
make the first left, then the next right onto Almaden Expressway. Drive
about 5 miles to the end of Almaden Expressway, and turn right onto Harry.
Almost immediately, turn left onto McKean. McKean turns into Uvas Road after
about 6.5 miles. Continue on Uvas for another 3.7 miles, then turn right
onto Croy (there's a brown county park sign before the turnoff). Drive about
3.8 miles to the park entrance at the end of the road. NOTE: the last 0.4
mile or so of Croy passes through the Swedish private community of Sveadal.
That stretch of road is very narrow, so drive slowly.
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:
Gas, stores, and restaurants along Almaden Expressway. Camping info from
SCCP: "The campground has twenty-five individual campsites available
by reservation only. The Upper Bench Youth Group Camping Area is reservable
for non-profit youth groups for up to 40 people."
$6 entrance fee (self register at automated kiosk). Continue past the entrance
station to the signed day use parking lot, just up the road and around the
corner, on the right. Parking for about 34 cars. There are a few designated
handicapped spots. Restrooms and drinking water just past the west edge
of the lot. Maps at the entrance station, and at the beginning of the waterfall
loop. Pay phone near entrance station. There is no direct public transportation
to the park.
Hikers only. Dogs are permitted, on leash only. Park hours for day use are
8 a.m. to sunset.
The Official Story:
Uvas Canyon page
This hike is
described and mapped in 60 Hikes within 60 Miles: San Francisco,
by Jane Huber (yup, that's me, the creator of this website). Order
this book from Amazon.com.
Afoot and Afield: San Francisco Bay Area, by David Weintraub
this book from Amazon.com) has a great map and descriptions of an Uvas
South Bay Trails, by Jean Rusmore, Betsy Crowder, and Frances
this book from Amazon.com) has a simple map and trail descriptions.
The Santa Cruz Mountains Trail Book, by Tom Taber, has a map
and descriptions of the park (order
this book from Amazon.com).
View 39 photos from the featured
Go to Bay Area Hiker Home page
Canyon County Park is a refuge for south bay hikers. It's too far from civilization to be used as a neighborhood
exercise track, and horses and cyclists are not allowed on any of the
trails. The park offers a few loop opportunities, and one steep out-and-back
option. Many visitors go no further than the Waterfall Loop. A 1-mile
route along both shores of Swanson Creek, the loop includes a self-guided
nature trail (pick up a pamphlet from the wooden box at the start of the
trail). The toughest hikes in the park are the treks to Nibbs Knob and
Knobcone Point. Nibbs Knob is a 3.6 mile out-and-back hike with a gain
of about 1400 feet (there's a shorter, easier route from the other end
of the Nibbs Knob Trail, accessed via a pullout on Summit Road). The trip
to Knobcone Point is a less strenuous climb, simply because the
trail only extends 0.4 mile.
Although Uvas Canyon County Park offers a feeling
of rugged remoteness there are also 25 campsites with drinking water and restrooms available
For the featured hike, start at the day
use parking lot and walk on the paved park road uphill. When the
road forks, bear left. Pass through a group picnic area, following
the sign to the Waterfall Loop Trail. At about 0.2 mile a gate marks the
start of the hiking trail. On the right side of the path, check the wooden
box for maps and a nature trail guide to the waterfall loop. At about
0.3 mile, at a signed junction, Waterfall Loop Trail sets out on the right.
Keep going straight, on Alec Canyon Trail.
The wide fire road is often padded with pine
needles after winter storms. The trail makes a sharp turn near a water
tank, then begins a consistently moderate-steep climb. Some sections are
a bit rocky. Through breaks in a woodland of California bay, Douglas fir,
tanoak, and madrone, a ridge to the northwest is visible. At a viewpoint, there's a bench right next
to a pinkflowering currant bush. In winter the bush's blossoms attract
hummingbirds and butterflies. Later in the year, the berries are edible
(although currants are not the most delicious wild berry). The view from
the bench fans out of the canyon to the east. In winter
2003 damage from the Croy Fire was conspicuous; large sections of the
hillsides north and south of Uvas Creek were charred and still bare. Alec
Canyon Trail continues ascending to about 0.7 mile, where at a signed
junction, Contour Trail begins. If you want to visit Triple Falls, continue
straight another 0.6 mile, then backtrack to here. Or, walk out and back
to Manzanita Point, just 0.25 mile from this junction. Turn right on
After you get into the rhythm of it, Contour
Trail becomes predictable, like the repeating background of a cartoon.
You'll hike uphill through California bays and madrones, with ferns and
formations in the understory. The path makes a tight turn at a stream
crossing, then you'll climb uphill, cross through a small patch of chaparral,
the path curves up and back into the trees, you'll hike uphill, etc. Contour
Trail is very narrow throughout, and the drop-off on the right side is
steep. Other than the sounds of water rushing downhill, it's very quiet.
This is definitely a trail where you should concentrate on your
footing, and a trekking pole is a good security blanket. The vegetation
cover is heavy, with few views of the surrounding hillsides. As you hike
on, the sounds of rushing water becomes louder, until, at about 1.9 miles,
the trail bends right at a signed junction on the shores of Swanson Creek.
It's a wonderful spot for a rest break. Swanson Creek, a year-round stream,
flows downhill via a series of small waterfalls (other branches of the
creek feed into the main channel further downstream). At this spot, under some redwood trees, water tumbles
over sandstone rocks and fallen tree limbs, then pools and collects itself
before rushing off again.
When you're ready to continue, walk downhill
on the side of the stream, carefully descending through some rocks
that can be slippery with water and moss. The path crosses through
the creek, then widens on the opposite side (there's a trail
sign with an arrow that's not obvious unless you're headed in the
other direction). At an unmarked junction, a trail to the left visits
the Hot House Site (plumbing remnants jut out on the side of the path).
Stay to the right.
Some steps stabilize the trail surface as it
drops down near the water, then skirts a large landslide. Bigleaf maple
and California bay are mixed through Douglas fir along the trail. Upper
Falls, the largest drop on the creek, is distinguished
by a swath of dramatic black rock. At about 2.2 miles, at a signed junction,
the short trail to Basin Falls departs on the left. Trudge uphill on
the path for a pretty view of Basin Falls, then return to the main trail
and continue to the left.
Just downhill from this junction, there's
another junction, with the trail to Knobcone Point. A few picnic tables
sit near the edge of the water, and Waterfall Loop Trail reaches the turnaround
point here. If you want to walk on the south side of the creek, on the
narrow Waterfall Loop Trail, it starts near the picnic tables. This segment
of trail features more bridge crossings of the creek, and a more intimate
hiking experience. On the other hand, from the Waterfall Loop Fire Road
which runs along the north
side of the creek, you can see both sides of the creek, and the Waterfall
Loop Trail, and the trail is more stable. Continue downhill on the
Another short spur, this one to Black Rock Falls,
breaks off on the left side of the trail. The signpost was missing its
face plate on my last hike, but the path is easy enough to find. Like
the trail to Basin Falls, the path ascends just a bit, then turns into
a side canyon. Maples and boulders surrounding the falls were swathed
in green moss when I visited in February, and a few milkmaids bloomed
along the trail. Head back to Waterfall Fire Road and turn left.
The self-guided nature tour identifies California
nutmeg, canyon live oak, California buckeye, and other plants along the
side of the trail. Look for snoozing ladybugs on trailside vegetation
in winter. A sturdy set of steps descends to meet up with Waterfall Loop
Trail. Continue straight on Waterfall Fire Road, which crosses
the creek one last time. The trail forks; bear right. You'll return to
the previously encountered junction with Alec Canyon Trail. Turn left
and retrace your steps back to the parking lot.
Total distance: about 3.2 miles
Last hiked: Sunday, February