Uvas Canyon County Park,
Santa Clara County Parks,
Santa Clara County
In brief:
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.

Completely exposed.

Trail traffic:

Trail surfaces:
Dirt trails and fire roads.

Hiking time:
2 hours.

Nice any time; best in late winter for waterfalls.

Getting there:
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
Latitude 37 5'2.95"N
(* 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."

Trailhead details
$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:
SCCP's Uvas Canyon page

Map options:
Map from SCCP
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 (order this book from Amazon.com) has a great map and descriptions of an Uvas hike.
• South Bay Trails, by Jean Rusmore, Betsy Crowder, and Frances Spangle (order 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 hike

Go to Bay Area Hiker Home page

Uvas Canyon County Park is a refuge for south bay hikers.Trailhead 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. Alec Canyon Trail
     Although Uvas Canyon County Park offers a feeling of rugged remoteness there are also 25 campsites with drinking water and restrooms available on site.
     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.View from Manzanita Point
     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 Contour Trail.Contour Trail
     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 moss-covered rock 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.Along Swanson Creek
     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. Basin Falls
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 fire road. Black Rock Falls
     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 16, 2003