Lost Trail,
Windy Hill Open Space Preserve,
Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District,
San Mateo County
In brief:
4.2 mile out and back along a Bay Area Ridge Trail segment.

Distance, category, and difficulty:
This 4.2 mile hike is easy, with about 400 feet in elevation change. There are two main trailheads: the Portola Valley trailhead elevation is under 600 feet. The Skyline Boulevard trailhead elevation is about 1800 feet. From either trailhead, you can create easy or moderate hikes on mostly level trails, but as soon as you start climbing or descending, the hiking is more challenging.

More shade than sun.

Trail traffic

Trail surfaces
Dirt trails and fire roads.

Hiking time
Less than 1 hour.

Nice any time, but best in early spring.

Getting there:
From Interstate 280 in San Mateo County, exit CA 84 (exit 25). Drive west about 6.5 miles to the junction with Skyline Boulevard (CA 35). Turn left and drive south about 2.5 miles, to the signed trailhead on the left side of the road.

Get driving or public transit directions from Transit and Trails:

GPS coordinates* for trailhead:
Latitude 3721'41.92"N
(* based on Google Earth data, shown as degrees, minutes, seconds)

Gas, food, and lodging:
Store, gas, pay phone, and restaurants about 2.5 miles north, at the junction of 35 and 84. No camping in the preserve.

Trailhead details:
No entrance or parking fees. Room for 10 vehicles, with one designated handicapped parking spot. Wheelchair-accessible pit toilet at trailhead. Maps available at information signboard. No drinking water available. Although the picnic area at the trailhead is wheelchair-accessible, the trails are not suitable for wheelchairs. There is no direct public transportation to this trailhead.

A few trails are multi-use. Most are open to equestrians and hikers only, but seasonally closed to horses. Two trails are designated hiking only. Dogs are not permitted on every trail on the hike described below; they are allowed on a few Windy Hill trails.

The Official Story:
MROSD's Windy Hill page
MROSD field office: 650-691-1200

Map Choices:
• Use AAA's San Francisco Bay Region map to get there.
Map from MROSD (download Windy Hill pdf).
Peninsula Tales and Trails, by David Weintraub (order this book from Amazon.com) has an overview of the preserve, descriptions of hikes, and simple maps.
• The Trail Center's Trail Map of the Southern Peninsula.
Peninsula Trails, by Jean Rusmore, has a simple map and preserve descriptions (order this book from Amazon.com).
• Jean Rusmore's The Bay Area Ridge Trail (order this book from Amazon.com) has a simple map and descriptions of Lost Trail.
• Tom Taber's The Santa Cruz Mountains Trail Book has a simple map and preserve descriptions (order this book from Amazon.com).

Lost Trail in a nutshell -- a printable, text-only guide to the featured hike.

View 25 photos from this hike.

Go to Bay Area Hiker Home page

Windy Hill offers plenty of hiking variety.Trailhead Three long loops and three short loops depart from trailheads near the preserve's highest and lowest elevations. Spring Ridge, Hamms Gulch, and Razorback Ridge Trails sprawl east to west across Windy Hill's slopes. Combine any of those trails with Eagle and Lost Trail for loops ranging from about 7 to 8 miles. Sausal Pond Loop and Anniversary Trail provide gentle and easy exercise treks of about 1 and 1.5 miles respectively. If you're planning on a long loop, note that Spring Ridge Trail, unlike Hamms Gulch and Razorback Ridge Trails, climbs rather steeply up to the summit. If you're visiting in springtime, Spring Ridge Trail is the trail most likely to provide wildflowers; it ascends through grassland, while the other long trails at Windy Hill spend most of their time under tree cover. Lost Trail is a Bay Area Ridge Trail segment.Junction of Hamms Gulch and Lost Trail
     Begin at the junction just east of the information signboard. (If you wish to hike the entire Windy Hill Ridge Trail segment, turn left and make the quick climb up to the top of Windy Hill, and continue to the trail's end at the preserve boundary on Skyline Boulevard. Then retrace your steps to this junction. Note that the summit is exposed to the elements, so in the winter it gets pretty cold when windy.) Turn right on Lost Trail. After a few feet, a seasonal gate advises that the trail is closed to equestrians during wet winter months (open to hikers, but closed to cyclists year round). The narrow path is lined with Douglas fir, tanoak, California bay, coyote brush, and blackberry brambles. Lost Trail continues on a level grade, emerging into grassland dotted with coyote brush. On a clear day, you'll have sweeping views past the forested gulches left, all way down to the valley and possibly beyond. A look back over your shoulder to the north should reveal the preserve's highest point and namesake, grassy Windy Hill. After curving around the mouth of Hamms Gulch, Lost Trail steps back under the canopy of some huge old Douglas firs and coast live oaks. Look for pink-flowering currant in late January. At about 0.4 mile, Hamms Gulch Trail begins on the left side of the trail at a signed junction. Continue on Lost Trail.Lost Trail
      Lost Trail leaves the woods and winds through coyote brush. If the trail surface is muddy, you might see bobcat prints. At about 0.6 mile, Lost Trail reaches a signed junction with a broad service road. Continue straight on Lost Trail. The path begins a gradual descent through coyote brush, coast live oak, monkeyflower, and sagebrush. In late winter blue witch nightshade threads itself through the branches of blackberry shrubs. Willows thrive in damp spots on the side of the trail. A forest of Douglas fir, tanoak, and California bay trees welcomes you into shaded woods. In the understory, look for ferns, wild rose, huckleberry, honeysuckle, common snowberry, creambush, hazelnut, thimbleberry, gooseberry and currant. Lost Trail follows the contour of the hillside, keeping a mostly level course. In a few spots, winter storms create small waterfalls as rain rushes downhill from the ridge. Maple leaves on Lost TrailA few old bigleaf maple trees litter the ground with loads of colorful leaves in autumn. If you hike this trail in late January, it's a bit like a treasure hunt: what early spring wildflowers can you spy? Forget-me-not (an alien plant) is common, but you might also catch glimpses of hound's tongue and strawberry. At about 2.1 miles, Lost Trail meets Razorback Ridge Trail at a signed junction. Lost Trail continues another 0.4 mile, before ending at a pullout on Skyline Boulevard (if you're determined to hike the entire Bay Area Ridge Trail segment, continue to the end of Lost Trail, then retrace your steps). Retrace your steps back to the trailhead.

Total distance: about 4.2 miles (6.4 miles if you hike the whole Ridge Trail segment)
Last hiked: Friday, January 19, 2001