1.6 mile loop around Sausal Pond.
Distance, category, and difficulty:
This 1.6 mile loop hike is easy. 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 will be a bit more challenging.
More shade than sun.
Dirt trails and fire roads.
Less than 1 hour.
Nice any time, but best in early spring.
The east entrance is a parking lot off Portola Road in
Portola Valley. From I 280 in San Mateo County, exit Alpine Road
(exit 22). Head west about 3 miles and turn right onto Portola Road.
Drive about 1 mile and turn left into the parking lot.
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, pay phone, and deli near the junction of Portola and Alpine. More
restaurants, stores, and gas stations closer to I 280 on Alpine Road.
No camping in the preserve.
Good size parking lot (may get crowded on weekends). No entrance or parking
fees. Wheelchair-accessible pit toilet, and two designated handicapped
parking spots. Trails are wheelchair accessible, but you'll probably
need assistance, and won't be able to go beyond the junction with Spring
Ridge Trail. Maps available at information signboard. Windy
Hill's other main trailhead is on Skyline Boulevard (CA 35) about
2.5 miles south of CA 84, 5 miles north of Page Mill Road. Roadside parking
is available in a few places along Skyline (at the start of the Upper
Razorback Ridge Trail, the start of the Spring Ridge Trail, and the connector
spur to the Lost Trail). SamTrans bus #282 services the Portola Valley
trailhead (weekdays) via Portola Road: visit the Transit
Info website for details.
A few trails are multi-use. Most are open to equestrians and hikers only,
but seasonally closed for horses. Two trails are designated hiking only.
Leashed dogs are permitted on the hike described below; they are not allowed
on every Windy Hill trail.
The Official Story:
Windy Hill page
MROSD field office 650-691-1200
Use AAA's San Francisco Bay Region map to get there.
from MROSD (download Windy Hill pdf).
Tales and Trails, by David Weintraub (order
this book from Amazon.com) has an overview of the preserve, descriptions
of hikes, and simple maps.
Peninsula Trails, by Jean Rusmore, has a simple map and
trail descriptions (order
this book from Amazon.com).
Tom Taber's The Santa Cruz Mountains Trail Book 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) book has a simple map and preserve descriptions.
Go to Bay Area Hiker Home page
Hill is a great preserve improved in 1999 by more convenient eastern access. I've grown fond of the trails at Windy
Hill, but I've never enjoyed finishing any of my hikes with a long ascent,
and that had been inevitable with the preserve's main trailhead along
Skyline Boulevard, near Windy Hill's highest point. Particularly strenuous
was a return climb up Spring Ridge Trail, which seems to just shoot straight
uphill, with no shade. The parking lot off of Portola Road enables
hikers to start and finish at the preserve's lowest elevation. It
has also transformed Windy Hill into a preserve to visit when you have
limited time, with close proximity to Interstate 280.
The most prominent feature
of the preserve is the grassy belvedere near the trailhead on Skyline
Boulevard. The hilltop is a short walk from the parking lot along the
Anniversary Trail, and the 360° views on a clear
day are spectacular. From the crest Spring Ridge Trail drops through grassland
down into Portola Valley. Hamms Gulch Trail and Razorback Ridge Trail
are reasonably graded, with lots of switchbacks, and shade from coast
live oak and Douglas fir. A nice long (7.2 miles) loop combining Lost
Trail, Razorback Ridge Trail, Eagle Trail, and Hamms Gulch Trail takes
you through many lovely areas of the preserve, and is cool even in summer. When
the weather is breezy a hike along the Spring Ridge Trail reminds you
that Windy Hill is well-named, and in the spring the wildflowers put on
a show visible from the Anniversary Trail.
For the featured hike, an exploration
of the preserve's east side, park at the lot off of Portola Road and take
the short connector to a signed junction where Sausal Trail begins. Dog walkers, cyclists,and
equestrians use these trails, so keep alert. Turn left and walk a few
steps to Sausal Pond. This section of the preserve borders a retirement
community, the Sequoias. With property like this at your back door, sign
me up now! You never get a real quiet hiking experience in this eastern
part of Windy Hill, with the activity around the Sequoias and the attendant
civilization buzz from Portola Valley. The roar of a distant chainsaw
has followed me around these trails more than once. The ducks at
Sausal Pond treat you like they've never seen a human before, quacking
and flapping and putting on a good show. You can get close to the shore
of the pond in a few places, and it's a nice place to eat lunch or sit
in the sun. The trail departs from the pond
and then winds uphill through valley and coast live oak trees, coyote
brush, common snowberry shrubs, blackberry bushes, and patches of grass.
After hiking about 0.7 mile, you'll reach a signed junction. Turn right.
Spring Ridge Trail climbs through coyote
brush and coast live oaks. At about 0.9 mile, you'll reach a signed junction.
Turn right onto Betsy Crowder Trail.
This 0.6 mile segment built by MROSD
staff in 1999, was renamed in memory of board director Crowder, who was
killed in an accident in 2000. The trail, open to hikers and equestrians
(although seasonally closed to horses) descends gently, entering a meadow
where it is common to see deer. As the sounds of Sausal Pond drift up
from the east, Betsy Crowder Trail enters a shady stretch. You may
see madrone, buckeye, oaks, and toyon. In autumn, downed leaves provide
a satisfying crunch underfoot. In spring, look for hound's tongue, milkmaids,
and giant trillium. The pond is only visible as snatches of water seen
through the trees to the right. As you near the end of the trail a private
road comes in to view on the left. At the signed junction turn left
and retrace your steps to the parking area.
Total distance: about 1.6 miles
Last hiked: Wednesday, October 6, 1999