Fall Creek — Barrel Mill Site to Lost Camp

Just the facts:  9-10 miles, 2000 feet climbing, 4 hours.

I went back to Fall Creek to scout out the new unmarked trail I found last week.  Of course, after doing this hike I realize it is on the excellent San Lorenzo Valley trail map put out by Redwood hikes —  just not marked.  As usual, I began at the San Lorenzo Elementary School parking lot off Highway 9 just east of Felton.  To find the trailhead to the High School Trail locate the football stadium and head to the back of the bleachers.  You will see a road that goes between the childcare center and enviromental site.  Take this road and you will soon see a wood bridge on the left.  Cross here and you are now entering the Fall Creek part of Henry Cowell State Park.

There are no dogs or bikes allowed here but everyone seems to ignore the dog rule.  High School Trail is a beautiful one mile, relatively flat, trail through the redwoods.  Today,  I head up the Ridge Trail for 1.1 miles and connect with the short S-Cape Trail.   The S-Cape Trail drops down to the Fall Creek Trail.  Fall Creek Trail is where 80% of the hikers walk.  It is a pretty walk but if you want to avoid the crowds just hike the surrounding trails.  Take a right on the Fall Creek Trail and you will have an easy stroll along the creek.

After 1/2 mile begin looking for signs of the unmarked trail.  Of course, there are many trails going down to the creek so it is best to keep watch for the beam bridge that crosses the creek — not downed trees but a foot wide beam.   The trail is about a 100 yards before you get to the Barrel Mill Site.  So if you reach the mill site turn about and back track to the unmarked trail.

I decide to give the wooden beam a try today and easily cross it.  It is solid and only about 8 feet above the creek — not as high as it seemed coming down the hill last time!  The trail is well-built and I wonder if it will be open to general use someday.   I find it easier to go up, avoiding the slippery, steep section coming down near the top.  There is one spot where you need to climb under a huge downed tree, that horses cannot pass, so it appears to be a hikers-only trail.

The trail has switchbacks and in one area there are trees that have been cleared using an axe rather than a saw, another sign that this is not a park authorized trail.  Either that, or volunteers did not like chainsaws.  It  takes me about 20 minutes to reach the Lost Empire Trail so the trail is under a mile.  The trail is well used so many folks have discovered the short-cut.

Turning left on the Lost Empire Trail it is only about a minute walk to Lost Camp.  From Lost Camp I continue on the Lost Empire Trail, taking about 30 minutes to reach the summit and the Big Ben tree and, thus, the Big Ben Trail.  Contining down I cross Fall Creek and meet up with the Fall Creek Trail in another 30 minutes.   From this trail intersection Barrel Mill Site is another .6 miles so I estimate that the unmarked trail cuts about 2.5 miles off of the usual loop.  In another 10 minutes I pass the mill site and continue walking on Fall Creek Trail toward Fall Creek Drive.  DO NOT take the Bennett Trail which go right toward the parking lot on Empire Grade Road. Around 1/4 mile before Fall Creek Drive the High School Trail joins back up on the left.  Fall Creek Drive is another entrance to the park but there is no street parking.

The High School Trail is one mile back to the high school.  The elementary and middle school sits just above the high school.

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Fall Creek — Unmarked Trail from Lost Camp

It was Friday so I knew I couldn’t park at the San Lorenzo High School so I began this hike from the main dirt parking lot off of Empire Grade Road about two miles above Felton.  I headed up to the Lime Kilns and then was planning on doing the loop up to Big Ben and back down Fall Creek.  However, once I got to Lost Camp I realized I needed to get back so turned around to back track.

About 100 yards from Lost Camp I spotted a trail headed down from the left of the trail.  I decided I had enough time to go exploring a little.  The trail was obviously built by someone.  Although it was steep by today’s trail standards it was a good trail with shovel marks that showed someone put a lot of work into it.  The trail traversed below the Lost Empire Trail and then turned back in one long switchback, heading down toward Fall Creek.  It was a good trail but was covered with fall leaves so had to pay attention.  Any false trails were covered up to keep folks on track.  Whoever made this trail wanted to make sure people didn’t get lost!  The trail went down steeply and ended at a large beam bridge over Fall Creek that met up with the Fall Creek Trail.  It didn’t look particularly sturdy to me, and was narrow so I elected to rock hop over the creek — easy to do in August but much harder in winter.

I was now on Fall Creek Trail with the barrel mill site down the trail to the left.   This trail is great and probably knocks about a mile off of the regular loop trail.   Next time I will pay more attention to distance.  I hiked back up Fall Creek to the Lime Kiln Trail and out to the parking lot.  About 3 hours and 1,500 of climbing.  Maybe 7 miles or more.

Alum Rock Park to Boccardo Trail

Alum Rock Park is one of my favorite parks in San Jose.  This is my mini Mission Peak hike but with fewer hikers and closer to downtown San Jose.  To get to this hike take the Alum Rock Avenue exit from 680 Freeway and head for the east foothills.  The Avenue passes a golf course on the left and will dead end at Alum Rock Park.  Park along the street.   This was the old entrance to Alum Rock Park but was closed a few years ago due to the shifting hillside.  

As you face the bike and pedestrian entrance take the single track dirt trail on the left and head down into the park.  After about 1/2 mile the trail ends at the main trail along Penitencia Creek which has its own park and trail system outside of Alum Rock Park.  This creek cuts down the middle of Alum Rock Park and was the destination for residents in the early 1900s who took the train here from downtown.  Take the trail to the right and you will soon cross a major bridge and will meet up with the paved road that goes into the park.  Cross the paved road and turn right again and follow along the main road about a 100 feet until you meet up with a dirt road that takes a sharp hairpin turn to the left.  Begin climbing up this road and bear to the right at the top of the first hill.  You are now head toward the Eagle Peak Trail.  Continue climbing and you will soon meet up with a road that will take you to the left up to Eagle Peak.  Skip this and continue straight along the road another 1/2 mile to the trail sign for Todd Quick Trail on the left.

Todd Quick Trail is a loop trail and is the only entrance to the Santa Clara County Open Space area, informally called Sierra Vista,  about Alum Rock Park.  At the top of Todd Quick is one lonely picnic table.  Behind the picnic table to the right is a gate and the entrance to the Boccardo Trail.  Once you close the gate there is a large sign welcoming you to the Open Space area and with maps of the 3 mile loop trail.

I do this trail clockwise because it is steeper and a better workout.  If you would like to try a slightly gentler way, take the loop trail to the right.  This trail should only be done in the early morning or late afternoon during the summer months because it has no shade and is HOT!  There is no water along the way so be sure to bring some with you.  The trail going up is an old ranch road so is steep in sections.  The new addition to the trail was built a couple of years ago and has switchbacks and is .4 miles longer so gains the 1,000 feet more gradually.  This trail has great views of the Santa Clara Valley.

After completing the Boccardo Trail go back out the gate to Alum Rock Park and Todd Quick Trail and take a left on the trail.  Complete the loop to the Weather Loop Trail.  Take a left at the first dirt road (North Rim Trail) and continue taking left turns until you hit the paved road above the Alum Rock Park main parking lot.  Follow the paved, now private road down into the main Alum Rock Park area.  The road will end at a bridge.  Continue over the bridge and continue straight and look for a paved road going up the hill to the right.  This road climbs out and ends back at Alum Rock Avenue.  Total mileage around 6 miles, 2.5 hours, 1,500 feet of climbing.