Rhus Ridge to Black Mountain Update

Yesterday I took off work early to tackle Rhus Ridge to Black Mountain again.  This time the weather was clear and cool and it took me 3.5 hours to complete the 9.6 miles, 2400 feet of climbing.  The parking lot on Rhus Road is small, and remains a problem for starting hikes from here, especially on weekends.  It was a nice day, and when I arrived at 3 pm on a Monday there was only one spot left in the lot.  There is no parking along the road.   I would suggest hikers drive the extra mile down the main road and begin the hike on the Hostel Trail in Hidden Villa if the lot is full.  It is similar in distance to the top of Black Mountain and Hidden Villa has ample parking (they do charge a nominal amount.)  Please read my previous blog on the Rhus Ridge hike for more information.  The trail is the same, it only feels different depending on the weather.

Hours of Operation for Rancho San Antonio

Just an update on my blog on Rancho San Antonio about hours that the park is open.  Because the park is so heavily used, and rangers want to keep people from parking in the neighborhoods (Cristo Rey Drive and Hammond Way, Cupertino, CA ), the park usually opens around 5:30 a.m.  and closes after 8 p.m.   Only one gate is closed so people can still drive out even if the entrance gate is closed.  This park is very crowded on weekends so it is difficult to find parking on weekend mornings, especially around 8-9 a.m.  If you can’t find parking in the three available lots, you can park about a mile back down the main road and walk up the Hammond Synder Loop Trail which opened in 2006 but is not on the Santa Clara County’s park map.

Rancho San Antonio — Hours of Operation

I have been hitting the trail pretty early these days on the PG&E Trail at Rancho San Antonio. One day the gate was locked at 7 am even though the hours said from dawn to dusk. Inside the park the hours are posted from 8am to 5pm. So what are the true hours of the park? I asked a park ranger the other day and he told me he wasn’t quite sure because the gates are on an automatic timer, but he thought it opened by 6am or 6:30am at the latest.   One day there was a malfunction so it did not open until 7:30 am although people could get around because the exit no longer had the metal prongs that stick up to slash tires.   Apparently, the dawn to dusk rules doesn’t apply during winter when users of the park still come in during their usual hours. I assume it also stays open past dark.

Grant Ranch Park Lake to Antler Point

Hike facts:  From Grant Lake to Antler Point and back in a reverse figure eight (map shows 9.6 miles, GPS recorded 10.9 miles).  1900 feet of cumulative elevation gain.   4.5 hours hike with only a brief stop for lunch.  Trail map of Joseph Grant Ranch Park.

Yesterday I led a hike for Loma Prieta Sierra Singles and managed to get three hikers to join me in a moderately paced hike in Grant Ranch Park just below Mt. Hamilton.  We began the hike from the parking lot 1/4 mile past the main entrance on the left side of the road.  Radio Ham operators were setting up in the parking lot and a few road bikers were hanging out before making the climb up the road.  It was a perfect sunny and cool day for the hike.  I had reminded folks that we were hiking to 3,000 feet so it might be cooler at the top and it was often windy.

We  headed out along Grant Lake and after 1/2 took the Halls Valley Road up the hill.  The hike is almost all on ranch roads although the park refers to them as “trails.”  Except for the short single track to the point, all roads also allow dogs on leashes.  Most of the climbing for this hike occurs in the first half of the hike.  Half way up the road we saw three wild pigs on the next hill, it didn’t take long to find one of their hangouts which was a wet spot along the road that was worn down with pig tracks.  Wild pigs have long been a problem in this park.  At the top the trail meets up with Canada de Pala Trail and you take a left turn and gradually climb up the road toward the point.  Another road intersects in a mile but stay to the right on Pala Seca Trail.  There was signs of control burning along this section — there should be great wildflowers here next spring!  Continue on the road until you reach a single track trail that will take you the last 1/2 mile to Antler Point.  In a previous writeup I said the point was really on a faded trail to the right overlooking the east.  This is really an old volunteers hangout.  The real point is somewhere below the bench at the top.  Have lunch here and enjoy the view but be prepared for some wind.

Returning we backtracked to the road and made a right turn and headed down to the hunting cabin that is being restored by a volunteer.  There is a writeup on the wall about President Hoover visiting to fish in the area.  The cabin also has a picnic table on the porch which is a good alternate lunch stop if the point is too cold.  Continue down Canada de Pala Trail and you will notice some work being down in a meadow to the left.  This wetland high meadow is being restored by the county.  Here we spotted a coyote hunting the plentiful ground squirrels.

You soon pass and intersection to the right to Washburn Trail but continue on the same road until you meet up again with Pala Seca Trail.  Head back down to the right, staying on Canada de Pala Trail.   Pass the Halls Valley Road until you come to the Los Huecos Trail.  Head down the road on the right.  This road is steep in spots.  We saw a nice looking four-pointed buck here who didn’t seem to mind us.  At the bottom you meet back up with the Halls Valley Road.  Turn left and complete your hike back to the parking lot.

I love this hike because of the open hills and great views.  It is also a pretty good workout with 1900 feet of climbing and 9.6 to 10 miles.  I don’t believe the GPS reading of 10.9 but I will have to try it again.  If you add up the mileage on the County park map above it is 9.6 miles.

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.

Rhus Ridge to Black Mountain

Description:  9.6 miles, 2400 feet of climbing, 4.5 hours.  Topo map of hike. 

Tuesday I took off work to hike Black Mountain in Rancho San Antonio Open Space expecting to start from Hidden Villa.  Little did I know that they close the park to hikers during the summer for kids’ camps.  So I turned around and headed to Rhus Ridge Road.  There are 8 ways to hike up Black Mountain according to one website.  I had heard about this entrance but have never hiked from it.  The parking lot is small so I assume it would be difficult parking on weekends.   Directions to the trailhead are easy to follow.  This hike started out climbing and reminded me of Almaden Quicksilver’s Hacienda Entrance.  

It was a hot day (90) and even in the shade it was a tough .9 miles to Black Mountain Trail.  Once on the top the trail climbs gradually for three miles before climbing sharply for the last 1.5 miles.  It took me 2.5 hours to get to the top, stopping for rests and food breaks.   At the top the view is great but there is no shade for a rest stop.  a dead end trail to the left takes you to some tree but not really a great place to rest. This hike is best done in spring when it is green and cool and you can hang out on the rocks at the top.  I have also done this hike in winter when it is so wet and cold you can”t see 50 feet in front of you.

Returning was easy, except for some slippery steep downhill.  Return trip took less than 2  hours.  This is a good hike if you are looking for some serious exercise that is an easy drive from the south bay.  The Bay Area Hiker website has a good write up on this hike but there are slight differences in distances and elevation gain.

Antler Point in Grant County Park

Grant County Park is located below Mt. Hamilton and is my favorite Santa Clara County Park to hike.  Antler Point is the highest point in the park, just a little under 3000 feet.  This hike begins at the Grant Lake Parking Lot just a half mile beyond the main park entrance and on the left.  Five hours with short breaks.

Hike description:  11-12 miles, 2400 elevation gain.  Most elevation gain is in the first 3 miles of the hike.   Around 4 miles to Antler Point hiking counter-clockwise.  Spring is best time for the hike because the hills are green and full of wildflowers.

Hike .3 miles along the lake to the  Halls Valley trailhead on the right.  The trail soon climbs and climbs.  Slow and study is the best way to make it the 2.1 miles to the top to the Canada de Pala Trail.  If you want less elevation gain like most folks, you can start this hike at Twin Gates Parking Lot and head straight down the Canada de Pala Trail.  But I like to get more exercise so I start down at Grant Lake.  Take a left on the Canada de Pala Road.  Hike .3 miles to the Pala Seca Trail and bear right to stay up on the ridge.  You continue to climb but more gradually now as you reach the ridge that will climb to Antler Point.  At 1.3 miles you will come to an intersection with a bench in the middle of the Y, above the road to the left.  Take the trail behind the bench and hike around .1 miles just beyond the first hill where you will see a faint trail cutting back to the right and heading to a small ridge to the east.  This is actually the real trail to Antler Point.  The more worn trail ahead goes to a great vista point overlooking San Jose to the west, but it is not Antler Point.  Antler Point overlooks the canyon to the east and has a broken down bench and rock outcropping.  It is a short distance from the trail junction.  It wasn’t until recently, and six hikes later, that I learn I had missed the point every time I hike the trail!

Backtrack and head over to the vista point.  It is often windy at the vista point so you may want to stop for lunch at Antler Point, on the eastside, instead.   Backtrack again and take a right at the bench and turn right to the Canada de Pala Trail and down to the hunter’s cabin.  This cabin was once used by the owners as a hunting cabin and is being restored by volunteers.  If you hike this in rain or on a hot day there is a picnic table on the side porch of the cabin.  Continue down the trail and past the meadow marsh that is being restored by removing invasive plants and shoring up the creek.  This is a rare high meadow marsh for this area.

You will soon come to the intersection with Washburn Trail but stay on the road and continue around the meadow.  You will pass the intersection with the Pala Seca Trail that you took earlier.  Continue to the right on the Canada de Pala pass the trailhead to Halls Valley and soon passing the Los Huecos Trail.   If you are tired at this point you can head down Huecos Trail and complete a 9.6 mile trip.  However, today I felt ambitious so continue on Canada de Pala.  My plan was to stay on this trail until the Yerba Buena Trail but I soon grew tired with the ridge road so after about .3 miles I started following the cattle trail to the right of the road that was bisecting the hills of the trail.  The land is open in this part of the park and it is easy to do a bit of cross county hiking.  I spotted a windmill and decided to continue to follow the cattle trail down to the watering hole.  From here I spotted the Yerba Buena Trail to the south so continued on a cattle trail until it met up with the Trail.  I figure this was about .25-.5 miles below the intersection with Canada de Pala which I was initially going to take.  If you are uncomfortable going on cow trails, stay on the road instead.  From here I headed down Yerba Buena Trail to the Loop Trail to check out McCreery Lake.  Connected back to Yerba Buena and finished back at the parking lot.