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.


PG&E Trail at Rancho San Antonio Park

This open space area is close to Silicon Valley cities and is very popular.  On weekends it can be hard to find a parking spot especially in early morning.  I usually take this trail during the week when I can get a morning off and the crowds are thinner.  The PG&E Trail in Rancho San Antonio Park gets its name for the electrial towers that you follow straight up the hill.  This road starts at the lower parking lot and climbs around 1500 feet in 3.5 miles.  If you just want a quick workout take the trail up to the vista point, sit on the bench for awhile and then turn around and retrace your steps.  You will climb another 300 feet for a total hike of 7 miles and 1800 feet.  If you prefer a loop, continue on the upper meadow trail to the six corners and take the Wildcat Canyon Trail to the Rogue Road and back out through the Farm.  I usually like to bypass the Farm because it is crowded with baby strollers and slow walkers.  There is a bypass trail a little north of the Farm.  This loop add about a mile to the hike.  Total 8 miles and 1500 feet.  Bathroom located at main parking lot.  Park is off of Foothill Expressway from 280.

South Felton to Wilder Ranch State Park Woodcutter Trail

Just the facts:  8 miles, 1500-2000 elevation gain.  Paved one lane roads, dirt roads, dirt trails.  4 hours.

I started from my home in South Felton (near Jackson Ave and San Lorenzo Ave) walked up to Scenic Drive. This area is private but lots of folks walk around the one-lane paved roads that meander through the redwoods.  Start down Jackson Avenue until it ends and then turn right on Manzanita Avenue (no sign here).  Walk a couple of blocks and turn left on McKinley Way and head down the steep road to Gold Ave.  Walk the U of Gold Ave to Brookside Way and go left until it ends at Lakeview Dr.  Turn left and walk about a half mile to Scenic Drive.  Go left up Scenic Drive, a quiet paved road that climbs around a mile.  Near the top there is a dirt road with a gate after 100 feet.   At the gate a sign tells you that you are entering the upper campus of University of Santa Cruz. This road, named Marshall Trail is not marked from this side but there is a metal gate with a pedestrian walk-through.  Walk along Marshall Road until you come to an open meadow at the top and connect to Chinquapin Fire Road.

If you take a left here you will end up in Santa Cruz’s Pogonip Park to Fuel Break Road.   In 1999 Santa Cruz, the State and the University joined together to complete a trail from Henry Cowell State park to the Pacific Ocean. I want to hike this trail but not in winter — it crosses the San Lorenzo River in Henry Cowell State Park with no bridge.  For this hike you take a right on Chiquapin Fire Road and cross Empire Grade Road and  enter Wilder Ranch State Park. Stay on Chinquapin Trail about a half mile until Woodcutter Trail. Take Woodercutter to right and it is a pretty trail that stays near the ridge and ends 1.9 miles at Smith Grade.  Back track to your car and feel free to choose different paved roads back (like Willow instead of Lakeview).

Graham Hill Rd. Entrance to Henry Cowell State Park

Hike description:  Around 7-8 miles, 1,800 feet cumulative elevation gain.  3 hours.  No water or restrooms at road but can detour a short distance by observation deck to campground if needed.   Map of Henry Cowell State Park Hike from Graham Hill Road

Trails hiked today:  Park at Graham Hill Road Entrance, 1 mile west of campground entrance. Powder Mill Trail to Powder Mill Fire Road Left on Pine Trail and keep left up to Observation Deck continue up Pine Trail to left on Eagle Creek Trail to left on River Trail to end then right on Rincon Road to Big Rock Hole Trail.  Remain on Big Rock Hole Trail until it ends at the River. Retrace your tracks back up to Rincon Fire Road and take this road to the right crossing the Big Rock Hole Trail twice.  At Ridge Fire Road take a right to Pipe Line Road.   Take a right on Pipe Line Road and end back at the parking lot.

This hike is away from the main Visitor Center Entrance.  Parking is free and along Graham Hill Road.  This hike is best in “off season” when you can beat the summer heat and the crowded campground.  Trails are muddy in winter and well worn and rutted by heavy use by horses and hikers.  Some of the steps were more like retaining walls.   The hike travels through redwood canyons as well as sandy pine-forested ridges.

The Big Rock Hole Trail is straight down to the river for .75 of a mile.  I never could find the “Big Rock Hole” but it may have been under high water. I scouted down a couple of side trails looking for it but did not have time to really look for it.  Would not recommend crossing the San Lorenzo River in winter unless you are an experienced backpacker with river crossing knowledge.   The hike down to the river is well worth the  view.

This hike touches the river twice but does not cross it.  All trails over Eagle Creek have sturdy bridges but there are none over the river.

This is not a trail for a lot of solitude.  Luckily I was down at the river for 15-20 minutes alone so I could enjoy it.  I am sure in summer it is even more crowded than this sunny winter Sunday.   Good signage but I would recommend printing out the map above or purchasing a map at the visitor center kiosk or campground.  There are also many variations of the hike you can check out on the map.  The Pipe Line Trail is paved and is the main trail for leisurely walking dogs.   I tried to stay off it but it was a pleasant enough road with good views.  The distance and elevation are estimates.  I am getting a GPS soon!

Information on Sierra Club Hiking in Bay Area

There are several hiking groups in the SF Bay Area. The SF and Loma Prieta Chapters of the Sierra Club are a good place to start looking for a group to hike with. Most who are just beginning to hike might find most of their hikes challenging. Start out with a hike that is one level lower than you believe you can hike. It is better to be too fast on your first hike than lagging behind and having everyone waiting for you!

Fall Creek/Henry Cowell State Park/Felton, CA

Fall Creek Unit of Henry Cowell State Park is a jewel of a park.  Hike description:  Start at San Lorenzo Valley High School parking lot (weekends only).  10-11 miles, 2000 feet climbing.

Moderate hike for people in shape. Get trail map at Henry Cowell State Park main entrance one mile west on Highway 9 on the other side of Felton.  This is a beautiful hike among redwood trees and deep canyon streams.  Bathrooms at High School swimming pool when open.

I began this hike from the San Lorenzo Valley High School parking lot.  Only park here on weekends or holidays. You can pick up the high school trail at the northeast side of the running track next to the childcare center. Follow the road back into the woods and take the trail quickly down into the gully over the wood bridge and up and over. If you take the well beaten path to the dam you have gone too far.

The High School Trail is a beautiful, flat trail that meanders through the redwoods for a mile and links up with the Fall Creek Drive Trail. Before it ends, take the trail up an unmarked trail which will soon meet up with the S-Cape Trail.  If you go straight you will climb up to the Truck Trail.  If you take this route it will add some more elevation but minimal distance. You will run into fewer people this way because the trail begins climbing. This trail is also recommended after a heavy rain because Fall Creek lives up to its name — trees fall everywhere!

Today I chose to take the North Trail along the creek to the Barrel Mill Site and found myself climbing over four trees and balancing over logs for one creek crossing because the removable bridge was out (it is made to be removed in bad weather). The park has two cool historic sites: barrel making and lime kilms. This hike passes them both. I didn’t stop for lunch at the barrel making site because it was threatening rain but it is a good site if not already taken by a hiking group on a nice day. Farther down the trail catches up to the Big Ben Trail and here you have to find your way over the creek — easy in Summer but you can be in for a wet crossing in winter. I had to wait several minutes for a traffic jam of six horses who happened to meet up at the creek crossing going in opposite directions.

When I finally got ready to cross I had to locate a couple of large branches to throw over to make a temporary bridge. You need good balancing skills for this!  Except in Summer when the creek is low, you can expect to get feet wet here.  After crossing the trail slowly climbs with switchbacks to a large tree which is a gorgeous douglas fir, but not Big Ben. Finally, after this false hope, you climb some more and reach a resting spot and the big redwood tree.

From here it is all downhill on the Lost Empire Trail past the Lost Camp to the Lime Kilm Site. This site is great for kids and you can plan another easy 1 hour round-trip hike from the main parking lot (see map). I highly recommend it but it is still a climb for those who may not be in the best of shape.

After exploring the area I headed back down the South Trail to the Fall Creek Trail. This whole area will be fairly crowded (compared to the north side) because of its close proximity to the main parking lot. After getting close to the end of Fall Creek Drive Trail you will meet up again with High School Trail on the left. One mile to go and I ended up back at the stadium for the high school.

I was pretty amazed to see all the activity at the high school for a wintry weekend. There was a coed softball game going on, scuba-diving school in the pool, a quarterback practicing his throwing with his coach, the high school boys baseball team taking to the field, and lacrosse practice. Go Wildcats! I am getting over an injury so it took me five hours to complete this hike.  Normally the hike is completed in 3.5-4 hours.