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.

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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.

Fall Creek Park in Felton/Truck Trail/South Ridge

Hike description:  8-9 miles, 1500 feet climbing.  3.75 hours.

This hike starts from Felton’s San Lorenzo High School parking lot.  Fall Creek Park is park of Henry Cowell State Park.  The High School trail starts behind the left corner of the bleacher seats of the football field.  The road is not marked and passes the childcare center. This map that is posted on the Redwood Hikes website is great for tracing this hike.   Take the High School Trail and head up Ridge Trail to Truck Trail.  After hiking on the Truck Trail .75 miles I took a side trail on the right through an unmarked metal gate.  This was a nice hike for about a half mile and then the road started going down hill sharply so I returned to Truck Trail.  I explored off-trail to the left but the trail ended and it was surrounded by posion oak.  Back on Truck Trail to the Big Ben Trail.  The Truck Trail climbs and then Big Ben Trail heads back down to Fall Creek.  Instead of going up to Big Ben I headed back down Fall Creek Trail past the Barrel Mill Site to The South Ridge Trail.  I went past the Lime Kilms and connected back with the High School Trail.  Hike would have been 40 minutes shorter without the side trips.

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!

Alum Rock Park, San Jose, CA

I led a 7-mile hike for Sierra Club today at Alum Rock Park, the oldest city park in California. Total elevation gain: 1300 feet. Easy hike for experienced hikers. I started the hike inside the park at Eagle Rock Picnic Area. It is a $6 fee on weekends, although you can park outside the park for free and walk in. This adds another 2 miles to the hike.

From the parking lot you climb immediately up to Eagle Rock, enjoy the view hike back down and head over to the Todd Quick Loop Trail. After the loop, continue on the road and down to the far end of the visitor center’s parking lot. The visitor center has a wildlife center and playground for kids.

It also has some great old remnants of mineral baths from the early park days. We stopped here for lunch.

We continued down the road along Penetencia Creek until we crossed the final bridge before the trail begins heading up some gentle switchbacks. No bikes from this point.

After about 8 switchbacks you come out to the top of the ridge and get some great views of Santa Clara Valley.

Continue on the South Rim Trail until you hit the paved road. Cross the road and head down the trail toward the entrance road.

The trail ends at the Creek Trail which we took over the bridge and out to the parking lot. The whole hike took 3.5 hours with a 30 minute lunch break.

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.