Rancho San Antonio Regional Park, Los Altos Hills, CA
As they say in the real estate business, it’s all about location. Situated toward the northwest end of Santa Clara County lies a jewel of a regional park, Rancho San Antonio. Located in the Los Altos Hills, the park is part of the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District (MROSD) and is nestled among some of the most affluent communities – Los Altos, Palo Alto, Mountain View – in the county. Major company headquarters such as Apple, Hewlett-Packard and Google, and a pillar of higher learning, Stanford University, are all less than ten miles from this nearly 4,000 acre park.
Although there are 24 miles of trails, much of it winding through steep canyons, the park is family friendly and is an immensely popular spot, especially on weekends. Deer Hollow Farm, a flat one-mile walk from the main lot among oaks, wild grasses and wildflowers, is a great place for children. The 10-acre farm is an education center with goats, sheep, pigs, other livestock, an organic herb garden, and an open air barn with picnic tables available to the public. Throughout the year, there are tours, classes and camps. For more details about the farm and its operations, the Friends of Deer Hollow Farm (FODHF) website is the best source of information.
As for hiking, there are a number of choices depending on how ambitious or fit the hiker is. An important note: dogs are not allowed anywhere at the park or any of the other MROSD parks or reserves. For those who want a challenge, especially during some of the warmer spring days and summer, an out and back hike to the top of Black Mountain (2,812’) through spectacular chaparral terrain is almost sixteen miles (round trip).
From Deer Hollow Farm, most of the trails into the canyons and higher elevations continue west. As always, a trail map is advised. The High Meadow Trail and Wildcat Loop Trails are both excellent single-track trails that take hikers on some challenging loops. As for getting to Black Mountain, from the Deer Hollow barn, take the Rogue Valley trail (a flat fire road) .7 miles to the Chamise Trail. Depending on the time of year, although flat, this short stretch is a smorgasbord of flora and wildlife. Rabbits and quail nest in the underbrush and wildflowers bloom in some of the flat meadows.
Once on the Chamise Trail, the real climbing begins. The trail is mainly wide fire road, with little shade it nears the Duveneck Windmill Pasture Area. But there are beautiful views of other areas of the park and Santa Clara Valley to take your mind off the steady climb. On a recent climb in mid-April, poppies, Indian paintbrush and blue dicks were in bloom. The last half-mile to the pasture and junction of the Black Mountain Trail is relatively flat and enjoyable as towering oaks dot the landscape.
If the hiker is satisfied with an 8-mile day, the junction of the Chamise, Black Mountain and Rhus Ridge Trails is an excellent spot to have lunch or a snack and then head back. For those continuing to Black Mountain and Monte Bello Road, it’s another 3.9 miles of steady climbing. The trail turns south and although steep in parts, it’s mainly well shaded and in the spring, wildflowers bloom at every turn.
The last approximately 1.5 miles to Black Mountain is slightly less scenic as the trail becomes a wider fire road and in the summer can be brutally hot and exposed to the sun. Unfortunately, once at the end of the trail past a forest of radio towers, there isn’t much to see and the area can be windy. But there are connecting trails to various other parks of the Open Space Preserves of the South Skyline Region (such as Los Trancos, Russian Ridge and Saratoga Gap)
Until recently, the best way back to the main lot of Rancho San Antonio was to backtrack the entire trail (Black Mountain, Chamise, Rogue Valley, etc). But by way of an easement though private property, the newly opened 1.1-mile Quarry Trail connects the top of the P.G & E. Trail (approx. 1400’) with Black Mountain Trail about a mile below the top. Although this new section is steep and not nearly as picturesque as most of the other park’s trails (and not yet open to horses), it does save the hiker at least two miles of walking. From the bottom of the Quarry Trail, take either the P. G. & E. Trail to the right or Upper Wildcat Canyon Trail to the left and follow directions or the trail map back to the main lot.