3.1 mile easy loop is a nearly level trip through woods and oak grassland.
Distance, category, and difficulty:
This 3.1 mile loop hike is easy, with about 500 feet in elevation
change. Trails are nicely graded. Trailhead elevation is around 640 feet,
and the high spot is around 1100 feet.
Mix of shade and sun.
Dirt trails and fire road.
Nice any time.
From Interstate 280 in San Mateo County, exit Alpine Road. Drive southwest
on Alpine Road about 3.6 miles (past the junction with Portola Road), to
a small roadside pullout on the right side of the road, just before Willowbrook
Get driving or public transit directions from Transit and Trails:
GPS Coordinates* for Trailhead:
(* based on Google Earth
data, shown as degrees, minutes, seconds)
Gas, food, and lodging:
Gas, pay phone, and store back near the junction with Portola; more services
back to the northeast near 280.
Parking for a few cars in the pullout, and room for a few more on the side
of Willowbrook. Mind the no parking signs. If there's nowhere to park near
the trailhead, you can park on the side of Alpine near the junction with
Corte Madera, about 0.4 mile back to the northeast. Then walk into Coal
Mine Ridge on Alpine Trail. No parking or entrance fees. No restrooms or
drinking water. No designated handicapped parking, and trails are not suitable
for wheelchairs. Maps sometimes available at the trail entrance. Refer to
the Portola Valley's trail map for details. There is no direct public transportation
to the park, but SamTrans bus #282 stops in nearby Portola Valley.
No bikes. Dogs are permitted on leash on some trails (but not the trails
described in the hike featured on this page). One trail is designated hiking
only, while others are open to equestrians and hikers.
The Official Story:
Portola Valley's Coal
Mine Ridge page (pdf)
Portola Valley Town Hall 650-851-1700
Use AAA's San Francisco Bay Region map to get there.
from Portola Valley (pdf -- the town seems to have renamed the park
Portola Valley Ranch)
Trail Map of the Southern Peninsula, by the Trail Center (order
this map from Amazon.com).
Peninsula Trails, by Jean Rusmore, has a simple map and trail
this book from Amazon.com).
The Santa Cruz Mountains Trail Book, by Tom Taber, has a simple
this book from Amazon.com).
View photos from this hike
small town of Portola Valley, nestled in the valley foothills of
the Santa Cruz Mountains, maintains an unusual commitment to non-automotive
transportation options. Pedestrian path parallel main thoroughfares around
town, and a few trails take scenic routes through less populated areas.
Coal Mine Ridge is owned by the Portola Ranch Homeowner's Association,
and while the land is private property, trail use is permitted by town
easement. Please remember to respect the property rights of the generous
land owners who share their "park" with us, and do not wander
off trail. Volunteers maintain this roughly oval parcel of land, with
four main trails that create a series of loops through woods and oak grassland.
There are no facilities, and parking can be tough. However, it's well
worth overcoming any of these obstacles, for Coal Mine Ridge is one of
the best places to hike on the peninsula.
This isn't a preserve that shines only in
one season. A mixed woodland harbors flowers in spring, and provides shade
through the sultry days of summer. Paths are littered with fallen maple
and black oak leaves in autumn. Winter rains wake up tiny dormant streams
and return the green to grassland. If you like to study bay area plants,
you'll find a lot to look at here, all year round.
Start at the broad pullout on Alpine
Road. Walk toward Willowbrook Drive and carefully cross the street.
Alpine Trail, open to hikers and equestrians only, starts at the signed
trailhead and climbs easily under the shade of California bay,
buckeye, madrone, and black oak. In the understory look for currant, thimbleberry,
blackberry, snowberry, and poison oak. At
about 0.1 mile, Alpine Trail steps out of the shade and meets Toyon Trail
at a signed junction. Turn right onto Toyon Trail.
The narrow hiking only trail heads back
into the woods. In addition to previously encountered California bay,
buckeye, madrone, and black oak, coast live oaks are common, and you also
might see big leaf maple (most conspicuous in autumn). Other trailside
plants include gooseberry, honeysuckle, wood rose, clematis, ceanothus,
California coffeeberry, and creambush. Hazelnut is abundant; look for
the nuts in early summer. Late winter flowers include milkmaids, hound's
tongue, and trilliums. Toyon Trail angles along the hillside at a mostly
level pace, with a somewhat steep drop-off to the right permitting some
sweeping views west where there are breaks in vegetation. The grassy slopes
Hill are prominent, bordered to the north and south with forests of Douglas
fir. Although Alpine Road is not visible, there is some attendant noise
from the street and nearby houses. Rough benches, placed in intervals
along the trail, provide nice places for a rest break. A rustic bridges
replete with a rope handrail crosses a seasonal creek. Soon after, at
about 1 mile, Toyon Trail reaches a signed junction with a trail connecting
to Coal Mine Trail. Continue straight on Toyon Trail.
The trail passes through a few open spots
where you might see chamise, sagebrush, coyote brush, toyon, and monkeyflower.
Shooting stars and saxifrage are conspicuous in early March, and by mid
to late spring, trailside buckeyes put forth sweet-smelling blossoms.
Coast live oaks tower over the trail, accompanied by madrones and a few
young Douglas fir. At about 1.9 miles, you'll reach a signed junction.
Turn left, "to Old Spanish Trail."
The narrow path climbs slightly, past some
cercocarpus, then squeezes through a few madrones and ducks under an old
coast live oak. At about 2 miles, you'll reach a signed, multi-trail junction.
The first trail clockwise to the left is Coal Mine Trail, the second and
third are arms of Old Spanish Trail (the fourth trail loops around and
then rejoins the junction). Continue straight on Old Spanish Trail.
The broad trail, open to hikers and equestrians,
starts a gentle descent (you might not realize that well-graded Toyon
Trail gains over 300 feet in elevation). Views to the east unfold on the
right side of the trail, which is lined with coyote brush, coast live
oak, ceanothus, and toyon. Bright pink clarkia is a cheerful sight, blooming
in late spring and early summer. Look for an out-of-place knobcone pine
on the left, an anomaly in the valley oak-dotted grassland. At about 2.4
miles, Old Spanish Trail crosses a gravel service road, then
reaches a signed junction. Coal Mine Trail departs to the left, heading
back uphill. Turn right and remain on Old Spanish Trail.
The trail briefly descends along the service
road, then reaches another signed junction at about 2.5 miles. Bear
left on Old Spanish Trail. California bay and coast live oak shelter
the trail as it winds gently downhill, passing a few black oak. Stepping
out into coyote brush and oak grassland, you probably will get a sense
of your proximity to the trailhead, as noise from Alpine Road may be audible.
At about 3 miles, Old Spanish Trail ends at a signed junction with Alpine
Trail. Turn left, and almost immediately, you'll reach the previously
encountered junction with Toyon Trail. Continue straight and retrace
your steps back to the trailhead.
about 3.1 miles
Last hiked: Tuesday, February
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