6 mile out and back on a remote ridge above Lexington Reservoir. Scarce
Distance, category, and difficulty:
This 6 mile out and back hike is moderate, with about 1300
feet in elevation change. Trailhead elevation is about 2330 feet. The preserve's
highest point is about 2520 feet, the lowest elevation is about 1200 feet.
The featured hike climbs from the trailhead to 2520 feet, descends to about
1570 feet, then climbs back to the trailhead.
Almost totally exposed.
Dirt fire roads.
Not a good choice in hot weather, but otherwise nice anytime.
From Interstate 280 in Santa Clara County, exit CA 17 south. Drive south
to the Alma Bridge/Bear Creek Road exit. At the base of the exit ramp, follow
the signs for Montevina Road: drive about 0.5 mile on the road parallel
to 17, past Black Road, then follow Montevina uphill. Drive carefully on
narrow and winding Montevina, about 3.5 miles to a pullout at the end of
Get driving or public transit directions from Transit and Trails:
GPS Coordinates* for Trailhead:
Longitude 122° 1'25.46"W
(* based on Google Earth
data, shown as degrees, minutes, seconds)
Gas, food, and lodging:
Gas, pay phones, restaurants and stores about 6 miles away in Los Gatos.
A rough and rutted dirt pullout provides parking for 2 or 3 vehicles at
the edge of a residential neighborhood. No entrance or parking fees. No
toilet facilities, maps, or water in the preserve; be sure to bring plenty
of water. There is no designated handicapped parking, and trail access for
wheelchairs is obstructed by a step-over. Note: as there is very limited
parking at this preserve, you may want to have an option in mind if the
pullout is full. Four other nearby places to hike are St.
Joseph's Hill Open Space Preserve, Sanborn-Skyline
County Park, Sierra Azul Open Space
Preserve, and Castle Rock State Park.
St. Joseph's and Sierra Azul are just across CA 17, and Sanborn-Skyline
and Castle Rock are closer than you might think; just take Black Road to
Skyline Boulevard and drive a few miles north. There is no direct public
transportation to this trailhead.
All trails but one are multi-use. One is hiking only. No dogs. Preserve
is open from dawn to one half hour after sunset.
The Official Story:
El Sereno page.
MROSD field office 650-691-1200
Use AAA's San Francisco Bay Region map to get there.
from MROSD (download pdf)
Order the Saratoga to Big Basin map from Redwood
Tales and Trails, by David Weintraub (order
this book from Amazon.com) has an overview of the preserve, a description
of a hike, and a simple map.
South Bay Trails, by Jean Rusmore, Betsy Crowder,
and Frances Spangle (order
this book from Amazon.com) has a simple map and trail descriptions.
Tom Taber's The Santa Cruz Mountains Trail Book has a simple
map and preserve descriptions (order
this book from Amazon.com).
photos from this hike.
Sereno translates from Spanish to English as night watchman. Why
would the term be attached to such a hot, dry, primitive, and steep south
bay mountain? It stand a short distance from San Jose's ever reaching
urban sprawl, although whomever named El Sereno could never have predicted
such south bay growth. I suppose a night watchman keeps an eye on things,
and guards the neighborhood. Regardless, the protector has become the
protected, as El Sereno is now public parkland, destined to stand forever,
austere and naked, patient and watchful.
As of this writing the preserve is a bit
underdeveloped, with parking for only two or three cars, and no maps,
restrooms, or trail signs. Be sure to bring plenty of water and a map.
El Sereno is well-suited to horseback and bicycle riding, as the trails
are steep, and there are no possible loop trips. It'll probably
take an average hiker several visits to explore
El Sereno, which has one long trail and several spur trails, all
extending out to dead-ends. However, you don't need to hike far into the
preserve; from El Sereno's boundary at the open space gate, on non-smoggy
days you'll be treated to spectacular views to the south and east.
El Sereno is not a good choice on a hot day.
On one January hike the temperature on the south-facing shadeless
slopes soared to nearly 70 degrees. Spring is probably the best time to
visit, particularly if the weather is cool, for that's when you'll find
wildflowers in the meadow and throughout the chaparral. If by luck or
good planning you hike when chaparral pea is in bloom (generally May,
around the same time chamise blooms), you'll witness a riotous display
of hot pink blossoms on the thorny-looking shrubs. Manzanitas and a variety
of ceanothus blossom in winter, when the views are usually as clear as
they get in the south bay.
From the pullout at the end of Montevina
Road, walk uphill about 200 feet to the open space gate. As you
start climbing on the wide fire road open to hikers, equestrians,
and cyclists, look back over your shoulder for fantastic views south and
west. On clear days you should be able to see the ocean and the
Monterey peninsula. Trailside vegetation is an eclectic mix of chaparral
plants, including a variety of ceanothus, as well as manzanita, silk-tassel,
yerba santa, poison oak, California coffeeberry, coyote
brush, pitcher sage, shrubby oaks, and toyon, but chamise is the dominant
plant. After 0.29 mile of easy climbing, you'll reach an unsigned junction.
The trail to the left ends 0.4 mile further at Bohlman Road. Bear
While adopting just a slight uphill grade,
Aquinas Trail, a wide dirt fire road, cuts through dense chaparral,
then crests and drops down to a viewpoint. The spot is marked with a metal
state marker sunk into the ground. From here, there are views of Lexington
Reservoir, Mount Umunhum, and Mount Hamilton. Sit still for a few
moments, and you might get a good look at the small shy birds skittering
about in the low branches of chamise shrubs. When you're ready to start
the descent, continue down the fire road on a short steep grade. The trail
ascends and then levels out. If you stand near the edge of the brush on
the right and look downhill, you can see the trail's continuing course,
and the meadow at this hike's turnaround point. (If the elevation
drop seems too much for you, best to turnaround now.) The trail curves
left, and crosses over to the mountain's northern face. California
bays, tanoak, and madrones provide some unexpected and welcome shade.
You might also notice a few young California nutmeg. When I hiked
here in February 2002, a full week after a snow storm, there were
still large patches of icy snow on the trail. The trail turns back on
itself at a switchback, and you'll recross the hill at a lower elevation,
and then reemerge into sunny chaparral. At a moderate grade, the trail
descends, taking a sharp turn at another switchback, and continuing
to lose elevation. Heavy bicycle usage is evident; you may notice
that tires have cut tracks into the sides of the hill in some spots. A
few live oaks and madrone provide sporadic shade, but chamise and other
chaparral plants continue to reign over the dry hillsides. Traffic
noise from CA 17 and views of newly built mansions remind you of the explosive
south bay growth. (Note: thanks to an easement,
you can continue through a short stretch of private property and back
into the preserve. There are no signs along the trail.) At
2.13 miles, you'll reach an unsigned junction. The trail to the left deadends.
There's a brief nearly level stretch,
then the rocky trail continues downhill at a moderately steep grade. Look
for black sage and broom mixed through chamise, buckbrush, blueblossom
ceanothus, manzanita, silk-tassel, sticky monkeyflower, chaparral
pea, and California sagebrush. At 2.63 miles, you'll reach another
junction, this one partly signed with a generic "trail" marker
pointing left. Bear left.
The descent eases up as the trail
winds through chaparral and brief shaded stretches under California bay.
Look to the left for a handful of currant shrubs, typically blooming in
February. There's a
luxuriant swath of chaparral pea on the left as well. Abruptly, the trail
curves right at 2.98 miles and emerges in a pretty, level meadow. Grass
stretches toward the chaparral on both sides of the trail. A stately blue
oak stands on the left. This is the turnaround point of the hike, and
a great place for lunch. Although traffic noise from surrounding highways
is still audible, it most resembles a faint roar, like the ocean. You
can continue downhill on the trail, but according to the map you'll reach
a dead end in less than a mile. When you're ready, retrace your steps
back to the trailhead.
Total distance: 5.96 miles
Last hiked: Wednesday, February
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