Joseph D. Grant County Park,
County of Santa Clara,
Santa Clara County
In brief:
7.5 mile loop climbs up and down grassy hillsides dotted with oaks, on the high slopes of Mount Hamilton. Great in early spring, but incredibly hot in summer.

Distance, category, and difficulty:
This 7.5 mile loop hike is moderate, with about 1300 feet in elevation change. The park has high hills and a sloping valley in the middle, with elevation ranging from about 1300 to 2995 feet. Most trails are moderate, but should you visit in summer, be careful not to overexert and dehydrate yourself on the lightly (or not at all) shaded trails.

Exposure:
Some shade, but mostly exposed -- not a good choice in summer heat.

Trail traffic:
Light.

Trail surface:
Dirt trails and fire roads.

Hiking time:
3.5 hours

Season:
Late winter and spring are pleasant; avoid the park during heat waves.

Getting there:
From US 101 in Santa Clara County, exit Santa Clara Street/Alum Rock Avenue. Drive east on Alum Rock Avenue about 4 miles, then turn right onto Mount Hamilton Road. Drive about 8 miles on this narrow winding road (watch out for bicyclists, motorcyclists, deer, and foolhardy squirrels) to the park entrance on the right side of the road. Once past the entry kiosk, drive on the park road to the parking lot nearest the gated entrance to Hotel Trail (go straight past the first parking area on the left, then turn left where the road splits -- there are some nice shady spots near the restrooms).

GPS Coordinates* for Trailhead:
Latitude 3720'8.70"N
Longitude
12142'58.32"W
(* based on Google Earth data, shown as degrees, minutes, seconds)

Gas, food, and lodging:
Gas, stores, and restaurants about 9.5 miles west, on Alum Rock Avenue. Grant's campground has tent, small RV and group sites.

Trailhead details:
$6 entrance fee (self-registration if kiosk is closed, or if you park elsewhere in the park). Lots of parking in the main area (on the park's map, that's the Visitor Center Area), and a few other smaller lots off Mount Hamilton Road, east of the main entrance. Restrooms located off the parking lot. Maps available at the entrance kiosk, and at the information signboard at the start of Hotel Trail. Pay phone at entrance kiosk. There is no direct public transportation to the park.

Rules:
Most trails are multi-use. A few are closed to cyclists, and a handful are hiking-only. Dogs are only allowed in the campground, picnic and parking areas, and Edwards Field & Trail; they are not permitted on the hike described on this page.

The Official Story:
SCCP's Grant page
Park office 408-274-6121

Map choices/more infomation:
This hike is described and mapped in 60 Hikes within 60 Miles: San Francisco, by Jane Huber (yup, that's me, the creator of this website). Order this book from Amazon.com.
Map from SCCP (download pdf)
Afoot and Afield: San Francisco Bay Area, by David Weintraub (order this book from Amazon.com) has a great map and descriptions of a Grant hike.
• Check current Mount Hamilton weather at Hamcam!
• South Bay Trails, by Jean Rusmore, Betsy Crowder, and Frances Spangle (order this book from Amazon.com) has a simple map and trail descriptions.
The Bay Area Ridge Trail, by Jean Rusmore (order this book from Amazon.com) has a good map and descriptions of Grant's Ridge Trail segment.

View 72 photos from the featured hike.





Go to Bay Area Hiker Home page

With over 9,500 acres, Grant is the largest park in the Santa Clara TrailheadCounty Park district. The park's somewhat remote location shelters a great variety of wildlife and plants. In late summer and early autumn, Grant is overrun with mating tarantulas, and all year long you might see wild pigs, whose ranks are spreading like crazy in the area. Spring wildflowers are legendary, but Grant is lovely in winter (mistletoe dripping from oaks and long clear views) and autumn (maple leaves and tarantulas on the ground, and poison oak's lovely foliage show). Cow grazing and heavy bicycle use create muddy trails in the rainy months, when it sometimes snows on the top of Mount Hamilton. Visiting in the summer, it's hard to imagine it ever getting cold enough to snow; when it's hot in the bay area, it's sweltering at Grant. Bring plenty of water, wear a hat, and pace yourself. The miles really add up here, and many trails have long, sustained climbs. Unlike most Santa Clara parks, the major, fire road-width trails are clearly signed here, but the minor paths are not, and they can be difficult to find. With 22 family campsites available, Grant makes a fine mini-retreat destination for a weekend of camping and hiking (although the campground is closed in the winter months).
      Most visitors start at the visitor center area, cross Mt. Hamilton Road, and hike up to the ridgeline on one of three steep trails. From the ridge, if you head north on Cañada de Pala you can hike to the park's high point, 2995 foot Antler Peak. There are nice views west from that belvedere and along the way. The trails are gentler in Grant's southwestern portion, and the large network of fire roads and paths make many loops possible. If you wish to avoid the climb to the ridge, you can park at Twin Gates (elevation about 2400 feet) and hike along Cañada de Pala Trail from there. Hotel Trail climbs slowly from the trailhead, and is a popular uphill route for cyclists. The easiest hike of all at Grant starts at the small parking lot on the north side of Mount Hamilton Road, just past the main park entrance. The wide, almost level trail skirts the eastern shore of pretty Grant Lake. An out-and-back stroll on the trail is under 1 mile, and some picnic tables provide a nice setting for an outing with young kids or elderly folks. Cover along Hotel Trail in spring
     For the featured hike, start at parking lot and walk east to the signed gated entrance to Hotel Trail. The path crosses San Felipe Creek, then splits. Stay to the left as the path sweeps past the lovely Ranch House, then at about 500 feet, meets an unmarked junction. Turn left onto Hotel Trail. A fence on the left keeps you at a distance from some of the cattle who graze at the park. Oaks and coyote brush punctuate the grassland. Just a few steps past the junction, unmarked Loop Trail sets out to the right at a gate. Continue straight on Hotel Trail. The wide multi-use trail climbs just a bit, then reaches a gate at Mount Hamilton Road at about 0.44 mile. Carefully cross the road, then turn left onto signed Yerba Buena Trail.
     A broad, dirt fire road, open to cyclists, equestrians, and hikers, Yerba Buena Trail dips downhill past a small parking lot, then ends at a signed junction at 0.57 mile. Bear right.
     Enjoy a sweet view of Grant Lake as you walk past signed Lakeview Trail. Thick stands of coyote brush and shrubby oaks line the trail. At 0.82 mile, just past a bridge, turn right at a signed junction onto Halls Valley Trail. Grant Lake
     After a short descent, the multi-use trail (which cyclists are only permitted to use in the uphill direction) begins a climb. Oak and a few eucalyptus give way to coyote brush. Canal Trail begins on the right side of the trail at a signed junction at 1.0 mile. Continue on Halls Valley Trail.
     You get some early views of hills to the north as you ascend. At 1.10 miles, Los Huecos Trail begins on the right side of the trail at a signed junction. Continue straight on Halls Valley Trail.
     The ascent is easy at first, as you hike through oaks (black, valley, and coast live), California bay, California coffeeberry, and coyote brush. In the late summer and into winter, red honeysuckle berries dangle on their vines, and poison oak makes itself known, with a bold display of red foliage. The orbs of white common snowberries seem to float through the air in the dense trailside foliage.Halls Valley Trail crosses a seasonal creek, climbs througha short stretch of sagebrush and monkeyflower, then enters oak grassland. Views back to the west reveal Grant Lake. The trail makes a sharp turn to the left, and the grade picks up. Oaks (including a few blues) thin, providing great views. In late summer, concentrated patches of deep red poison oak on the tawny hills to the north resemble a freshly scraped knee. With little shade, the sun can really bake you on a hot day through this stretch. Halls Valley Trail sweeps along the hillside, then turns and makes a brief descent. A few buckeyes accompany the oaks. After crossing a seasonal creek, the trail takes one final steep and straight run to a signed junction at 3.1 miles. Turn right onto Cañada de Pala Trail.Halls Valley Trail
     The exposed, nearly treeless ridge offers fantastic views. North of this spot, Cañada de Pala Trail meanders on a pretty level course, to Line Shack (I seem to remember from a hike years ago that shack is the operative word), then climbs to a junction with Pala Seca Trail and Antler Point. However, today on this featured hike, we're headed south. The broad multi-use fire road climbs through sporadically sprinkled oak grassland. In spring, fantastic displays of wildflowers are common, with the peak occurring in late April and early May, when blue-eyed grass, bluedicks, johnny jump-ups, checkerbloom, California poppy, fiddlenecks, blue and white lupine, and popcorn flower sprawl through grass along the trail. At 3.51 miles, Los Huecos Trail heads back downhill to the right at a signed junction. Continue straight on Cañada de Pala Trail.
     As the trail continues to gradually climb, look to the left for a glimpse of Lick Observatory. You'll pass through a cattle gate (and kiss the spring flower displays goodbye), then linger at the trail's highest point (around 2700 feet), where there are great views down to Grant Lake and beyond. When I hiked here on a hot September day, yellow tarweed flowers carpeted the hills to the right; a wildflower surprise so close to autumnal equinox -- another reminder to me that there is no bad time to hike in the bay area. After a few short roller coaster runs, Yerba Buena Trail begins on the right, at 4.84 miles. Turn right. Canada de Pala Trail
     This multi-use fire road is very popular with cyclists traveling downhill, so be alert for traffic. Despite the presence of humans and cows, Yerba Buena seems to be popular with the local wildlife too -- you may see coyote, bobcat, deer, and pig prints in the dirt. Bass Lake is briefly visible to the left. Yerba Buena Trail drops steeply alongside a canyon, then climbs a bit through oaks before descending to an unsigned junction and Mount Hamilton Road at 6.23 miles. Unsigned Loop Trail departs to the right. (I had intended to cross the road here and visit Bass Lake, but the gates on both sides of the road were chained shut, and the trail to Bass Lake was not the wide trail I expected. In fact, I couldn't tell if the thin path running parallel to the road was a deer trail or a trail, or which direction led to Bass Lake. So I recrossed the road and continued on Yerba Buena Trail. If you have enough energy left to explore, take Bass Lake Trail to Hotel Trail, turn right, and return to a previously encountered junction with the path to the trailhead.) Continue downhill on Yerba Buena Trail. Yerba Buena Trail
     The trail gently descends along Mount Hamilton Road, through oak grassland. On the other side of a cattle gate the trail shrinks a bit. Lakeview Trail sets out on the right side of the trail at a signed junction at 6.90 miles. Continue on Yerba Buena Trail. After one last rise and fall, the trail meets a previously encountered junction at 7.03 miles. Turn left, cross the road, and retrace your steps back to the trailhead. On my hike in September, on the way back to the trailhead I saw three wild pigs (inside the fence), taking a siesta in the shade on the right side of the trail (but nary a single tarantula).

Total distance: 7.47 miles
Last hiked: Monday, May 12, 2003