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
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.
Some shade, but mostly exposed -- not a good choice in summer heat.
Dirt trails and fire roads.
Late winter and spring are pleasant; avoid the park during heat waves.
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:
(* 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.
$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.
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:
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.
from SCCP (download pdf)
Afoot and Afield: San Francisco Bay Area, by David Weintraub
this book from Amazon.com) has a great map and descriptions of a Grant
Check current Mount Hamilton weather at Hamcam!
South Bay Trails, by Jean Rusmore, Betsy Crowder, and Frances
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
Go to Bay Area Hiker Home page
over 9,500 acres, Grant is the largest park in the Santa Clara County
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. 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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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,