Villa Montalvo Arts Center,
Santa Clara County Parks,
Santa Clara County
In brief:
2 mile loop through forested grounds of an old villa, now an arts center.

Distance, category, and difficulty:
The 2 mile loop hike begins at about 800 feet, climbs to 1200 feet, and descends to about 840 feet before returning to the trailhead. It's easy enough for the whole family, with a total elevation change of about 500 feet. Park elevation ranges from about 700 to 1600 feet, but the highest trail elevation is about 1160 feet.

Exposure:
Mostly shaded, with some pockets of sun.

Trail traffic:
Moderate.

Trail surfaces:
Dirt trails.

Hiking time:
1 hour.

Season:
Nice any time.

Getting there:
From CA 85 in Santa Clara County, exit Saratoga Avenue. Drive southwest toward Saratoga about 1.7 miles, then turn left onto CA 9/Saratoga-Los Gatos Road. Drive about 0.5 mile, and turn right onto Montalvo. Continue about 0.7 mile, through a gate and into the park. There are 4 parking lots -- the featured hike begins at lot 4.

Street address (for in-transit navigation):
15400 Montalvo Rd Saratoga, CA 95070

Get driving or public transit directions from Transit and Trails:
http://www.transitandtrails.org/trailheads/417

GPS Coordinates* for Trailhead:
Latitude 3714'38.61"N
Longitude
122 1'51.18"W
(* based on Google Earth data, shown as degrees, minutes, seconds)

Gas, food, and lodging:
Stores, restaurants, and gas back on CA 9 in Saratoga. No camping.

Trailhead details:
Lots of parking in a paved lot. No entrance or parking fees. Restrooms and drinking water at the edge of the lot. Maps appear on park signboards, but there are none to take with you. There is one designated handicapped parking spot, but trails are not wheelchair accessible. There is no direct public transportation to the park, but Santa Clara VTA bus #27 stops at the junction of Saratoga and Saratoga-Sunnyvale. From the bus stop it's more than a mile to the park.

Rules:
Park is open from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. weekdays, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. weekends and holidays. No dogs, bikes, or horses.

The Official Story:
SCCP's Villa Montalvo page
Park office 408-356-2729
Montalvo Arts Center website

Map Choices:
• Use AAA's San Francisco Bay Region map to get there.
• Download a park map pdf from SCCP's website.
South Bay Trails, by Jean Rusmore, Betsy Crowder, and Frances Spangle (order this book from Amazon.com) has a simple map and suggested hike.
• Tom Taber's The Santa Cruz Mountains Trail Book has a simple map and park descriptions (order this book from Amazon.com).

 Villa Montalvo in a nutshell -- a printable, text-only guide to the featured hike.

View photos from this hike.





Go to Bay Area Hiker Home page

Villa Montalvo is a massive estate formerly owned by TrailheadJames Phelan, tucked into mouth of a canyon a few miles from Saratoga. After his death the property was bequeathed to a non-profit organization dedicated to artistic endeavors. An amphitheater and villa, among other small buildings, host arts programs and musical events year round. A landscaped arboretum garden in front of the villa is a popular site for weddings.
     The posh villa and the carefully groomed gardens, with many exotic plants, contrast to the natural beauty seen along the hiking trails. Managed by Santa Clara County Parks, a handful of narrow dirt paths arch around the sides and back of the villa, climbing out of a redwood canyon to Lookout Point. At this, the park's highest (reachable) point of around 1200 feet, a Lookout Trailbench provides a nice place to sit and look across the valley to Mission Peak.
     Villa Montalvo is so small that junctions seem to pop up around ever corner. You can easily walk a big crescent-shaped loop through the park in an hour or so, and the elevation changes are minor. This is a good destination for families with small kids and older folks, although visitors are not permitted to picnic on the grounds near the villa.
     
I visited during the last days of spring, when the creeks were nearly dry and the redwood canyon was soothingly cool. There are a few pockets of chaparral, by the park is mostly shaded with a forest of coast live oak, redwood, and California bay. I'd like to visit in the winter when the streams are full with storm runoff, or in autumn to see the big-leaf maples' foliage.
      There are four parking lots along the park road, and you could start a hike at any of them, but on my visit there was major construction underway near parking lot one, Lookout Pointand the lot was unavailable. Lot 4 has restrooms and plenty of parking, so I started there. Look for a small, undermarked path beginning at the edge of the lot, near a cluster of eucalyptus trees. Begin walking uphill through a section badly overgrown with broom. You might also notice a few buckeyes, poison oak, pines, and white oaks. After only .07 mile, you'll draw near the edge of parking lot 3, on the right. The path sweeps around to the left, reaching a park signboard and a pretty cupola. With a slight uphill grade, the hiking-only trail travels through California bay, toyon, broom, and poison oak. At 0.13 mile, you'll reach a signed junction. Bear left onto Lookout Trail.
     The hiking-only trail continues an easy ascent through the woods, under shade from California bay, coast live oak, and a few black oak, but you'll soon emerge Lookout Trail in chaparral, where poison oak, monkeyflower, and toyon are common. From a clear spot on the right enjoy a view east -- you'll have almost the same view at a higher elevation from Lookout Point. You'll pass through a pocket of redwoods, veer back into chaparral, and then reach a signed junction at 0.35 mile. Bear left and uphill, toward Lookout Point.
     The trail climbs moderately through a young redwood forest, with one slightly steep section near the end. Some creambush, coast live oak, and California bay are mixed through the redwoods. You'll reach the end of the trail at about 0.61 mile, a small cleared spot surrounded by chamise, manzanita, pitcher sage, coyote brush, and toyon. A metal bench is plopped in the middle of Lookout Point, Creek Trailwhere you might sit and stare across the valley to the east bay hills. When you're ready retrace your steps back to the previous junction, then turn left.
     Lookout Trail winds through the redwoods at a nearly level pace. At 0.92 mile, Redwood Trail departs from an unsigned junction. Continue straight. This is the longest trail segment in the park, and it ends too soon, at 1.29 miles, at a signed junction just past a wooden footbridge. Bear straight/left, now on North Orchard Trail.
     Under cover of big-leaf maple, California bay, and tanoak, hiking-only North Orchard Trail crosses Wildcat Creek and climbs slightly. The trail reaches a sunny area, where broom, madrone, coast live oak, and cercocarpus are common. At 1.36 miles, you'll reach a signed junction with South Orchard Trail. Turn right. (I intended to continue on North Orchard Trail, but on my visit the far reaches of that path were blockedBench and sculpture at end of Poet's Way by a construction project. Assuming that trails are reopened, you can take North Orchard to Creek Trail, adding about 0.25 mile to your hike.)
     South Orchard Trail descends a bit, passing through another area plagued by broom. You'll encounter two junctions almost right on top of each other, at 1.39 and 1.42 miles. Continue straight, then bear right onto Creek Trail.
     Hazelnut, California bay, big-leaf maple, and California nutmeg mark a transition into a riparian area, where Wildcat Creek flows or trickles depending on the season. Creek Trail descends to run along the stream, where some giant sycamores and small redwoods thrive. At 1.55 miles you'll reach a signed junction near a bridge. Bear right, cross the bridge, then turn right to continue on Creek Trail.
     The path doubles back along Wildcat Creek, then squeezes through someThimbleberry thrives in a creekbed  redwoods and starts a climb. A few switchbacks weave uphill, then the path crests and reaches a multiple junction, at 1.65 miles. Take the second trail clockwise to the left.
     Coast live oak, California bay, big-leaf maple, and a few black oak partially screen views, but fail to obliterate the noise filtering uphill from the main section of Montalvo. On the left, a few stone steps drop down to a statue and bench at the end of Poet's Walk. Pause if you like, then continue through the woods. The trail descends easily to a junction with Redwood Trail, at 1.78 miles. Turn left. After a short descent, you'll reach another junction, at 1.82 miles. Turn right.
     In the lowest reaches of the redwood canyon you might notice buckeye, coast live oak, California bay, and big-leaf maple along the trail. Thimbleberry bushes are common in summer. At 1.89 miles, you'll reach a familiar junction. Turn left and retrace your steps back to the trailhead.

Total distance: about 2.02 miles
Last hiked: Tuesday, June 18, 2002