9.4 mile out and back to the top of Black Mountain. Mostly easy, but the
last mile to the top is very steep.
Distance, category, and difficulty:
This 9.4 mile out and back hike is strenuous, with over 2300
feet of elevation change. Trailhead elevation is about 500 feet, and the
elevation at Black Mountain is about 2810 feet. The first 3.3 miles are
easy, but the last 1.2 miles to the summit are grueling.
Dirt trails and fire roads.
Not for summer -- pick a cool day.
From Interstate 280 in Santa Clara County, exit #16 El Monte/Moody Road
and drive west on Moody Road. Go straight through the stoplight at
Foothill College, and at a stop sign at about 0.6 mile, turn left to remain
on Moody. Drive about 0.5 mile more on Moody, then turn left onto Rhus
Ridge Road. Drive about 0.2 mile on this narrow road, then bear right into
the parking lot.
Get driving or public transit directions from Transit and Trails:
GPS Coordinates* for Trailhead:
(* based on Google Earth)
This trailhead has parking for about 12 cars; no parking on Rhus Ridge Road.
No entrance or parking fees. No toilet facilities or drinking water.
No designated handicapped parking, and trails are poorly suited to wheelchairs.
Maps available at information signboard. There is no direct public transportation
to the trailhead, but Santa Clara County's VTA buses service
Foothill College, about 1 mile from the trailhead: visit the Transit
Info website for details.
Gas, food, and lodging:
There are no facilities in the immediate area -- gas, stores, restaurants,
and pay phones are a few miles to the north or south off 280. Camping is
not permitted in Rancho San Antonio, but Monte Bello has a small backpacking
camp open by advance reservations only, near the top of Black Mountain.
Park is open from sunrise to 1/2 hour after sunset. Most Rancho trails,
including Black Mountain Trail, are designated hiking and equestrian only.
In the eastern section of the park a few trails are open to hikers and cyclists
only, and there are a handful of hiking only trails. Dogs are not permitted
anywhere in the preserve.
The Official Story:
MROSD field office 650-691-1200
Use AAA's San Francisco Bay Region map to get there.
from MROSD (download the Rancho San Antonio pdf). If you decide to go
all the way to the summit of Black Mountain, the Monte
Bello map is also useful.
Tales and Trails, by David Weintraub (order
this book from Amazon.com) has an overview of the preserve, descriptions
of hikes, and simple maps.
Afoot and Afield: San Francisco Bay Area, by David Weintraub
this book from Amazon.com) has a great map and descriptions of a Rancho
The Trail Center's Trail Map of the Southern Peninsula (read
more about this map at Amazon.com) includes Rancho San Antonio and surrounding
preserves, but the mileage figures for Black Mountain Trail are underestimated.
Tom Taber's The Santa Cruz Mountains Trail Book has a map
and preserve description (order
this book from Amazon.com).
Peninsula Trails, by Jean Rusmore, has a simple map and trail
more about this book at Amazon.com).
Bay Nature's article about Rancho San Antonio
Mountain Trail in a nutshell -- a printable, text-only guide to this
photos from this hike.
Go to Bay Area Hiker Home page
9.4 mile out-and-back hike to the top of Black Mountain has two very different segments. Although the first mile, on Rhus Ridge
Trail, is a bit steep, the initial stretch of Black Mountain Trail is
a nicely graded footpath winding through woods and chaparral. Then suddenly,
3.3 miles up the mountain, the footpath widens to fire road width, and
shoots nearly straight uphill, with little shade. The ascent is worth
it, for the amazing views at the top and the feeling of accomplishment
-- an over 2300 foot climb all the way up the mountain!
The trip to Black Mountain is great in spring
when a variety of vegetation is in bloom, and temperatures are cool. It's
not bad in winter either, although the trails can by muddy if horses have
been on them soon after rain (MROSD occasionally closes the trail to horse
traffic in wet months). Summer is the least appealing, simply because the parching hot sun intensifies
the push to the summit. Especially in warm weather, be sure to bring lots
of water. On my August trek I sucked down 3 liters of water, and still
ran out before the end of the hike.
Begin at the Duveneck Windmill Trailhead
on Rhus Ridge Trail. The first stretch of this broad trail, open to
hikers and equestrians, is a level meander along a canyon floor. You'll
pass the caretaker's house and go through another gate, then begin a slight
climb. California bays and coast live oaks give way to chaparral as the
trail sweeps uphill to the right, the grade stiffening a bit. Deer are
common in this part of the preserve, and you might see some upslope on
the left, under some buckeye trees. An assortment of chaparral plants,
including poison oak, monkeyflower, coffeeberry, creambush,toyon,
silktassel, sagebrush, hollyleaf cherry, and cercocarpus soak up the sun
along the trail. Coast live oak, buckeye, and California bay offer some
shade in sections. At 0.39 mile, there's a viewpoint on the right side
of the trail, a mere sample of what's to come. You may notice buckwheat
blooming, and snowberry fruiting, along the trail in summer. The
grade is moderately steep as Rhus Ridge Trail zigzags uphill. At 0.50
mile a path breaks off to the left. Continue straight on Rhus Ridge
Trail. The longest steep section follows, and at 0.90 mile, the trail
crests, then ends at a signed multiple junction. Turn right onto Black
A grassy meadow slopes downhill on the
left, and beyond the forested slopes of Black Mountain loom. You may be
able to make out a string of high-tension power lines -- this is where
you're headed on the way to the top. The medium-width trail, closed
to cyclists, winds through oak woodlands at a level pace, then emerges
in chaparral. Skirting the far reaches of a canyon that stretches through
the eastern part of the park, Black Mountain Trail remains nearly flat.
At 1.57 miles, a path to Hidden Villa departs on the right, from a signed
junction. Continue straight on Black Mountain Trail.
The trail, mostly shaded by coast live
oaks, begins to climb at a moderately easy grade. At 1.78 miles, a second
signed trail heads into Hidden Villa on the right. Continue straight
on Black Mountain Trail.
The trail spends a bit longer in the shade, then
steps out into a plant community of chamise, silktassel, toyon, poison
oak, coffeeberry, and cercocarpus. Small pockets of California bay, nestled
in the mountain's creases, provide welcome shade on warm days. A series
of switchbacks help the ascent stay gradual.
I always expect to see animals along the trail, since coyote, bobcat,
and fox scat is so common, but I've never seen anything more exotic than
deer. You might notice a few manzanita shrubs and some madrone. Following
one last, nearly level foray through coast live oak woods, the trail steps
out under a high-tension power line, at 3.24 miles. Although broadened
to fire road width, the trail is still closed to cyclists. From this point
it's about 1000 feet (the bulk of it achieved in a little over 1 mile)
to the summit. At first Black Mountain Trail runs along the power lines,
through a combination of buckeye, coast live oak, poison oak, buckbrush,
coyote brush, yerba santa, pitcher sage, and coffeeberry, but the trail
soon curves left and heads uphill, while the power lines continue across
the upper reaches of Hidden Villa. At 3.44 miles generic trail signs point
you straight ahead, while a barely-there path breaks off to the right.
Continue straight on Black Mountain Trail.
The grade picks up significantly, and the
trail leaves most tree cover behind. Occasionally a coast live oak shades
the route, but for the most part, yerba santa, pitcher sage, scrub oak,
hollyleaf cherry, manzanita, buckbrush, silktassel, and chamise line the
trail. In winter look for pink flowers on chaparral currant shrubs. Ugly
Kaiser Quarry is visible to the south. Although the route is fairly straight,
some curves in the trail allow for a few surprises. One is a brief downhill
stretch -- my heart drops with the grade each time I round that bend,
for at this point in the ascent, every foot gained in elevation is an
achievement, and it is no fun to go down in order to go up. There are
more steep sections, some of them quite rocky. Views back to the east
are a fine excuse when you need to stop and catch your breath. Finally,
at 4.36 miles, you'll reach a gate. Continue past the step-over on Black
Mountain trail to a signed junction at 4.42 miles, then turn right,
"toward Monte Bello Road."
screens views to a hilltop collection of antennae, on the right. At 4.51
miles, the trail ends at a signed junction with Monte Bello Road, and
marks the border with Monte Bello Open Space Preserve.
After a brief gentle climb through grassland,
you'll reach the top of Black Mountain, with an elevation just over 2800
feet. Look to the right for an unsigned path into some rock formations.
Turn right, and at 4.58 you'll reach the turn-around point for
the hike. You may spend some minutes looking for the USGS elevation marker,
plastered into a rock. The views are outstanding: to the west Skyline
Ridge and Butano Ridge are visible, south the highest elevations of the
Santa Cruz Mountains stand out, and a glimpse north reveals the descending
hills of Monte Bello. After the climb, it's pleasant to stretch out, loosen
your boots, eat lunch, and refuel with something cold. When you're ready,
retrace your steps back to the trailhead.
Total distance: 9.49 miles
Last hiked: Monday, August 26, 2002