Russian Ridge Open Space Preserve,
Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District,
San Mateo County
In brief:
3.6 mile loop over grassy hills and through ancient oaks. Exceptional wildflowers in late April through May.

Distance, category, and difficulty:
This 3.6 mile partial loop hike is easy, with about 600 feet elevation change. Trailhead elevation is about 2260 feet. The featured hike climbs to about 2500 feet, descends to 2150 feet, climbs back to a high elevation of 2554 feet, then descends back to the trailhead.

Exposure:
Mostly exposed.

Trail traffic:
Moderate.

Trail surfaces:
Dirt trails and fire roads.

Hiking time:
2 hours.

Season:
Nice year round but extra pretty in spring.

Getting there:
From Interstate 280 in Santa Clara County, exit #20 Page Mill Road, and head west. Drive about 9 miles, to the junction with Skyline Boulevard, cross Skyline and continue straight onto Alpine Road, then make the first right into the parking lot.

Get driving or public transit directions from Transit and Trails:
http://www.transitandtrails.org/trailheads/355

GPS Coordinates* for Trailhead:
Latitude 3718'55.54"N
Longitude
12211'18.95"W
(* based on Google Earth data, shown as degrees, minutes, seconds)

Gas, food, and lodging:
Gas, restaurants, and store at the junction of 35 and 84, about 7 miles north. No camping in the preserve.

Trailhead details:
Large gravel parking lot. No entrance or parking fees. Maps available at information signboard. No drinking water. There are designated handicapped parking spots, a wheelchair-accessible pit toilet, and an all-access trail heads south into Skyline Ridge Open Space Preserve at the edge of the parking lot. There is no direct public transportation to this preserve.

Rules:
All but one trail are multi-use. That one trail restricts bicycles. No dogs.

The Official Story:
MROSD's Russian Ridge page.
MROSD field office 650-691-1200

Map Choices:
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 MROSD (download Russian Ridge pdf)
Afoot and Afield: San Francisco Bay Area, by David Weintraub (order this book from Amazon.com) has a great map and descriptions of two Russian Ridge hikes.
Peninsula Tales and Trails, by David Weintraub (order this book from Amazon.com) has an overview of the preserve, descriptions of hikes, and simple maps.
Peninsula Trails, by Jean Rusmore, has a simple map and preserve descriptions (order this book from Amazon.com).
The Bay Area Ridge Trail, by Jean Rusmore (order this book from Amazon.com), has a simple map and a description of the Ridge Trail segment.
The Santa Cruz Mountains Trail Book, by Tom Taber, has a simple map and a preserve description (order this book from Amazon.com).

Russian Ridge in a nutshell -- a printable, text-only guide to the featured hike.

View 44 photos from the featured hike.
View some photos from Russian Ridge in springtime.




Go to Bay Area Hiker Home page



Russian Ridge Open Space Preserve has a reputation as one of the top bay area spots for wildflowers. Photo of trailheadAs the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District doggedly pursues a campaign against invasive non-native thistles and grasses (using a combination of prescribed burns, native seed drilling, and other methods) at this preserve, the spring blossom extravaganzas continue to impress. But even when no flowers are blooming, Russian Ridge is worth visiting. Very few parks and preserves in the bay area can match Russian Ridge's lovely grassland hills. From the ridge line, and particularly Borel Hill (elevation 2572 feet), you can see all the way to the ocean to the west, all of the east bay hills and Mount Diablo to the east, and south to Mount Umunhum.
      There are many loop options available at Russian Ridge. From the vista point trailhead(one mile north of the main trailhead on Skyline Boulevard), Starting out from the trailheadyou can hike north on Ridge Trail, and then head downhill on Hawk Trail, and back uphill to Ridge Trail and the vista point trailhead.  The adjoining MROSD preserves, Coal Creek and Skyline Ridge, can easily be entered from either the vista point trailhead or the main trailhead. To experience the grand loop of Russian Ridge combine the Ridge Trail with Hawk Trail, Mindego Ridge Trail, and Ancient Oaks Trail, a 4.5 mile trek. The Bay Area Ridge Trail runs through Russian Ridge (rightly so), and just about any hike through the preserve will include a stint on the trail. At the western edge of the preserve the Mindego Trail heads toward (but unfortunately not all the way to the top of) an ancient volcano.
     For the featured hike, start at the parking lot and head uphill on the signed Ridge Trail. The straight, multi-use path soon curves near an isolated cluster of buckeyes, and meanders along a seasonal creek.On a hike one February a group of frogs croaked back and forth, camouflaged in the damp aquatic grasses. Ridge Trail continues a climb as it sweeps south and then north again, until the grade tapers off and you reach the ridge. Photo of Ridge Trail in late winterViews to the south and east are spectacular. Ridge Trail in Skyline Ridge Open Space Preserve is visible to the south. Butano Ridge is prominent, a sturdy forested range between the Santa Cruz Mountains and the sea. At a signed junction at about 0.56 mile, turn left (the sign says "to Ancient Oaks Trail").
      Drifting away from the ridge line, the path contours around a hill and passes a bench. Hawks, kestrels, and kites can be seen swooping from treetops down to the grass. Alpine Road is visible downslope to the left. The sides of the trail are punctuated with California bay, buckeye, and live oaks. At 0.88 mile, Ancient Oaks Trail begins at a signed junction. The trail left heads to a small pullout on Alpine Road; the trail straight ends a little further down Alpine Road. Turn right onto Ancient Oaks Trail.
     Initially Ancient Oaks Trail sidles along a grassy hillside. According to a district map once posted on the information signboard at the trailhead, a 1999 controlled burn was conducted on the right side of the trail, but not the left. In February 2000, the right side was a deep emerald green, while the left side was still dominated by dry brown grasses. Photo of Ancient Oaks TrailThis narrow path, open to cyclists and equestrians as well as hikers, angles levelly across a hillside, offering views to the ocean and the rolling hills that precede it. At about 1.17 miles, Ancient Oaks Trail comes to a signed junction underneath some oaks and California bays. (To shorten your hike, take the trail to the right, signed "to parking lot," and then turn right onto the Ridge Trail and return to the trailhead.) Bear left, continuing on Ancient Oaks.
      Moss-covered venerable live oaks line the path, with a few madrone, Douglas fir, and California bay keeping the old timers company. One oak on the left side of the trail has a hollowed-out stump that serves as a catch basin, filling with water after a heavy rain. In summer, you might see California sister butterflies fluttering from oak to oak. The path emerges into grassland again, crosses a faint trail and then ducks back into the woods. Ancient Oaks Trail creeps downhill through a heavily shaded forest of California bay, madrone, and live oak. Climbing back up to the ridgeThick clumps of ferns, creambush, hazelnut, and blackberry bushes shelter newts and spring wildflowers such as hound's tongue and starflower. At about 1.56 miles, Ancient Oaks Trail ends at a signed junction. Charquin Trail (formerly Mindego Ridge Trail) to the left continues through the woods until it emerges on a ridge and then dead ends after 2.3 miles (if I recall correctly, the last mile of trail is a working ranch road and so lacks the bucolic splendor of the rest of Russian Ridge's trails). Turn right onto Charquin Trail.
      The wide trail crosses a few creeks and streams running downhill to meet Mindego Creek. Look to the right slope of the trail for pink-flowering currant bushes. They put out shocking bright blossoms when we most need some beauty, in the dreary days of January and February,and then fade gracefully away as the early wildflowers start to emerge. Alders and thickets of blackberries give way to grassland as the trail ascends gently to the northwest. Ridge TrailAt about 1.88 miles, the trail forks at a signed junction. (The trail to the left splits again in 0.2 mile; stay to the right on the Hawk Trail, then turn right onto Ridge Trail if you'd like to extend your hike another 1.3 miles.) Bear right (the sign points to vista point parking and the Ridge Trail) and head uphill.
      This short climb along the multi-use trail will have you sweating on a hot summer day, but on a windy winter day the higher you climb the more you may be buffeted by gusts. At about 2.17 miles, at a signed junction, the trail levels out and crosses Ridge Trail on its way to the vista point trailhead. Turn right (there's currently no sign when you're walking in this direction) onto Ridge Trail.
     After a few feet of climbing, the trail forks, at about 2.18 miles. Both paths meet about 0.5 mile south on the other side of the hill. The left trail crests at Borel Hill, while the right path, Ridge Trail, stays beneath the ridge line as it cuts across the hillside. Take the trail to the right.Flowers in May
      After the narrow Ridge Trail sweeps beneath some moss-covered rocks (some of them a bit singed), it contours around the grassy hillside. Look west to see the segment of Charquin Trail you traversed earlier and Mindego Hill (the extinct volcano). Deer and even coyote can sometimes be glimpsed downslope on the hill. Bobcat prints mark the dirt trail, and mountain lion sightings have been reported in the last few years. Wildflowers including owl's clover, johnny-jump-up, checker-bloom, lupine, filaree, clarkia, California poppy, blue-eyed grass, mule ear sunflower, and tidytips sprawl across the grass in the the spring. By summer, what in spring resembles a mowed lawn now may look like a wheat field, with tall harding grass (a non-native) and wild oat baked brown by the sun. At about 2.75 miles, at a signed junction, the path to Ancient Oaks Trail departs off the right side of the hill. Continue straight on Ridge Trail. Shortly after, at about 2.79 miles, the two ridge trails rejoin. Stay to the right. Returning on Ridge Trail
      In summer, look for a variety of butterflies in this part of the preserve, including red admiral, buckeye, and American lady. At about 3.03 miles, you'll arrive at the previously encountered junction with the path to Ancient Oaks Trail. Continue straight on Ridge Trail and retrace your steps to the trailhead, savoring the views of Monte Bello, Skyline Ridge, and Mount Umunhum to the southeast.

Total distance: about 3.60 miles
Last hiked: Thursday, August 31, 2011
Previous visit: Tuesday, September 30, 2003