6 mile out and back hike through redwoods on the high eastern flanks of
the Santa Cruz Mountains.
Distance, category, and difficulty:
This 6 mile out and back hike is easy, with about 600 feet in elevation
change. The park's elevation ranges from around 1400 feet (near the main
park entrance) to about 3000 feet (along Skyline Boulevard).
Almost totally shaded.
Dirt trails and fire roads.
Nice year round.
From Interstate 280 in Santa Clara County, exit #7 Saratoga Avenue. Drive
west on Saratoga Avenue, then in Saratoga, pick up CA 9 (Big Basin Way)
heading west. At the junction with CA 35 at Saratoga Gap, turn left (south).
Drive about 4.5 miles south on Skyline Boulevard (CA 35) to the unsigned
Sunnyvale Mountain trailhead on the left side of the road (an emergency
callbox stands at the driveway to the parking lot).
Get driving or public transit directions from Transit and Trails:
GPS coordinates* for trailhead:
Longitude 122° 4'21.03"W
(* based on Google Earth
data, shown as degrees, minutes, seconds)
Gas, food, and lodging:
Gas, restaurants and stores in Saratoga. Sanborn-Skyline has a campground,
accessible from CA 9 on the outskirts of Saratoga, with walk-in, RV, and
a group campsite.
Small parking lot with room for about 6 vehicles. No parking or entrance
fees (although entrance fees are collected at the park's main entrance).
No toilets or drinking water. There's an emergency callbox on Skyline Boulevard,
but the closest public pay phone is about 2 miles north, at Castle Rock
State Park. No designated handicapped parking, and trails are not suitable
for wheelchairs. There are two other significant Sanborn-Skyline Park trailheads
along Skyline Boulevard: the first is about 1.5 miles south from CA 9. Look
to the left for an unmarked dirt driveway leading to a rutted dirt parking
lot. The second trailhead is easier to find; it's a broad dirt pullout about
2.5 miles south of CA 9 across the road from the Castle Rock State Park
entrance. Neither traihead has facilities. The main park entrance is on
Sanborn Road, about 1.75 miles from Saratoga via CA 9. There is no direct
public transportation to the park.
Trails are open to hikers and equestrians only. No dogs or bicycles permitted.
Park hours are 8 a.m. to sunset.
The Official Story:
Park Headquarters 408-867-9959
Use AAA's San Francisco Bay Region map to get there.
from SCCP (download Sanborn pdf)
Trail Map of the Santa Cruz Mountains (Map 1), by the Sempervirens
Fund, has great detail of the northwestern part of the park, but does not
cover the Lake Ranch area.
Afoot and Afield: San Francisco Bay Area, by David Weintraub
this book from Amazon.com) has a great map and descriptions of a Sanborn-Skyline
South Bay Trails, by Jean Rusmore, Betsy Crowder, and Frances
this book from Amazon.com) has a simple map and trail descriptions.
The Santa Cruz Mountains Trail Book by Tom Taber (order
this book from Amazon.com) has a simple map and park info.
Bay Area Ridge Trail, by Jean Rusmore (order
this book from Amazon.com) has a simple map and descriptions of the
Ridge Trail segment.
in a nutshell -- a printable, text-only guide to the featured hike.
View photos from this hike.
Go to Bay Area Hiker Home page
County Park offers extensive facilities in the park's
"lowlands." You'll find restrooms, walk-in and family campgrounds,
as well as group and individual picnic areas. Just a mile uphill as the
crow flies, several rustic trailheads along Skyline Boulevard (and one
on Black Road) offer nothing more than parking. Sanborn presents
a city mouse/country mouse conundrum, so consider which mouse you are
before you visit. Families will probably be happiest near park headquarters,
where they can picnic and stroll on an all-access trail. Hikers seeking solitude should try
the Sunnyvale Mountain trailhead, one of the loneliest staging areas on
Skyline Boulevard. The Bay Area Ridge Trail's path through the Santa Cruz
Mountains terminates (or begins, depending on your perspective) at Sunnyvale
Mountain, and the trailhead has an end-of-the-line feeling.
Unlike the other open space preserve and
park staging areas nearby, from the Sunnyvale Mountain Trailhead there
are no multiple choices for loop hikes, and the only option is an out-and-back
trek, although you can add on one of two loops. If you'd like to check
out the area near park headquarters, hike downhill on Sanborn Trail. You'll
pass through Todd Creek Redwoods and then reach the main park area via
Peterson Trail. Then you'll regain about 1600 feet of elevation as you
hike back uphill on
San Andreas and Sanborn Trails. For an easier semi-loop, hike on Skyline
Trail to Indian Rock, then continue northwest onto the Summit Rock Loop,
from which Summit Rock offers views east from an elevation of about 3076
feet. This hike is about 9 miles in length, but the elevation changes
are relatively gentle. A visit to adjacent Castle Rock State Park is also
possible, but more logically undertaken from the trailhead near Indian
Rock, which is almost directly across Skyline Boulevard from the main
entrance to Castle Rock.
With an extensive black oak and big leaf
maple tree population, Skyline Trail is a knockout in autumn. Huge old
Douglas fir, as well as tanoak, California bay, and madrone shade the
trail in summer, mitigating the heat but unfortunately sheltering great
flies. Late winter and spring are perhaps better spent in the nearby chaparral
or grassland of Castle Rock, Long
Ridge, or Upper Stevens Creek.
For the featured hike, start at the
Sunnyvale Mountain Trailhead. Begin walking north on the gated and signed
Skyline Trail, open to hikers and equestrians only. A meadow overgrown
with broom, coyote brush, and blue elderberry drifts downhill to the right.
You might see quail sitting in the taller shrubs. Along the trail, which
is initially a wide old ranch road, black oaks dominate, with poison oak
in the understory. Although Skyline Trail parallels Skyline Boulevard,
the road is not visible. After a few feet, an appealing-looking path heads
to the right, but it's not a viable trail, so stay to the left.
The nearly flat trail reaches a split at a signed junction at 0.18 mile.
Bear right and remain on Skyline
The trail narrows and steps into a woodland
of towering Douglas fir, tanoak, and madrone. There's a sharp dropoff
downhill to the right, but the trail proceeds at a mostly level pace,
angling across the hillside. You might notice a huge sandstone boulder
on the left, one of many such formations that can be explored in this
park as well as in neighboring Castle Rock. At 0.48 mile the trail reaches
a picnic table near Skyline Boulevard. Check out the old stone fence and
gateposts, remnants of past landholders. Skyline Trail curves away from
the road and heads back into the woods. The narrow path skirts another
rock formation and passes some downed branches from elderly tanoak and
Douglas fir trees. After a brief sojourn through an open and overgrown
area where you might notice a few spring and summer flowers making a statement
among the coyote brush, Skyline Trail descends gently to a signed junction
at 1.22 miles. Sanborn Trail heads downhill to the right. Turn left
to remain on Skyline Trail.
Madrone, tanoak, and Douglas fir, along
with California bay and big leaf maple, create a thick canopy that permits
little understory growth, but in some places you might notice small shrubs
of hazelnut, creambush, and wood rose. Hound's tongue and western heart's
ease are common in spring. In summer, a few tiny orchids bloom inconspicuously
among the confetti of fallen madrone leaves. Skyline Trail draws near
the road again, and a rickety set of log-reenforced steps heading uphill
to the left reaches a roadside pullout. Continue to the right. The path
climbs slightly along a rocky stretch and then levels out again. Some
mighty Douglas fir and madrone might cause you to pause in wonder; these
giants live a somewhat sheltered existence, shielded from winter winds
by the hillside to the left. The trail bends right near an old metal "no
bikes" sign. Adopting a slightly wider girth, Skyline Trail winds
through a magnificent and quiet forest which is especially lovely when
fog blows across the ridge from the west and billows downhill into the
woods. Although you are never far from Skyline Boulevard, traffic noise
is only occasional (especially on weekdays). Skyline Trail narrows again,
and more rock formations appear, looming out of the woods on both sides
of the trail. At 3.02 miles, the trail reaches a trail sign, huge boulder,
and roadside parking (I call this the Indian Rock Trailhead). Walk
a few feet more uphill to the right, to Indian Rock(s), where black
oaks, madrones, and coast live oaks provide shade and a perfect spot for
a lunch break among the rock formations. When ready, retrace your steps
back to the trailhead.
Total distance: 6.04 miles
Last hiked: Monday, July 16, 2001