Stevens Creek County Park/
Fremont Older Open Space Preserve,
Santa Clara County Parks/
Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District,
Santa Clara County
In brief:
6.1 mile loop around and above Stevens Creek Reservoir.

Distance, category, and difficulty:
This 6.1 mile loop hike is moderate. Trailhead elevation is around 400 feet. The featured hike's high point is about 1170 feet, but one trail wanders up and down considerably, and the hike's total ascent is about 1110 feet. You can take this hike in either direction, but Coyote Ridge Trail is a steep fire road, in my opinion, better hiked down than up.

Exposure:
Mix of sun and shade.

Trail traffic:
Moderate.

Trail surfaces:
Dirt trails and fire roads.

Hiking time:
3 hours.

Season:
Nice any time.

Getting there:
From Interstate 280 in Santa Clara County, exit Foothill Expressway (exit #13) and drive south on Foothill Boulevard about 1 mile to the junction with Stevens Canyon Road. Stay in the middle right lane and drive on Stevens Canyon Road about 2 miles to the park entrance on the left side of the road. Drive downhill, pull into the Chestnut Picnic Area on the left to pay the entrance fee, then continue on the park road to the ranger station on the right side of the road. Pick up a map, then continue down the road to the Baytree Picnic Area at the end of the road.

Get driving or public transit directions from Transit and Trails:
http://www.transitandtrails.org/trailheads/394

GPS Coordinates* for Trailhead:
Latitude 3718'12.07"N
Longitude
122 4'28.81"W
(* based on Google Earth data, shown as degrees, minutes, seconds)

Trailhead details:
$6 entrance/parking fee. Parking for 17 vehicles, and one designated handicapped parking spot. Restrooms and drinking water at picnic area. If you look at the map(s) on line before visiting these parks, note that although the maps show parking areas at the Madrone and Sycamore Group Areas, the gates leading to the areas are not always open. There is some roadside parking at this southern portion of the park, but your best bet is to use the main entrance to Stevens Creek County Park as a trailhead. There is no direct public transportation to the park. Trails are wheelchair accessible for short distances.

Gas, food, and lodging:
Gas, pay phone, and store back on Stevens Canyon Road at Foothills. No camping.

Rules:
Some trails are multi-use, some just open to hikers and equestrians, and a few hiking only. Dogs are not allowed on every trail on the hike described below: they are permitted below the dam on Stevens Creek Trail in Stevens Creek County Park, and on the Fremont Older trails.

The Official Story:
SCCP's Steven's Creek page
• Stevens Creek County Park office: 408-867-3654
MROSD's Fremont Older page.

Map Choices:
• Use AAA's San Francisco Bay Region map to get there.
Map from SCCP (download Stevens Creek pdf).
Map from MROSD (download Fremont Older pdf).
• The Trail Center's Trail Map of the Southern Peninsula is an excellent guide to Stevens Creek County Park.
Peninsula Trails, by Jean Rusmore, has a simple map and trail descriptions (order this book from Amazon.com).
The Santa Cruz Mountains Trail Book, by Tom Taber, has a map and preserve description (order this book from Amazon.com).

Stevens Creek County Park in a nutshell -- a printable, text-only guide to the featured hike.

View photos from this hike





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You'll have to pick your poison when you plan a hike to Stevens Creek County Park. Are you bothered by crowds?Trailhead  Then go on a weekday. Dislike the roar of quarry trucks? Your best bet is a weekend hike. The quarry on Stevens Canyon Road, on the west shore of the reservoir, is very noisy, but the trucks roar Monday through Friday, taking Saturday and Sunday off. That's when throngs of fishermen descend to Stevens Creek Reservoir, cyclists zip up and down the steep fire roads, picnickers unfurl their blankets, and archers let their arrows fly at a range in the southeast corner of Stevens Creek Park. 
      Stevens Creek is Santa Clara County's first park. The county has gradually increased the park from an original 1924 400 acre purchase to 1,042 acres. Fremont Older Open Space Preserve abuts the park to the east, and Picchetti Ranch Open Space Preserve to the west, permitting long loops and out-and-back excursions for cyclists, hikers, and equestrians. From the trailhead at Baytree Picnic Area, there aren't any short loops, although an out-and-back hike on Stevens Creek Tony Look Trail would be a good choice for a brief walk. Stevens Creek TrailFor a longer hike, you can extend this featured hike by visiting Nob Hill, on the southeast corner of Fremont Older (see MROSD's Fremont Older map), then taking Toyon and Bay View Trails back to Coyote Ridge Trail. The trail systems at Fremont Older and Pichetti Ranch are more conducive to shorter hikes.
     Although Stevens Creek Tony Look Trail is mostly shaded, I wouldn't recommend a summer hike at Stevens Creek County Park or Fremont Older. Too much valley smog. Autumn is nice, with attractive sycamore, cottonwood, big-leaf maple, and cercocarpus foliage. In winter there are tiny waterfalls on Stevens Creek Tony Look Trail, and spring brings wildflowers to the grassland and woods.
      For the featured hike, start at Baytree Picnic Area's parking lot. Walk back along the park road, cross the bridge, and after about 180 feet, turn right onto gated and signed Stevens Creek Tony Look Trail. Along the reservoirThe broad trail, open to hikers and cyclists, follows along Stevens Creek. The slightly ascending trail is well-shaded by California bay and coast live oak, as well as clusters of sycamore, big-leaf maple, cottonwood, and alder, all pretty in autumn. At 0.40 mile, there's a fenced flat area, and a few steps later you'll reach a signed junction, with Stevens Creek Tony Look Trail veering off to the right, and Coyote Ridge Trail beginning the climb to the ridge on the left. Stay to the right on Stevens Creek Tony Look Trail.
     After a brief climb through coyote brush, poison oak, and sagebrush, the trail levels out. A few coast live oak shade the trail as it edges near the reservoir. A short section of fence blocking off the spillway ends and you can reach the water's edge, but no wading or swimming is permitted. The trail, with coast live oak, toyon, and coyote brush prominent, follows along the shore until 0.76 mile, when Stevens Creek Tony Look Trail swings to the left. The other trail ends about 0.2 mile further. Turn left to remain on Stevens Creek Tony Look Trail.Photo of Stevens Creek Trail
      Check out the boy scout-built bat house at the junction. This portion of the trail was built in 1988 by volunteers, and it's a fantastic hiking-only path through woods of coast live oak, buckeye, California bay, poison oak, creambush, and toyon. If you think of blackberry as a benign plant, check out the spot not far from the junction where vines have completely overtaken the understory. Switchbacks smooth out the elevation gain. At the highest point along the trail, the path cuts through an amazing patch of old-growth chaparral. Some of the shrubs, especially the chamise, are the size of small trees. You might also see sagebrush, toyon, pitcher sage, cercocarpus, and hollyleaf cherry. Views to the forested slopes across the reservoir are unobstructed. The trail snakes downhill,passing through a grassy area with some elegant coast live oaks. A fence guards a steep dropoff as the trail drops to a bridge.Stevens Creek Tony Look Trail  There's nowhere to go but up, and Stevens Creek Tony Look Trail climbs a bit before reaching a clear spot with yerba santa-framed views of the southern tip of the reservoir. In autumn, look for lovely golden leaves on sycamores at the shoreline. Stevens Creek Tony Look Trail descends again, and another fence prevents shortcuts as a shallow switchback channels the trail downhill. Through the trees you might see ducks and herons in the quiet pools of the reservoir. The narrow trail edges beneath a strange slab of rock where small seasonal waterfalls feed the reservoir on rainy winter days. After one last bridge, the trail climbs through grassy woodland and reaches Laurel Flat, the end of the volunteer built section of trail. The trail widens and passes what seems to be the park dump on the left. At 2.76 miles a gate blocks the fire road's exit to Stevens Canyon Road. Take the trail to the left.
      This small, hiking-only trail winds around the back of Madrone and Sycamore Group Picnic Areas. Stay to the left at two unsigned junctions, at 2.82 and 2.92 miles. This path becomes Lookout Trail somewhere along here (the Fremont Older map suggests the transition at the Madrone Group Area; it doesn't really matter because it's the only trail at this point). The trail is very narrow in sections, and although switchbacks cushion the blow of much of the climb, the ascent will have your heart pumping. Luckily, the trail is thickly forested with coast live oak and California bay, so it's cool and shady.Lookout Trail Look for creambush and gooseberry in the understory. At a grassy flat spot on the right side of the trail, a break in the trees reveals a spectacular view to the southwest (this is a nice lunch spot). In autumn, on the high, sloping vineyards across the valley, grape leaves, lit with color, stand out from the surrounding chaparral and woods. At 3.63 miles, Lookout Trail crests and crosses through a gate into Fremont Older and grassland.
        The trail drops down a bare slope near a power line (there's a faint path that bypasses the sharp descent to the left), then climbs easily to two junctions at 3.71 and 3.77 miles. Go straight at the first junction, and then at the second, turn right onto Vista Loop Trail. (Either branch of Vista Loop Trail will hook up with Coyote Ridge Trail eventually, but the trail to the right has nicer views to the east.) You'll walk down a broad, level multi-use dirt road lined with eucalyptus trees, with nice views south to Mount Umunhum. The archery range is visible down the slope to the right. At 3.92 miles, turn left at a signed junction onto Coyote Ridge Trail. Grassland in Fremont Older
      Coyote Ridge Trail is a hiking, bicycling, and equestrian trail, so be alert for traffic. The trail climbs a little, and there are views back downhill to Lookout Trail. At 4.13 miles, a spur trail not on the map (but marked by a faded wooden informative sign) leads to the highest point in the preserve. Take the short trail uphill to the right to Maisie's Peak.
      This vantage point offers particularly good views of the eastern portion of Fremont Older. On a clear day you should be able to see Mission Peak, Mount Diablo, Mount Hamilton, Mount Umunhum, and even San Francisco and Mount Tamalpais. Maisie's Peak is a great lunch or break spot, but it can get uncomfortably windy in winter. When you are ready to continue, return to Coyote Ridge Trail,turn right and then continue straight at the signed junction with Vista Loop Trail, at 4.27 miles. View south from Maisie's Peak
      Grassy slopes visible on the left side of the trail are crisscrossed with animal paths. Look for deer and coyote footprints on the ground, and vultures and hawks soaring in the thermals overhead. Poison oak, toyon, sagebrush, scrub oak, monkeyflower, cercocarpus, coyote brush, and chamise take over the landscape, but there are some occasional pockets of coast live oak and blue oak. Coyote Ridge Trail rises and falls a bit as it passes three signed junctions: the first with a trail descending to Bay View Trail (at 4.43 miles), the second with Fern Trail (at 4.49 miles; not on the Stevens Creek County Park map), and lastly with another spur leading down to Bay View Trail (at 4.57 miles). Stay on Coyote Ridge Trail at each junction.
      Heritage trail draws near to some houses, a water tank, and a few pines on the right, before veering back into chaparral. Coyote Ridge Trail begins a plunge back toward Stevens Creek County Park. At 5.04 miles, stay to the left at a junction with an unnamed trail (it deadends after 0.4 mile). Photo of Coyote Ridge Trail
     The descent is sharp; beware of cyclists traveling downhill. High tension power towers accompany coast live oak, buckeye, blue elderberry, toyon, and hollyleaf cherry along the trail. At 5.73 miles, you'll reach a previously encountered junction. If you want a different walk back to the parking area, walk straight a few feet, then look to the left for a break in the fence just past the junction and "no horses" sign. This path, Rim Trail, runs along Stevens Canyon Road and ends near the parking lot. I prefer the gentle sound of running water to the roar of a diesel (most of the time), so continue back the way you came, to the parking lot at Baytree Picnic Area.

Total distance:  6.13 miles
Last hiked:  Monday, December 10, 2001