5.5 mile loop up and down the eastern slope of the Santa Cruz Mountains.
The return climb is shaded, but sustained.
Distance, category, and difficulty:
This 5.5 mile loop hike is rated moderate, with about 1100
feet in elevation change. Trailhead elevation is about 2545 feet. The featured
hike descends to about 1600 feet, then climbs back to the trailhead. Both
legs are moderately steep.
Mix of sun and shade.
Dirt trails and fire roads.
Nice any time; lovely in spring and autumn.
From Interstate 280 in San Mateo County, exit Page Mill Road (exit 20).
Drive west on Page Mill to the junction with Skyline Boulevard (CA 35).
Turn left (south) and drive about 4.9 miles. Roadside parking for about
6 cars. The trail entrance is easy to miss; it's a small unsigned path on
the east side of Skyline.
Get driving or public transit directions from Transit and Trails:
GPS Coordinates* for Trailhead:
Longitude 122° 8'27.57"W
(* based on Google Earth
data, shown as degrees, minutes, seconds)
Gas, food, and lodging:
Restaurants, gas, pay phone, and stores at the junction of 35 and 84, about
11 miles north. No camping in the park.
No entrance or parking fees. No toilet facilities. No Santa Clara
County Parks maps available at the trailhead; there is an information signboard
with a map (but none to take with you) 0.3 mile inside Upper Stevens Creek
County Park. Across Skyline Boulevard at Long Ridge Open Space Preserve,
there are maps available at the information signboard (barely visible from
the road), about 50 feet inside the preserve. MROSD's South Skyline Region
and Long Ridge maps cover the trails of Upper Stevens Creek County
Park. The main trailhead to Upper Stevens Creek County Park is the Grizzly
Flat Trailhead, on Skyline Boulevard 3 miles south of Page Mill Road. Roadside
parking for about 10 cars, with more roadside parking across the street. No
toilet facilities. No entrance or parking fees. There is a map
at the trailhead, but no maps to take with you. There is no direct public
transportation to this park, or designated handicapped parking.
Most trails are multi-use. One trail is designated hiking only. No dogs.
Park is open from 8 a.m. to dusk.
The Official Story:
Upper Stevens Creek page
Navigate to the park with the assistance of AAA's San Francisco
Bay Region map.
from SCCP (download pdf)
The Trail Center's Trail Map of the Southern Peninsula has
a great map of the park.
Afoot and Afield: San Francisco Bay Area, by David Weintraub
this book from Amazon.com) has a great map and descriptions of hike
through Upper Stevens Creek County Park.
Tom Taber's The Santa Cruz Mountains Trail Book has a simple
map and park descriptions (order
this book from Amazon.com).
Jean Rusmore's The Bay Area Ridge Trail book (order
this book from Amazon.com) describes some of the western part of the
Peninsula Trails, by Jean Rusmore, has a simple map and descriptions
of some trails (order
this book from Amazon.com).
Stevens Creek County Park in a nutshell -- a printable, text-only guide
to the featured hike.
photos from this hike
Go to Bay Area Hiker Home page
Stevens Creek County Park is an important piece in the south skyline region open space preserve and park region. The park connects Monte Bello, Long
Ridge, and Saratoga Gap open space preserves, and hosts a portion
of the Bay Area Ridge Trail. This connectivity benefits bicyclists the
most, as it enables them to string together trails and preserves to create
long, challenging loop rides. For hikers the only multi-preserve loop
is a 8.5 mile jaunt combining the Bay Area Ridge Trail, Charcoal Road,
Table Mountain Trail, Canyon Trail, Grizzly Flat Trail, Peters Creek Trail,
and Hickory Oaks Trail. This fairly strenuous hike drops down to the actual
Stevens Creek and then regains 1000 feet of elevation on the way back
to the trailhead, with a certain amount of roller coaster elevation changes
in between. Both the trailheads at Upper Stevens Creek County
Park afford access to Long Ridge Open Space Preserve. All
hikes starting at Upper Stevens Creek County Park are the upside-down
variety (a descent followed by an ascent).
I've enjoyed hikes here all year round.
In autumn black oaks, which blend in to the forest most of the year, pop
with color. Fall is also the season when poison oak is literally red-flagged
by nature; you'll be grateful for the warning along Alternate Trail, which
has a shocking amount of the noxious plant, some
of it crowding the trail at an alarming face-height level. In winter Charcoal
Road is muddy, creeks swell with storm runoff, and manzanita bloom, but there
might be storm damage along Alternate Trail. Mid to late spring may be
my favorite, for that's the peak bloom of two of my favorite chaparral shrubs, bush poppy
and chaparral pea.
Start this hike on the east
side of Skyline Boulevard, across the street from the Long Ridge Open
Space Preserve gate (LR01). Look for a narrow, unmarked path heading
east. After a few steps a small sign marks your entry into Upper
Stevens Creek County Park. The Bay Area Ridge
Trail segment winds slightly downhill through the shade of black oak, madrone,
California bay, and tanoak. Hazelnut is a common understory plant. At
0.22 mile, you'll reach a four way junction. Sandstone is the dominant
rock here, and this clearing is so deep with sand sometimes in summer
it's like a walk on the beach. Under the trees near the information signboard
are a few small Indian grinding bowls worn into a broad rock. Stop at
the information signboard here if you'd like to consult the map. Then take the broad trail to the left and downhill, Charcoal Road.
A trail signed hiking only departs to the left
just a few feet down Charcoal Road; this is the path you'll take on the
return leg of this hike. Charcoal Road is signed for uphill bicycle traffic
only, which means you shouldn't have to check your back every 20 seconds
to make sure you won't be run over as you descend. Initially the descent
is slight, but soon the grade becomes sharp. The fire road features a
panoply of plants, including bigleaf maple, madrone, Douglas fir, chamise,
manzanita, coyote brush, black oak, coast live oak, canyon live oak, poison
oak, and California bay. Chaparral pea and bush poppy bloom in late
May, on the left side of the trail. In October, look for lovely red-berried
honeysuckle vines hanging down off the trees. Later, in November,
madrone berries dangle off their branches. Occasionally the vegetation
clears to offers views to the hills southeast, including Mount Hamilton and Mount Umunhum. The deeply dusty surface of the trail
makes for great animal tracking, particularly in the subsequent mud after
a rainstorm. Briefly Charcoal Road enters MROSD land. At 1.00 mile, stay
to the left at a signed junction with a service road.
Charcoal Road narrows, and the jurisdiction returns
to Santa Clara County. Madrone, Douglas fir, coast live oak, and redwood
crowd the trail. At 1.50 miles, you'll reach an unsigned T junction.
Turn left (the trail to the right is not a through trail).
Now on Table Mountain Fire Road, the grade softens to a more moderate descent. Tree cover
deepens, with a few redwoods accompanying a forest of Douglas fir and
madrone. Eventually, the trail levels out, and you'll enter a clearing. This meadow is astonishingly quiet. Through the grassland an odd assortment
of madrone, non-native conifers,coyote
brush, California coffeeberry, and black and live oaks are sprinkled here
and there. The views uphill to the rolling hills of Monte Bello Ridge
are pleasant. Somehow this meadow seems out-of-place in Santa Clara County. I
always feel like I'm in the Sierra, or some other place far from civilization. Stay
to the right at an unmarked junction at 1.90 miles, just past a pretty
Wider here, Table Mountain Fire Road curves
around a gently sloping hill. Nonnative trees (firs) still can be glimpsed
on the sides of the trail, although there are huge piles of removed trees
clustered throughout the grass to the left. Oaks, Douglas fir, and madrones
are reclaiming their native soil. The trail sweeps back to the left, still
skirting the "summit" of Table Mountain, and reaches an unsigned
junction at 2.52 miles, under the shade of some coast live oaks. The path
to the right descends to Stevens Creek. Continue straight on Table Mountain Fire Road . After a short
straight stretch, a hiking-only trail sets out on the right side of the
trail at 2.57 miles. Turn right.
On every one of my hikes it's
been apparent that the trail is used by cyclists. All along the length
of this trail, Santa Clara County Parks has tried to keep cyclists
off of the path, stretching logs across the trail, leaving fallen trees
partially obstructing the trail, and installing a fence-like shoot impossible
to navigate while on a bicycle. Nothing has worked. Bicyclists have
simply gone over, under, or around every obstacle. Be alert, for a collision
with bike descending this trail would be a serious incident. Also beware
of poison oak, which drifts toward the trail and hangs off trees (in winter
when the plant is leafless but still dangerous, treat every bare skinny
vine branch as a potential poison oak threat). It is really difficult to avoid some contact. I recommend wearing long pants and
long sleeves, and taking a cool shower as soon as you get home. Aside
from these caveats, it's a lovely long ascent, with no (legitimate) trail
junctions the entire length of the trail. After drifting downhill through
woods and some little meadows, Table Mountain Trail crosses a creek, and climbs through
California bay, tanoak, coast live oak, canyon live oak, interior live
oak, hazelnut, Douglas fir, and madrone. You might also see creambush
and pitcher sage. A few early switchbacks lull you into the false confidence
that this will be a gently graded ascent. As you get further uphill, steeper
sections set you straight. Eventually the trail emerges into a clearing
of some chaparral, and for a while short stretches of open trail alternate
with more shady sections. Tall chaparral plants (manzanita, chaparral
pea, yerba santa, chamise, shrubby oaks, wartleaf ceanothus, golden fleece,
and coyote brush) sometimes tower over 6 feet tall, blocking most views.
At some clear spots, look south and east for the best views of the hike.
Table Mountain Trail heads back into the woods, still climbing at a moderate
grade. On the left you'll pass a trail, blocked off but still clearly
in use. The trail descends a bit. In autumn, beware of loose
rocks covered with fallen leaves on the trail surface. You might see California
nutmeg trees on the right side of the trail. At a sharp corner, a straight
channel reaches up to Charcoal Road (a path created by cyclists), while
the trail continues to the right. Table Mountain Trail ends shortly after,
at 5.27 miles, at a junction just before the large 4-way sandbox intersection. (This
trail is tough to spot when you're traveling north from the sandbox. If
you want to see a photo of the junction, click here. It's
the small trail on the left by the reflective post.)
Take the Bay Area Ridge Trail to the right, retracing your steps back
to the trailhead.
Total distance: about 5.50 miles
Last hiked: Tuesday,
May 21, 2002