Four ways up
Black Mountain
Neil Wiley


Over one-hundred hills, peaks, and summits in California are called “Black Mountain.” Spanish explorers saw many dark mountains, including our own Loma Prieta (loma-hill, prieta-dark), but the Black Mountain that sparked my interest was one on Monte Bello Ridge above Los Altos and Cupertino. It’s a popular hiking destination accessible through Rancho San Antonio and Monte Bello open-space preserves.

On the Rancho San Antonio side, two routes are available. While both end up on Black Mountain Trail, one begins at the intersection of Rhus Ridge Trail and Chamise Trail at 1000-feet elevation. This trail takes you about a mile to the Black Mountain Trail, then up for 4.7 miles and a long 1800-foot climb in elevation.

The alternative route takes you up from the PG&E Trail to Quarry Trail at 1200-feet elevation and then the last mile of Black Mountain Trail for a total climb of 1600-feet elevation over two miles. Both reach the top at 2800 feet.

It’s a lot of numbers, but they added up to a hard climb over a long distance. I don’t recommend either trail unless you are up for a challenge.

The Monte Bello Open Space routes offer easier climbs because they start at 2200-feet elevation, but the one using Montebello Road as a trailhead requires a parking permit, and no roadside parking is allowed.

My only legal choice was hiking from Monte Bello Open Space’s Page Mill Road parking lot, so I started down Canyon Trail. It was already too warm, so I was happy when the trail entered a long shady section.

The trail continued through treeless, dusty dead-grass meadows. I turned left on Bella Vista Trail, which climbed up several hills to the intersection of Montebello Road and Old Ranch Trail. Usually, a trail is preferred over an asphalt road, but the road was one-tenth of a mile shorter and less dusty. After four-tenths of a mile, road and trail merged.

I continued on the road past an official camping site and towers for two broadcasting stations—one for Stanford and one for the Federal Aviation Administration. To the right of the road on the summit were large Calera limestone rocks rarely seen in the Bay Area. Ahead was a nice if hazy view of Santa Clara Valley.

If you do an out-and-back, the total distance is six miles, but I wanted a little more adventure. Instead of returning on the same trail, I took the Indian Creek Trail down a one-mile-long steep grade. The gravel over dirt road was very slippery, but I appreciated some interesting views, and walking downhill.

When I reached the bottom of the Stevens Creek Nature Trail, I met a Foothill College biology class seeing real nature. They were considering going up Indian Creek, but when I told them how steep it was, they decided to return on the nature trail. I walked a short distance with them, met their teacher who looked like a student, and dispensed a little first-aid to a big guy with a sore ankle. We spent some time together at a sag pond, looking at the lizards while enjoying a short, informal lecture. I followed them for a short distance, and then stopped for photography.

Although it was still a warm day, the trail was almost always in deep shade. Small interpretive signs offered ecology snippets and an opportunity to rest. Nearing the top were many switchbacks that made the ascent a little easier. This loop was well worth a few extra miles.

I do have a few recommendations. Hike this on a cooler day. Be sure to carry enough water and snacks. Bring a map. And be open to a little adventure.

For maps of the open-space preserves, visit the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District at