You could call Calero County Park local. If you flew over Mt. Umunhum, you’d be there in a matter of minutes. It takes a little longer to drive down 17 to Highway 85 south, right on Almaden Expressway, right on Harry, and then left on McKean Road. In a few miles, turn right at the first Calero entrance—San Vicente. From my house on Summit, it’s about a 25-mile drive.
This new entrance is not impressive. It still looks a bit raw and unfinished. The parking lot is set in a large open field next to a little bathroom building. All you see of the park is a switchback trail heading up the hill and a few lonely trees. When it rains, the hills are green, but now they look dry and dusty.
The first two trail junctions are not too promising. The first leads northwest to the North Ridge Trail, up to a ridge of open, virtually treeless country. The second is the Almaden Trail that also takes you northwest to connect with the North Ridge Trail, and then turns southeast to the Almaden Road entrance, a location without parking or facilities.
Although this area of the park is dry, it isn’t lifeless. Even in the mid-day sun, hundreds of ground squirrels are scurrying back to their hiding places in the ground or behind convenient rock piles. They need to be fast. They are prey for snakes, eagles, raccoons, foxes, badgers, and weasels.
The rocks are interesting, too. They form towers, walls, and rock gardens.
These trails offer some views to the north and east, including a distant Mt. Hamilton. The trails are wider than a single track, allowing safer multi-use. Bikers can enjoy the moderate grades and smooth trail surfaces. Equestrians and their horses can be more comfortable in open spaces with long views that reduce frightening surprises.
Hikers may find the Lisa Killough and Cottle trails more interesting. Although the five-mile loop may prove daunting for some hikers, it offers a diverse experience and eliminates the need to retrace steps. The up- and-down grades are relatively mild.
The trails pass through several gates. They open easily for hikers, but bikers find it more difficult to open the gate while holding a bicycle. The gates warn of cattle, but I saw none on my hike. They probably moved to greener pastures or McDonalds.
The Lisa Killough Trail offers some of the best views, including the tower on Mt. Umunhum, the Loma Prieta ridge, and a beautiful swimming pool in the valley below.
The upper sections are the most interesting. The path is narrower and shadier. On the other hand, steep drop-offs and many blind turns make this section a little less safe.
The Cottle Trail goes down to a lower elevation past the Calero Reservoir, with one relatively long and boring section next to busy McKean Road. This trail also connects with trails in other areas of the park, and the adjacent Rancho Canada del Oro Open Space Preserve. This preserve hosts some of my favorite trails, including Bald Peaks, and Longwall. (For more about a “perfect hike” in this preserve, visit www.mnn.net, and click on Hikes and other explorations, then another click on Rancho Canada del Oro.)
To see more of Calero Reservoir, drive east on McKean Road to the main entrance. (Note that while parking at the San Vicente entrance is free, parking next to the reservoir costs $6. You may feel it’s worth it to see the water, boats, and fishermen.)
As I was walking back to the trailhead, I stopped to visit with a young man who was sitting in the shade of a lonely tree. He was only a few hundred yards from the parking lot, but he told me he came here often to enjoy the view on his lunchtime break. He said it was his chance to enjoy nature.
As our population grows, enjoying even a little slice of nature is becoming more precious. Enjoy it while you can.
Before you go, be sure to get a park map. Search for Calero County Park at www.sccgov.org. If you use GPS, the address is 23205 McKean Road in San Jose. I suggest bringing water, a hat, and munchies.