St. Joseph’s Hill
Lexington Reservoir County Park
A woman called MNN to deliver a compliment and a request. She thanked me for my hiking stories, but she asked if I would write about local places to walk with a dog, especially one that didn’t involve driving on Highway 17.
I understand. Exploring new places is fun, but we have lots of interesting walks right here in our mountains. One such place is St. Joseph’s Hill Open Space Preserve. You can walk, bicycle, ride a horse, and, yes, walk your dog on a leash on four miles of trails in the 270-acre preserve.
The trails are very popular. This is a good thing if you are nervous about walking alone. The trails attract friendly locals willing to help. All you have to do is ask.
Once you are parked at the entrance of Jones Trail, you have lots of options. You can walk up Jones Trail. The first section is steep, but it levels out as you walk north. If you want to see views of Los Gatos and hills to the east, turn at the intersection with Novitiate Trail to enter St. Joseph’s preserve. Yes, it is steep and rocky, but the views are worth it. (Heavy shoes are recommended.)
For the best views in the preserve, follow a 3.1-mile loop on Manzanita Trail up to the top of the 1,253-foot hill where you find a welcome bench overlooking local scenery, then continue the loop down to Jones Trail and your car on Alma Bridge Road.
If you are less ambitious, simply stay on the Jones Trail all the way to Los Gatos. It’s a nice walk, mostly under shade and over mild ups and downs. When you reach Novitiate Park, you can make a left to the Flume Trail. On this trail, a right will take you to Los Gatos; a left will loop you back to the Jones Trail.
Back at your starting place in the parking lot, here is another option. For fewer hills and more people, walk west to the dam, and then follow the Los Gatos Creek Trail along the creek next to Highway 17 to Los Gatos.
For those of you who want more of a challenge, there is a longer, steeper hike in Lexington County Park. Further south along the east side of the reservoir, you can walk south to the trailhead of Limekiln Trail (Gate SA22), or park at Banjo Point near the trailhead to Priest Rock Trail (Gate SA21). The two trails meet in Sierra Azul to form a long 1.2 mile hiking loop. Limekiln is shadier, more interesting, and a bit longer, but continuing on either trail takes you to the open expanses of Sierra Azul, Kennedy Road, and Almaden Quicksilver County Park.
You also can drive or walk about 1.3 miles south along the reservoir shore to the Miller Point day-use area, a popular place for fishing access.
Other hikers and fishermen may choose a non-official dirt parking area alongside the Old Santa Cruz Highway next to Highway 17. There are several trails running north and east of the parking area. Some go down to the water; others offer nice views.
To get to any of these trails from our mountains, drive Old Santa Cruz Highway north toward Los Gatos. To avoid Highway 17, turn right at the intersection with Alma Bridge Road toward Aldercroft Heights, then left to drive around the eastern side of Lexington Reservoir. When you reach the north end, you can park in the lot across from the Jones Trail, next to the boat-launching area. (If the parking-lot machine is working, pay six dollars.) You can park elsewhere for free, but be sure it isn’t a posted no-parking area. Bring a St. Joseph’s Hill map available at www.openspace.org, a hat, and water (for you and your dog). You may want to bring a snack, sunscreen, long sleeves, a camera, and binoculars.
For more local trails, go to www.mnn.net, and click on Hikes and other explorations.
Happy trails, be they ever so local.