Natural diversity. Lovely lake and mountain landscapes. Interesting wildlife.
Calero County Park

Neil Wiley

Our local Summit Riders group recently enjoyed the Almaden NATRC ride at Calero County Park. I can see why they liked this equestrian paradise. Excellent facilities. Lots of trailer loading room. And over 22 miles of hillside trails through 3,476 acres of large open meadows with light forest of oaks. But horses and riders shouldn’t have all the fun. Calero has much to offer to hikers, bird watchers, photographers, boaters, and casual family walkers.

Hikers will find the relatively easy, short uphills worth the climb. They may appreciate the natural diversity and the excellent views of the Santa Cruz Mountains, including Loma Prieta and Mount Umunhum, the Calero Reservoir, Mount Hamilton, and southern Santa Clara County. They will also get closer views of small mountain streams, little ponds, and lots of wildlife. According to a Calero brochure, over 184 bird species have been identified in the park. I saw many migratory birds (egrets, geese, and many varieties of ducks), giant hawks, not-so-wild turkeys, deer, ground squirrels, and what may have been a coyote (or a tired dog). And of course, you’ll see lots of horses, both on and alongside the trails, especially at the lower elevations. It pays to watch your step.

Although hikes above the reservoir are interesting, seasoned hikers looking for more solitude can walk deeper into the park and the adjoining Rancho Canada de Oro open space area. I especially like the Bald Peaks, Longwall Canyon, and Serpentine Loop trails. (For more information, visit our website www.mnn.net, click on "Hikes and other explorations," then click on "Rancho Canada del Oro.")

Boaters, using power, sail, paddles, or oars, can enjoy the reservoir year-round. Launching reservations are not required on weekdays. For other times, call 408-355-2201. Current boat registration is necessary for all power boats and sail boats over eight feet long.

You can catch and release fish from the large naturalized populations of bass, sunfish, and crappies, but they are unsafe to eat because of mercury contamination from the nearby quicksilver (mercury) mines.

My hike

I like this route because it offers a range of environments within a relatively short distance—under six miles. It begins with a short walk from the parking area to the Los Cerritos Trail and Pond. Walking slowly around the pond helped me adjust to the quiet and slower pace of hiking. A covered observation deck made it easy to relax and check my gear. I had just mounted a telephoto lens on my camera when, right on cue, a giant egret flew down to the pond. It posed for many pictures, and then hid in the tall pond grass.

I continued on Los Cerritos Trail past an intersection with Pena Trail and the stable area. I saw many horses and a large flock of turkeys. The horses showed little interest, but the turkeys attempted to escape by moving toward me, thus again proving that turkeys aren’t too smart. The trail continued down near the shoreline, providing closer views of the migrating sea birds, paddlers, and fishermen. I also found a large brush-covered serpentine rock that was home to many ground squirrels and crows.

The trail went uphill through a light forest of oaks, and looped back southeast at a higher elevation. I then turned right on Pena Trail. I could see west to Almaden Quicksilver County Park, Loma Prieta, and Mount Umunhum. It was quieter here. A large hawk flew overhead, and a family of deer crossed in front of me.

A steep downhill took me to an old wooden corral and the intersection with Figueroa Trail. I followed Figueroa along the bottom of a shady canyon next to a sometime stream, and then turned left on narrow Vallecito Trail back to Pena Trail, completing the loop. From there, it was a short retracing of steps back by the pond and to my car.

It was a fine way to spend a day.

Directions and more information

Drive south on Highway 85 or Blossom Hill to Almaden Expressway, turn right at the end of Almaden Expressway on Harry, turn left at McKean Road, go past the first Calero Reservoir entrance (boat ramp) to the second entrance. (It’s past the stables, and you’ll think you missed it.)

For general information, call 408-355-2200. For boating reservations, call 408-355-2201. To learn more about guided trail rides, riding lessons, and horse boarding, call 408-268-2567 or visit www.caleroranch.com. Maps are usually available at the trail head, but to be safe, get a map at www.sccgov.org/portal/site/parks/, click on "Find a park," and then Calero.

Happy trails.

 

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