Night and day
Rancho Cañada del Oro

Neil Wiley

Back in December 2005, local realtor and horsewoman Niki Lamb told me about a newly opened parking area and entrance on Casa Loma Road that provided access to Rancho Cañada del Oro. Her suggestion led to one of my favorite hikes, which I reported in our February ’06 issue. It also led to an email from David Tharp of Santa Clara County’s Open Space Authority (OSA). Thanks to seeing my hiking stories at, he invited me to two events: a night hike and a trail-opening celebration the next day.

The night hike

Night hikes can be problematic. You need many things to make it work. You need to assemble the right supplies (flashlights with a red filter to maintain night vision, tripod and cable release for your camera because you won’t get much of a picture without timed-release, a first-aid kit because accidents happen in the dark, and getting help at night is more difficult, a map because even if you can’t see in the dark you’ll at least know where you are in the morning, one or two walking sticks to lean on when you trip over rocks, a cell phone that may not work but will make you feel safer, food and water because it may take longer to get back than you plan, and something warm (jacket, blanket, or a very good friend).

Our night-hike group had most of these supplies but didn’t need them. Our leaders, open-space technicians Megan and Doug, knew the trails so well that they warned us of almost every little gully and rock. Although I prefer an amble rather than a fast walk, they kept a pace we could all follow.

You need the right people. Although I enjoy the solitude of a solo hike, it is less safe at night. At the same time, you need fellow hikers who can keep together in the dark, walk at the same pace, are considerate of others (no light in the face, no loud talking), and are generally pleasant. Our small group was simpatico and efficient.

You need a suitable trail. Some trails have too many trip-rocks, cliffs, or other hazards. Others are simply too boring. Who wants to walk on a long flat trail in darkness? Our trail up to Bald Peaks took us along riparian corridors, up gradual slopes, through grasslands and forest, with lots of twists and turns, to a ridge that promised views of the valley.

You need light. We had the benefit of a full moon, but when we reached the ridge, someone had turned on the fog, covering every light below. After carrying a tripod and cameras, I was mildly disappointed, but it was still a good walk, and I hope to do it again. Like so many things in life, it isn’t the destination; it’s the journey.

You need darkness. Although the fog dampened the ridge-top views, darkness has its own rewards. We saw tiny glow-worms on the trail. Prosaic trees and rocks became mystical shapes. And while we saw less, what we saw created a different and interesting experience. I recommend night hikes.

New trails

The next day I joined the celebration of national trails day and the opening of two new trails at the preserve. OSA general manager Patrick Congdon welcomed more than fifty people, including many bicyclists, equestrians, and hikers. The speeches were short and the picnic lunch was free. I met many nice people, including Lark Burkhart, public information specialist for OSA. After the singing of "Happy Trails," the ribbon was cut for the new Llagas Creek Loop Trail, a paved, wheelchair-accessible trail nearly one-half-mile long. The trail winds through open grasslands, complete with deer, hawks, and wild turkeys. Several groups, including the Open Space Authority, Audubon Society, and Youth Science Institute, provided information tables.

Another new trail, the Mayfair Ranch Trail, was a welcome addition. Although still prohibited in the adjacent Calero County Park, bicyclists can use the new Mayfair Trail for a challenging off-road experience. Equestrians, especially those using Calero County Park, can ride over Mayfair as another way to enjoy the preserve. Hikers are just happy to have another trail. And all should enjoy the varied terrain, intermittent shade, and ridge-top views.

Walking the Mayfair Ranch Trail

My walk began on a faint path next to the newly paved Llagas Creek Trail. After crossing the Casa Loma Road I reached the trailhead. A series of moderately steep switchbacks took me up, disclosing views of the large meadow surrounding the Llagas Creek Trail before curving around to the north side of the mountain. The trail looked raw and red, and I could see where brush and tree branches had been cleared, but the north side was shady. The climb continued at a more gentle grade. After a few more ups and downs (mostly ups), I reached the top of the ridge.

Here was the reward for the climb. Walking along a long and wide ridge through large meadows interspersed with shady forests, and scenic views to the north and south, made for beautiful hiking.

I was changing camera lenses to capture the scene when I heard the approach of two horsewomen. In an amazing coincidence, one of the riders was Niki Lamb, the person who introduced me to this preserve in 2005. She and her friend had ridden over from Calero to try the new route.

I continued west along the trail through a giant meadow, made a sharp turn northeast down hill to Baldy Ryan Creek, and then turned right on Longwall Canyon Trail. I passed the intersection of the new Catamount Trail and on to the Serpentine Loop Trail, then right on a connector road that took me back across Casa Loma Road and to the parking lot. Total distance: About four and one-half miles. Time: A few hours with many stops for photography, snacks, and loafing.

I recommend this preserve and this hike. It’s virtually undiscovered. Trails are well-maintained and signage is good. So burn more carbs, less carbon. Come out and hike in Rancho Cañada del Oro.

Getting there

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 Calero Reservoir and Calero County Park entrances, then turn right on Casa Loma. Follow Casa Loma into the preserve parking lot. Distance from Summit and 17: about 28 miles. Travel time: approximately 45 minutes.


Eight miles of connected pathways. Staging area with 24 paved parking spaces, vault toilet, horse trough, and a gravel lot for 10 horse trailers. No water is available at the staging area or along the trails. Admission is free.


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