Overlooked and under-appreciated
Coal Creek Open Space Preserve
Tom Taber gave Coal Creek Preserve only a page in
his Santa Cruz
Mountains Trail Book.
In their spring ’06 newsletter, Midpen offered no docent-led Coal
Creek tours. And while I’ve hiked most of the Midpen trails, I’ve
driven by for over forty years without stopping.
As open space goes, it’s relatively small—less
than five hundred acres. It doesn’t offer the big rolling hills of
Russian Ridge across the road, the earthquake history of nearby Los
Trancos, or the interpretative stations of Monte Bello’s Stevens
Creek Nature Trail.
Yet this little preserve is worth seeing. It has
some of the best and widest scenic views of the peninsula, nice
little seasonal waterfalls, and great diversity in habitat. The
trails are short with easy grades for families and new hikers, and
most of them are in shade—perfect for a summer stroll. Walk a
complete loop in three to four hours, or if someone gets tired, take
a time-saving, tantrum-saving shortcut.
was a cool morning in early June, and as my old Jaguar and I drove
north on one of my favorite roads, Skyline Boulevard, I saw a good
omen—a smiling coyote trotting along the highway. I passed Page Mill
Road, then just past Cloud Rest Road, I saw the Caltrans vista
point. It was worth stopping for a view of the entire peninsula. I
drove on for about half a mile, and then parked a few feet past a
row of mailboxes. Although I didn’t see a road sign, I found a
Midpen marker telling me that I was on Crazy Pete’s Road.
You might ask who Pete was and why he was crazy.
Tales and Trails,
authored by David Wintraub, offers many alternative theories, but
since no one is sure, let’s say it’s a good name for a bad road/nice
But I was faced with an immediate problem. The
road was blocked by what may have been the ghost of Crazy Pete in
the form of a rather large German shepherd dog. I considered two
options: applying my walking stick or a hand of friendship. The hand
won, and after a few pets, he let me pass. (Be careful: I may have
caught him on a good day.)
Crazy Pete was paved for a short distance, and
then devolved into gravel, then dirt. I walked straight down the
road, and through a hiker’s gate where I found the official message
board. Crazy Pete’s ghost surfaced again. Although
Peninsula Tales and
Crazy Pete Road (Trail) turns right, the local trail signs point you
to the left. Fortunately, it doesn’t make any difference. Either
trail takes you to Valley View Trail. This is a good thing, because
you can loop back on the other trail for a short one-mile hike, or
continue on Valley View past the intersection to Alpine Road.
I continued on, and it was well worth the walk.
The trail narrows, passing through a deep forest of Douglas fir,
oaks, and madrone carpeted with toyon and ferns. I reached a little
bridge over a tributary of Corte Madera Creek where I found a nice
jumble of big rocks and little waterfalls. By summer, the waterfalls
may be gone but in compensation so may the mosquitoes. (I wasn’t
bitten but the buzzing discouraged meditation by the falls.)
It was a short walk through a gate and on to
Alpine Road. Before continuing uphill to the right, I turned left to
climb a small knoll identified with a small sign saying "no
bicycles." I could see the peninsula framed by the trees. It was a
good place to enjoy sausage, an apple, and a handful of almonds.
In the late sixties, I drove up Alpine in my ’64
Mustang. It was tough going then, but it would be impossible now.
The road is closed to traffic because of slides and ditches.
Although a challenge for bicyclists, Alpine’s gentle grade offers
easy uphill walking.
Walking up Alpine Road, I passed an entrance to
Meadow Trail, and continued on for about half a mile to the other
end of Meadow Trail loop. This trail took me through two meadows,
first a small one, then a giant grassy field covering several hills.
The trail took me through tall coyote brush with lots of open meadow
sprinkled with wildflowers—California poppies, lupine, and
buttercups. It’s a bit of a climb up to the shade, but reaching the
top rewarded me with a magnificent view that extended from the fog
of San Francisco down to San Jose.
I reached an intersection that gave me a choice.
I could have continued right on Meadow Trail to loop back to Alpine
and back to Valley View and Crazy Pete trails, but I didn’t. Instead
I turned left, and climbed the steeper but shorter route up Clouds
Rest Trail, which became Clouds Rest Road, back to Skyline Road,
emerging next to the Caltrans vista point. It was a short walk along
Skyline back to my parked car. If you are walking with children (or
adults acting like children), the other longer route may be safer.
Coal Creek is an overlooked, under-appreciated
open-space preserve. I didn’t see another person on my hike, but now
that I’ve told you, perhaps you will change that. Looking for a
three- to four-hour hike with good views, lots of shade, and a
diverse environment? I recommend a walk through Coal Creek Open
detailing the eight open-space preserves of the south Skyline region
are usually available at the Crazy Pete’s Road entrance, but for
more information, call Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District at
650-691-1200 or visit
There are no camping facilities, drinking water,
or bathrooms in the preserve, but bathrooms are available at nearby
Russian Ridge and Long Ridge open-space preserves. Bicycles,
equestrians, and dogs on leash are permitted on all trails. Alpine
Road is a popular bicycling route. Limited roadside parking is
available at Crazy Pete’s Road and the Caltrans vista point near
Clouds Rest Road.