Overlooked and under-appreciated
Coal Creek Open Space Preserve
Neil Wiley

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.

My hike

It 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. Midpen’s Peninsula 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 trail.

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 Trails says 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 Space Preserve.


Maps 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 www.openspace.org.

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.


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