Long, wide trails through a beautiful valley.
Joseph D. Grant County Park
Neil Wiley

You could call it the big, big valley. Welcome to Santa Clara County’s biggest park—9,553 acres of giant meadows, rounded hills, majestic oak trees, a proud, old ranch house, several outbuildings, and some nice lakes and ponds. You’ll find them in the east foothills of Santa Clara County, a few miles below Mount Hamilton and its famous Lick Observatory.

Over fifty miles of trails welcome hikers, with about half open to bikers, and most available to equestrians except in the rainy season. Dogs are welcome on the Edward’s Loop Trail.

Most trails in the park are wide ranch roads with relatively easy grades. Many loops and interconnections make it easy to match trail length to your needs. You can choose easy loops around the valley floor or climb the ridges for more challenges. You can match your hike to the season—walking the open meadows of the valley to see the soft colors of winter leaves or spring flowers in bright sun, or enjoying the shade of the wooded western hills or paddling your feet in a cool lake on a hot summer day.


When you enter the park, the facilities are not obvious. The historic ranch house, outbuildings, and ranger office are hidden in a grove of trees, but they are worth searching out, especially on Saturdays when tours are available. Several restrooms, complete with running water, are scattered around the center of the park, Forty campsites are some distance from the entrance on the west side of the park. Many offer good views but sparse shade. Hot showers are available. Nine sites are set up for equestrians. A loading area offers temporary corrals and easy trailer turnarounds. Shaded group picnic areas are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Handicapped visitors have a special camping site and trails.


Almost any Saturday, Friends of the Grant Ranch are on hand for history walks or tours of the ranch house. The Halls Valley Astronomical Group has provided monthly astronomical observing programs for more than twenty years. Summer sessions are held at the park’s Halley Hill Observatory. Winter sessions are held in the park’s main parking lot. For more information about park activities, call 408-274-6121, or visit www.parkhere.org.

My hikes

My impressions of the Grant Ranch are that of a blind man describing an elephant. With over fifty miles of trails spread across 9,553 acres, one day of hiking doesn’t do the park justice, but what I saw and felt was well worth the trip. I recommend the Grant Ranch, especially for winter and spring hikes.

I first explored the Halls Valley area of the park. The valley is one giant open meadow surrounded by foothills and small mountains. This makes for easy walking down sunny paths. The sensuous curves of the surrounding hills are softened by winter forests in muted yellows, oranges, and greens that form a background tapestry for rugged and stately oaks. I also had great views of Lick Observatory high above on Mount Hamilton. Later in spring, these same meadows will be strewn with wildflowers—a good reason to return.

My first hike was an easy walk to the old Snell Barn. I walked past the equestrian area to the San Felipe Trail that took me by the family camping areas. It was a bit disappointing at first, wandering along a paved road, but when I turned down the Barn Trail, it got more interesting. The view opened up to disclose the valley and a big white barn, built in the 1800s. Although you can’t get inside the barn, you can peek through the cracks. If there is a breeze, you can hear ghostly groans of tin on tin, or perhaps it is the dying whisper of the poor old barn.

At this point, I could have completed a loop by walking back north on the Snell Trail, right on the Barn Trail across three little bridges, then left on the Hotel Trail back to the parking area. Instead, I continued on the San Felipe Trail past the barn and further south down the valley, then left on the Corral Trail to the Circle Corral, a rather large enclosure that once held cattle and horses. I completed a loop by walking back north on the Hotel Trail.

As I walked along the trail, waves of ground squirrels made way for me as they scurried back to their dens. Back in the parking area, I saw flocks of big, black-and-white magpies.

If I had wanted to hike further down the valley, I could have returned to the San Felipe Trail and taken it south to Brush Trail and Flat Trail to Dutch Flat Trail, which climbs the western ridges and a 2457-foot scenic overlook. Or I could have gone east across Mount Hamilton Road via the Cañada de Pala Trail to the eastern ridge all the way north to 2995-foot Antler Point.

Instead, I visited another part of the park, a short walk on Hotel Trail north across Mount Hamilton Road to Grant Lake. Although the lake was a bit low, I saw lots of waterfowl, including some rather large Canada geese. This part of the park also has little shade. The sun felt good in December; it might not in August.

Touring the Grant ranch house

After my hikes, I visited the ranger’s office. My timing was perfect. I not only found the ranger, who answered many questions, but I also talked with Ron Bricmont, a docent historian who has spent much of his lifetime studying the history of the Grant family, Grant ranch, and early California. He offered to take me on a tour of the Grant ranch house, which I was quick to accept. As we walked through the house, he made the old pictures and artifacts come alive with stories of wealth, power, madness, and murder. If you want to hear more, leave Ron a message at 408-274-6121, or email Ron@hallsvalley.org to arrange your own history tour.

Getting there

Getting there is more difficult than the hike. Take Highway 17 to Highway 85 south toward Gilroy, merge onto Highway 87 north via exit 5B toward San Jose Airport, take exit 1 to Capitol Expressway, turn right on Quimby Road, then turn right on Mount Hamilton Road, and watch for the park entrance on the right. If you are pulling a horse trailer, driving an RV, or are afraid of heights, don’t use Quimby. The last few miles of Quimby are narrow with several 10-mph switchbacks. Instead, take Interstate 280 or Interstate 101 to Alum Rock Avenue east, then turn right on Mount Hamilton, and drive eight miles to the park entrance.


The park is open year-round from 8 a.m. until sunset. You can pay the $6 parking fee with cash or credit card. For more information, visit www.parkhere.org. For camping reservations, call 408-355-2201. For other information, call 408-274-6121.

While at Joseph Grant Park, you might wish to drive twelve more miles up Mount Hamilton Road to Lick Observatory. The observatory is open to the public on Monday through Friday, from 12:30 p.m. to 5 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tours begin at 1 p.m. on weekdays, 10:30 a.m. on weekends. Each talk is about 15 minutes long.


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