|Long, wide trails through a
Joseph D. Grant County Park
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
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 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
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
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 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.