A California experience
Long Ridge Open Space Preserve

Neil Wiley

When you think about showing the natural wonders of our area to a visitor, your first thought might be a tour of Big Basin or Henry Cowell to see redwoods. Or perhaps you might take your guests to your favorite beach. But if you want a short hike that reveals the natural beauty of California, I recommend walking the trails of Long Ridge Open Space Preserve.

The trees are not the biggest. The hills aren’t the highest. But Long Ridge offers a beautiful walk with lots of ecological and scenic variety, small surprises and some lovely views. And in the spring, when the grass is the greenest and the wildflowers are blooming, this hike represents California at its best.

Getting there is part of the experience. The drive along Skyline Boulevard makes you remember how much fun driving can be. The easy curves and rolling hills transform the old family sedan into a sports car. And running the ridge makes you feel far above the workday world of Santa Clara Valley.

From Saratoga Gap (the intersection of Highways 85 and 9), drive 1.6 miles north to the Grizzly Flat parking turnout on the right side of the road, located just past the Palo Alto city limits sign. On your right, you’ll see the trailhead to Upper Stevens Creek County Park. Across the road is the trailhead to the Long Ridge Open Space Preserve. Here, you’ll see the typical park signboard, complete with maps, warnings and rules. You’ll also find a box for dog permits. (Leashed dogs are allowed by permit on designated trails.)

The experience

The trail curves down and around a hill. In a matter of a few steps, I was in a private world of grass-covered hills, sun-filled meadows and deep wooded canyons. At one-tenth of a mile, I reached Peters Creek Trail. Turning left, I followed the trail through light forest and meadows. On my left, I could see Skyline Ridge, rounded hills and a large abandoned apple orchard. It was here that I met a coyote. We both froze in position only a few feet apart, but when I raised my camera, the coyote disappeared.

The next highlight was a lovely mirror-like pond, complete with a pair of mallards, many Western pond turtles, lots of cattails and a border of light green algae. It was a great place to watch and listen. Then it was uphill over several switchbacks for about half a mile, but well worth the climb. I emerged from the forest onto Long Ridge Road where I could see over the coast mountains to the ocean. The walk continued uphill on Long Ridge Road, with more beautiful views to the west, east and north.

Near the top of the hill, just before the junction with the Long Ridge Trail and overlooking a fine view to the west, I found a large stone bench dedicated to the writer and Pulitzer Prize winner Wallace Stegner.

A brass plaque is inscribed ". . . to try to save for everyone, for the hostile and indifferent as well as the committed, some of the health that flows down across the green ridges from the Skyline, and some of the beauty and refreshment of spirit that are still available to any resident of the valley who has a moment, and the wit, to lift up his eyes unto the hills. Wallace Stegner, 1909-1993. Dedicated May 19, 1996. Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District."

Certainly Wallace Stegner’s words reflect the mission of Midpen Open Space. May we all gain the "health, beauty and refreshment" of unspoiled nature. The walk along Long Ridge Trail and back up to the car completed my 4.3 mile loop. I was tired but spiritually refreshed.


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