A nearby park with multiple personalities
Sanborn County Park

Neil Wiley

Sanborn is three parks in one.

If you hike in from the Skyline entrance to Summit Rock, it is a forested trail through a mountain areaóa bit of wilderness with views over Santa Clara Valley. (See Summit Rock Loop under Hikes and other Explorations at www.mnn.net.)

If you enter from the Black Road entrance, the hike is along a level three-mile service road to the small Lake Ranch Reservoiróa nice, quiet walk. (See Lake Ranch Trail under Hikes and other Explorations at www.mnn.net.)

You enter the third park from Sanborn Road, just two miles west of Saratoga on Big Basin Way (Highway 9). It has a more urban feel, complete with a giant 40-acre picnic meadow, 33 walk-in camping sites, 15 RV parking stalls, three group picnic areas, an interpretative nature center run by the Youth Science Institute, an American Youth Hostel, two small amphitheaters, two large parking areas with a $5 parking fee, and several short trails.

Although I enjoyed the wilder, quieter, and more remote Summit Rock and Lake Ranch park areas, this third version has its own appeal. It offers day users and campers more amenities, including paved parking, picnic tables, water fountains, and bathrooms. The large meadow is a pleasant place to have lunch while watching the resident herd of deer.

Children who arenít ready for long hikes can experience the outdoors, green grass, and a short one-mile nature trail. They may also enjoy the Youth Science Instituteís natural history displays, a live arthropod menagerie, live reptiles and amphibians, several stuffed animals, and an organic garden. (If this is interesting to you, call the Sanborn Center office at 408-867-6940 for more about the YSI schedule, availability, and special programs.)

My hike

First, I have to explain that in no way does my hiking involve speed. Iím not interested in seeing how fast I can reach a destination. Instead, I like to wander along, stopping when I want to, perhaps to take a picture, watch some animals, or eat a snack. If all is going well, itís almost like not walking. The scene passes by, without effort. Itís that slow, but it can lead to the pleasure of being in the moment.

To get in that moment, however, requires some planning. I donít walk far without a map, a compass, and some food. Relieved from wondering where Iíll end up, I can concentrate on what Iím seeing.

That said, the lower part of Sanborn is a bit confusing, without a beginning or an end. After you pay your entrance fee of $5, you arenít sure where to go, especially when the entrance kiosk is closed. So I just put mind and body into the "wander" mode. I walked out into the giant meadow to catch the morning sun and watch a herd of grazing deer. I could imagine that on a summer day, this meadow would be filled with people, but in winter, I saw only one man with his dog.

I wandered some more, passing group areas (with no groups), the RV campground (with two silent RVs), and finally, in the upper right-hand corner of the meadow, a trailhead, complete with the usual warning signs (snakes, mountain lions, poison oak, etc.), and a box of park maps.

Armed with a nice map, I followed the Sanborn Trail, actually a paved road, up a relatively steep hill in dark forest through a series of small walk-in campsites. (These walk-in sites opened the third Saturday in March.) I saw something up ahead that turned out to be a curious doe crossing the road. She waited for me to pass, as if knowing this was a "human crossing."

Happily, the broad road shrunk to a narrow rocky trail through fir and oak forest. I continued on Sanborn Trail, turned right on the Peterson Memorial Trail and right on the San Andreas trail, then right again on the Nature Trail to the Peterson Grove, a beautiful but young redwood "fairy ring."

Improving the experience

Although I did have a written guide to the Nature Trail, interpretative signage would have improved the experience. I finished my Sanborn visit by walking up above the grove to the Youth Science Institute to view their nature displays. In retrospect I suggest getting a Nature Trail guide at the center first.

While at Sanborn you might wish to see the historic Welch-Hurst house, now an American Youth Hostel. The building is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places. Youíll see the signs as you drive on Sanborn Road. (For more information, visit www.sanbornparkhostel.org/about.html.)

The urban park section of Sanborn is worth a visit, especially with children. You could also stop by one of Saratogaís restaurants or Hakone Japanese Gardens as part of a day outing.

For park information, call 408-355-2200. For group and camping reservations, call 408-355-2201.


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