A sunny hike for winter or spring
Santa Teresa County Park
Neil Wiley

Here is a good place to hike, ride, bike, or picnic on a sunny winter or spring day. Located near the IBM Almaden Research Center and the end of Bernal Road, the park offers over 14 miles of unpaved multi-use trails for hikers, equestrians, and bicyclists through almost 1,700 acres of hilly and open grassland. Altitude ranges from 500 feet elevation at the Pueblo Group Picnic Area to 1155 feet at the top of Coyote Peak.

The park has excellent equestrian facilities, including easy trailer access, a large staging area for trailers, water troughs, a corral, and trail loops offering a range of difficulty from flat, open, and wide to steep, rocky, and narrow. All trails are open to horses and bikes except for the short Ohlone Trail located in one corner of the park. Leashed dogs are permitted on all trails.

Facilities are well developed. Parking is ample with paved parking for more than 170 vehicles in the day-use area. A reservable, covered area serves up to 100 people with a large barbecue pit, restrooms, and potable water. A volleyball court and horseshoe pits are nearby. A picnic table is also available at Laurel Springs.

On a sunny day, youíll enjoy the open meadows and great views, but there is little shade on any of the trails. The trail up to Coyote Peak is wide but relatively steep. The Rocky Ridge Trail lives up to its name. It is very rocky, with lots of ankle-twisters, but the fields of multi-colored serpentine rock are worth seeing. The Stile Ranch Trail is recommended for spring wildflowers, including goldfields, tidy tips, jewelflower, montia, columbine, and gilia.

My hike

I followed a 3.8-mile loop recommended by several hiking books that starts near restrooms across from the Pueblo Group Picnic Area. At the trail head, an interpretive sign gave information about mountain lions. I got a map at a nearby signboard. I hiked uphill and to the left on Mine Trail, now part of the Bay Area Ridge Trail. As I walked along the trail, I saw a shy deer and large flocks of wild turkeys.

When I reached a junction, I turned right on Hidden Spring Trail, a wide uphill road alongside a small creek hidden in riparian brush and small trees. I spooked a family of deer. They crashed through the brush to the other side of the ravine, and then returned to feast on the creek-side grass.

I passed a small trail leading to the left, and continued on uphill to the next junction. I stayed to the right on Coyote Peak Trail. After a short walk, I saw a sign indicating a trail left and up to Coyote Peak. Rather than a peak, the top of the little mountain was a large tabletop plateau hosting a tall microwave tower and a service building. Located at strategic intervals around the periphery of the mountain top, three wooden benches provided comfortable viewing sites. The bench that I occupied for a well-deserved lunch gave me a view of Mt. Umunhum and Loma Prieta.

I walked back down to the first junction, then turned west on the Coyote Peak Trail. I had only walked a few steps when I met an Asian man coming up the steep Boundary Trail. He smiled through wide-spread teeth, and offered his hand. We shook hands. He pointed at his chest, and said, "Vietnam." I pointed to my chest, and replied, "U.S.A." Although that about exhausted our talk, we smiled and pointed at the warm sun and the view of rolling hills, then waved goodbye. It was only a chance meeting on a trail, but I felt good about it. We shared the experience of beauty in nature, mutual forgiveness, and the comfort of human contact. That night, I heard that Intel received permission to increase their investment in Vietnam from $300 million to $1 billion. Perhaps todayís enemies may someday become our partners.

I continued on Coyote Peak Trail until just before reaching a small microwave tower where I discovered Rocky Ridge Trail, a narrow path to the right that looped downhill through Big Oak Valley. I saw few oaks but many, many rocks, both on and off the trail. Large fields of serpentine rocks dominated the surrounding hills. (They made such an impression that I dreamed they covered Summit Road at Highway 17.)

After resting under a lonely tree for a few minutes, I continued downhill into the canyon, over a small footbridge, and to the left. When I reached Mine Trail, I turned right. When I reached the parking area, I walked through the corral on Mine Trail back to my starting point and the parking lot.

A few suggestions

Although this hike is relatively short, be sure to carry a map and water. Some of the trail junctions are not well signed so itís good to know where you are. Even on a cool day, climbing the unshaded hills in bright sun will make you thirsty. And even when you feel warm on the climb, you may want a light jacket to block the frequently strong breezes on the ridge tops. Good views encourage the use of binoculars and a camera. Also, bring money or a credit card. Near the park entrance, an automated ticket seller accepts five dollars or your credit card as an entry/parking fee.

How to get there

Santa Teresa County Park is about 25 miles away from Summit and Highway 17. Take Highway 17 to Highway 85 south toward Gilroy. Drive past the Santa Teresa exit to the Bernal Road/Highway 101 exit. Turn right on Bernal, past Santa Teresa Boulevard into the park. Continue uphill into the park area. Turn left into the Pueblo Group Picnic Area. (If you go too far, youíll end up at IBM.) Stop at the first parking lot to pay your entry fee, then continue on to the Pueblo Group Parking Area parking lot. Get out of your car, and on to the trail. For more information and a map, visit www.parkhere.org, then select "Find a Park," or call 408-225-0225. Happy trails.


(c) 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 mountain network news All rights reserved.