Views. Ponds. And a Nature Center.
Skyline Ridge Open Space Preserve

Neil Wiley

This 2,143-acre preserve has something for everyone. Children and naturalists should enjoy the natural history exhibits shown every weekend through mid-November at the David C. Daniels Nature Center. They can also see old ranch buildings from the 1930s, and inspect very old Ohlone Indian acorn-grinding holes.

The physically challenged and stroller-pushers can gain access to nature via smooth paths around tranquil Alpine Pond and the unusual "U"-shaped Horseshoe Lake. Equestrians have lots of room for trailer parking and plenty of wide trails over rounded hills, open meadows, and through the forest. Bicyclists are welcome on preserve roads. Hikers have their own single-track trails. And nature photographers can picture pond creatures, birds, plants, and scenic vistas.

After enjoying your favorite adventure, share a picnic at a favorite view site. View the Lambert Creek watershed, Butano Ridge, Portola State Park, and in the distance, the Pacific Ocean. So pick what you like, and enjoy a day at Skyline Ridge.

Our hike

Although I usually prefer solo strolls, Midpeninsula Regional Open Space offered a photography hike that was just my speed. (They used the word "leisurely.") I also liked the intent of their description. "You’ll use your camera to focus on aspects of nature you might not have noticed before, from the tiny whorls and grainy pollen inside a flower…to the orange underbelly of the newt…to the contorted shapes of oak trees…to the broad vistas of the rolling hills. You’ll have a chance to focus your camera on intricate patterns and strange artistry in the natural world, and perhaps discover how plants and animals use their life forms to survive." All that in four hours, with time for lunch.

The hike did not begin auspiciously. We were to meet at Monte Bello Open Space, but because of fire at the bottom of the preserve, our docents detoured us to nearby Skyline Ridge. Also, the first photographer that I met pulled out a 800 mm lens that dwarfed all my cameras and lenses put together. I had a bad case of lens envy, but when he told me that with the pack and extra heavy tripod, it weighed forty pounds, I realized that I wouldn’t want to carry photography that far or that long, unless I had my own camera porter or a golf cart.

He didn’t see a porter either, and decided to rough it with a 100-400 mm zoom. Appreciating the word "hike," I brought only one lens—my trusty 28-135 mm zoom. This left more room in my pack for lunch. It was a good decision.

After our small group introduced themselves, docents Frances Cleveland and Jack Zirker led us from the main parking lot up the Ridge Trail. We stopped often, ostensibly to discuss aperture, depth of field, resolution, megapixels, and Photoshop®, but also to catch our collective breaths as we climbed the ridge. Actually, it was a pleasant way to hike, with lots of talking, picture taking, and enjoying views from the macro (seed pods and flowers) to the telephoto (hills, ridges, and ocean). After climbing through a golden meadow, we rounded a rock outcrop over a steep slope, actually a ledge carved from the mountain, protected by a somewhat fragile fence. We were at Rattlesnake Point, named by the men who encountered these reptiles while building the trail. The view to the ocean was excellent, but unfortunately, we did not see any rattlesnakes. (I’ve always wanted a picture of people jumping off a cliff while yelling, "Snake, snake!")

We doubled back to the intersection with Horseshoe Lake Trail that took us, as you might expect, to Horseshoe Lake, which is actually a 27-foot-deep spring-fed reservoir, complete with ducks and coots, ferns and cat-tails, benches, and a table. The trail goes all the way around the lake, sometimes at the shoreline and sometimes several hundred feet above. It’s a pleasant walk.

As we walked and talked on the way back to our cars, I realized that I enjoyed this group hike. Putting people together on a trail with a common interest works, especially with the right people, docents, and environment. I hope that Midpen sponsors more photographic safaris.

Whether you walk with a group, your family, or alone, Skyline Ridge is a good place to be.

Getting there

Take Black Road up to my favorite highway, Skyline Boulevard (Highway 35), turn right, and continue on Skyline past Highway 9 and past the Palo Alto sign. If you want to go to Horseshoe Lake, watch for the Skyline Ridge parking lot on the left. If you want to go to the nature center and Alpine Pond, continue on about another mile to the Russian Ridge parking lot at the intersection of Alpine Road, then walk through the tunnel under Alpine Road to the nature center.

You can get a map covering the entire South Skyline region at the trailhead. You can also get more information and maps at Parking and admission are free.

If you are low on food or gas, drive north on Skyline to Alice’s Restaurant at the intersection with Highway 84.

For information about other hikes and explorations, visit our website—



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