Climb up, walk downWindy Hill Open Space Preserve
If you are like me, you would rather do your most
strenuous, uphill climbing in the morning, then amble downhill in
the afternoon. Although most hikes along Skyline take you downhill
first, Windy Hill is an exception. If you enter the preserve from
the Portola Valley entrance, you can climb Hamms Gulch Trail or
Razorback Ridge Trail up to Skyline, then return on the other trail,
or opt for the one-mile shorter but steeper Spring Ridge Trail to go
back down. Spring Ridge Trail offers great views of the San
Francisco Bay and peninsula, but it is in the open without shade.
Whatever loop you choose, you’ll hike from seven to eight miles with
an elevation gain of about 1400 feet.
If you have less time or don’t like long uphills,
but want to see a great view, enter the preserve from the Skyline
entrance, then take the Anniversary Trail for a short walk up to
Windy Hill. It takes only a few minutes but rewards you with an
exceptional 360-degree view—a nice rest stop on a Skyline Boulevard
Both entrances provide off-road parking in a
large, gravel lot, a restroom, and a signboard with maps. There are
no entry or parking fees, but there is no running water either. As a
pleasant bonus, the Skyline entrance also offers three picnic
tables, usually in
shade, in a small grassy meadow.
Windy Hill Open Space Preserve features 13 miles
of trail serving 1,312 acres of open grassland ridges, forests of
redwood, fir, and oak, a small accessible creek, and a small
inaccessible pond. Although most trails are open to hikers and
equestrians, Hamms Gulch, Lost, and Razorback trails may be closed
during the wet season. The preserve is dog-friendly, and most trails
are open to leashed dogs. The exceptions are Razorback Ridge Trail,
Eagle Trail, and sections of Lost Trail. (MNN columnist M. Cecilia
Saleme recommended this preserve in her July column.) Bicyclists are
limited to Spring Ridge Trail, Meadow Trail, and Sequoias Trail.
I parked my car in the Portola parking lot,
picked up a map at the trailhead, and chose the newer narrow-track,
shady Betsy Crowder Trail around the pond and to Meadow Trail, then
up Hamms Gulch Trail. (Note: This lower section of the preserve has
several intersecting trails, and although signage is good, it is
best to refer to your map at each intersection.)
Although Hamms Gulch Trail is uphill, most of the
grades are easy and shaded. The first part of the trail runs along a
pleasant little creek. The few steep sections use switchbacks to
ease the climb. And even the upper sections are cooled by relatively
heavy forest and large ferns. Nevertheless, I was glad when I
reached the ridge.
I turned right on Lost Trail, and walked on the
flat to the Skyline trailhead, where I enjoyed lunch at a shaded
picnic table. While there, I talked with a Wall Streeter from New
York, a man happy with his recent retirement to California, and with
Tina, a mosquito abatement officer with San Mateo County, who was
happy to be doing worthwhile work. I agreed with both of them.
I took a short nap on the tabletop, but when a
turkey vulture circled overhead, I decided it was time to move.
I walked north on Anniversary Trail to Windy
Hill. An unmarked trail behind a bench took me to the top to see the
view. (You can take a second short detour up another hill, too.) I
continued on Anniversary Trail, then down the steep and wide Spring
Ridge Trail to Betsy Crowder Trail and the Portola entrance. Total
distance: about eight miles.
I especially enjoyed this loop because an old
friend and mentor, Carl Larson, was one of the donors who created
the Windy Hill Loop. He was a favorite client and a good friend. Now
I owe him even more.
To reach the Portola entrance, take Highway 280
to Alpine Road. Turn left on Alpine about 2.9 miles to Portola Road.
Turn right on Portola Road and travel 0.8 miles to the parking lot
and entrance. Watch for a small sign. It is easy to miss.
To reach the Skyline entrance, take Skyline
Boulevard (Highway 35) to 4.9 miles north of Page Mill Road.