The perfect hike
Rancho Cañada del Oro

Neil Wiley

The perfect hike is, of course, an impossibility. It requires so many things to be just right. To begin with, the weather has to be perfect, as it was in January. After weeks of cold and rain, a day of warm sunshine helps you remember why you live in California, a day so perfect you want it to go on forever.

The day I hiked Rancho Cañada del Oro was such a day. The brisk morning air made for good brisk walking. The Serpentine Loop Trail followed the twists and turns of winter rain-filled and turbulent Baldy Ryan Creek. The trail was level, wide, and easy—a good way to start a walk through a gentle landscape of creekside meadows and light forest. A heron kept me company, flying only far enough to maintain a safe distance.

Just when I had enough of easy walking, I entered Longwall Canyon Trail. It took me up 900 feet, but the climb was not difficult. As I gained altitude, the roar of the creek softened, and the trail itself was softened by new, light green winter grass. As I rounded bend after bend, the world grew quieter still, and I felt the solo hiker’s paradoxical feeling—the excitement of exploration and new experiences blended with the comfort of solitude. The canyon walls, trees, and grass were beautiful, and each turn provided changes in the landscape and a variety of plant life.

After walking through forest, I emerged on the open slopes of Bald Peaks Trail. Here was a different world of sensuous, rounded hills and long views, sometimes to the north and east toward Calero Reservoir, Mt. Hamilton, and Silicon Valley but more often south and west toward the ridge lines of our Loma Prieta and Mt. Umunhum. These were "Ah" moments. I didn’t need an observation deck, table, or chair. I laid down on the short, green carpet of grass next to the trail, and soaked up the view, the sun, and the joy of living, which included eating lunch.

The trail continued along the ridge line, climbing another 97 feet in elevation, then over ups and downs and around gentle curves. A coyote on the next hill scampered away as I got closer. Then I was startled by a herd of deer coming upslope and across the trail in front of me. They may eat our flowers, but there are few living things more graceful than running, leaping deer.

I passed the shortcut down to Serpentine Trail, continuing on around the longer loop. It was a good choice. The trail narrowed down to a grassy footpath, winding downhill through increasingly deep forest. It was here that I flushed the largest flock of wild turkeys that I’ve ever seen. I was a little nervous because I once met a French bicyclist in Monte Bello who was attacked by turkeys. Being turkeys, however, they weren’t too bright. Some were roosting safely in trees but fluttered down to the ground where I could have easily caught them. Perhaps they knew that I had eaten too much turkey at Christmas. I also saw several hawks and vultures.

As I neared the valley floor, I saw the remnants of an old orchard and a little stream feeding into the larger and noisier Baldy Ryan Creek. I crossed a funky little bridge and out into a large meadow. In a few minutes, I was back in the parking lot, completing my 8.8-mile perfect hike.

This hike was especially perfect because the trails are fresh and lightly used. In December, the Santa Clara County Open Space Authority opened a parking area and entrance on Casa Loma Road, providing access to Rancho Cañada del Oro trails. Before the new entrance, it took a seven-mile hike through Calero Park to reach them. (Our thanks to mountain realtor and horsewoman Niki Lamb for telling us about the new entrance to this 3,017-acre preserve in a letter published in last month’s MNN.)

Getting there.

Drive south on Highway 85 or Blossom Hill to Almaden Expressway, turn right at the end of Almaden Expressway on Harry, turn left at McKean Road, go past Calero Reservoir and Calero County Park entrances, then turn right on Casa Loma. Follow Casa Loma into the preserve parking lot.

At the trail head, take the main trail, and turn left on Serpentine Trail to Longwall Canyon Trail, then continue on Bald Peak Trail, and pass the Serpentine Trail shortcut to continue the loop. (This eliminates backtracking and makes for a better hike.)

While perfect for equestrians and hikers, the preserve is off-limits to bicyclists and dogs. For more information, call the Santa Clara County Open Space Authority at 408-224-7426, or visit Maps are available at the trailhead and website.


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