Views. Views. Views.
Hiking Russian Ridge
Neil Wiley

MidPenís Russian Ridge Open Space is a beautiful 1,822-acre example of Northern California "mounthills"ótoo majestic to be hills; too rounded and green to be proper mountains. The walk to the top is relatively easy, yet your climb takes you to the highest named point in San Mateo Countyóthe 2,572-foot high Borel Hill. You gain breathtaking views of both the Pacific Ocean and San Francisco Bay. You can even see our own Mount Umunhum. And while on my hike, the chilling morning wind said February, the afternoon sun promised spring.

This is a great place to see the changing seasons. Even in the winter, the winter-green grasslands are open to the southwestern sun. And when you drop below the breezy ridges, you warm up fast. In spring, especially April and May, the preserve explodes with color. Midpen says that Russian Ridge is one of the five best places in the Bay Area to see wildflowers. Early spring brings poppies and lupine. Then June offers the flowers of gumweed, muleís ear, farewell-to-spring, and brodiaea. Summer heat turns the hills to gold. And in every season, throughout your hike, you see vast and ever-changing panoramas of the world below.

But there is more to see than the view. Your binoculars or a telephoto lens will come in handy to see wildlife. The ridges are one of the best places in California to see raptors: red-tailed hawks, turkey vultures, Cooperís hawks, sharp-shinned hawks, and even golden eagles. And from the ridges, you can overlook miles of trails, so keep an eye out for coyotes, and yes, the occasional but shy mountain lion.

Although most trail books suggest a 4.5-mile loop up the Ridge Trail, then back around the Hawk Ridge and Ancient Oaks Trail, a map in Tom Taberís Trails of the Santa Cruz Mountains shows a tiny mark indicating "Ted Nortonís Rock" that promised a worthwhile detour.

This extension adds a few miles, but it takes you to a special place. You walk a narrow path up and around a large hill. (Be sure not to look down if you are afraid of heights.) You pass a nest of microwave towers and a large deck with seating for twenty but no view. You continue on the trail past a small road, following switchbacks down hill. You may see a large sailboat under wraps below a beautiful home built into the side of the mountain. A few more turns in the path take you to Ted Nortonís Rockóa sculpture by Sam Richardson in memory of Edward Norton, a 25-year-old man who died in a head-on automobile accident on Highway 9. His parents commissioned the memorial and donated the property to Peninsula Open Space. While his life was short, Ted Nortonís Rock should look over this beautiful view for many years. Who could ask for a better memorial?

Hawk Ridge Trail begins the loop back. Not for the acrophobic, this narrow path carries us high on lovely, rounded hills with long views to the south and west. The wide open grasslands offer great scenery but little shade, so itís a relief when we return to forest. Then watch for Ancient Oaks Trail, a narrow trail forking to the left. The trail soon lives up to its name, displaying an enchanted forest of old, gnarled, moss-covered oaks, mixed with Douglas firs and madrones.

The next junction offers two ways back to your car. You can turn here or go another three-tenths of a mile before turning left. Both trails return you to Ridge Trail and the parking lot.

If you have energy and time, extend your walk through the parking lot and tunnel to the David C. Daniels Nature Center and Alpine Pond. At any time of year, the walk around the pond is pleasant, with lots of animal and plant viewing opportunities. Open from April through November, the Nature Center building houses interesting exhibits and docents who can answer almost any question.

Russian Ridge is easy to reach. Drive up to Skyline Boulevard via Black (recommended), Bear Creek, Summit, or Highway 9 through Saratoga. Follow Skyline Boulevard seven miles north of Saratoga Gap to Alpine Road, turn left, and then turn a quick right into the parking lot.

Horses and bicycles are allowed on all trails, but dogs are not. Parking and entry are free. For more information, call Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District, 650-691-1200.

 

 

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