Lots of hiking, people, and animals
Rancho San Antonio
County Park and Open Space Preserve
Neil Wiley

Even on weekdays, the parking lots of this 165-acre county park and the adjoining 3,800-acre open space preserve are packed with cars. And no wonder. Rancho San Antonio offers a wide range of environments and recreational activities. As you drive in, you see pilots flying their model aircraft. Walk a little farther, and you find a paved two-lane bicycle path going up easy grades to the foothills. You can also enter a special parking area for equestrians and their horses. Walking up Permanente Creek Trail takes you past large picnic areas and tennis courts.

Proximity to peninsula businesses and lots of flat, paved trails make this a great place for a quick jog or run. On most days, you’ll see more than a hundred runners of every size, shape, and description.
In spite of all this activity, “wildlife” was friendly and abundant. I walked a few feet away from ground squirrels, rabbits, deer, quail, hawks, and other wild critters. One fellow visitor told me that he had almost stepped on a young rattlesnake. He also claimed a sighting of a Swainson’s hawk, a raptor rarely seen in this area.

As you leave the county park, cross the road, and enter the open space area, you can choose between dirt trail and paved road versions of the Lower Meadow Trail. Both take you through a large meadow for about half a mile to Deer Hollow Farm, a favorite destination for mothers and small children. The walk to the farm is relatively flat, but most hikers, joggers, and runners don’t stop there. They are more likely to take the Farm Bypass Trail to the Rogue Valley Trail, then left on the Wildcat Loop Trail or continue on to the Upper Rogue Valley Trail or the Chamise Trail.

Wildcat Canyon
The Wildcat Loop Trail takes you up a single-track trail through nice shade up a series of switchbacks on a northeastern hillside. The foliage is thick but your climb is rewarded by occasional views of San Francisco Bay and the Peninsula. When you reach the ridge, a fifty-foot walk to the left on High Meadow Trail guides you over a short trail to a vista point that discloses the entire peninsula. Enjoy.

At this point, you may be tempted to take the shortest path back to the bottom via High Meadow Trail. It’s only 8/10 of a mile back to the farm, but I recommend continuing on Wildcat Loop Trail to Wildcat Canyon Trail. This 1.6-mile route descends down the western slope through beautiful forest, along side a tributary of Permanente Creek, and on a level trail through bay trees, maples, and willows back to Deer Hollow Farm. Round trip from the parking area is a little less than five miles. With occasional stops to get your breath on the switchbacks, it should take you about three hours.

Longer hikes
If you want to avoid the crowd, 23 miles of preserve trails offer more solitude. For example, when you reach the top of Wildcat Loop Trail, you can take the Upper High Meadow Trail and PG&E Trail for an additional six miles. Or from the Rogue Valley Trail, you can turn right to the Chamise Trail for a hike up to the very upper west end of the preserve and Duveneck Windmill Pasture Area. The round trip is over nine miles, but you’ll have more privacy.

Deer Hollow Farm
One reason I wanted to visit this preserve was to see the farm. Midpen featured the Deer Hollow in its fall quarterly news. It is an example of how an open space preserve can go beyond trails to provide educational opportunities for school classes, community groups, and families. During the 2004-2005 school year, over 4,000 students visited the farm and participated in programs about the farm, wilderness, and Native Americans. Some sixty volunteers helped at the farm throughout the year.

In spite of Midpen’s glowing report, I was a bit disappointed in the farm. An open-side barn, complete with picnic tables was a good place for lunch, but the gardens were tiny, only a few animals could be seen, and the facilities looked somewhat shabby. Small children may still enjoy seeing the animals, but it looks much less like a working farm than Wilder Ranch.

Although less than perfect, this farm may serve as a model for our own educational programs at Bear Creek Open Space Preserve. The stables, a mountain history center, and our own mountain docents could be a great educational resource, especially for the mountains and South Bay. I still think it’s a good idea. Do you agree?

Getting there
Take Interstate 280 north to the Foothill Expressway/Grant Road exit, and go south on Foothill Boulevard 1/10 of a mile, then turn right on Cristo Rey Drive. When you reach a traffic circle, go halfway around to continue on Cristo Rey Drive. Watch for the entrance to the park at about one mile. Bear right, and go as far as you can. (If main parking lots are filled, you may have to backtrack to another lot.) Trailheads are at the northwest corner of the northern-most lot.

Rancho San Antonio is a good place for a morning walk, a quick run, or a longer hike. Young children may enjoy seeing the farm animals. Trails for horses and bicycles are limited. Dogs are not allowed. For more information, visit www.openspace.org or call 650-691-1200.


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