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Skyline Ridge Open Space Preserve

Skyline Ridge Open Space Preserve

May 7th, 2006

3.3 miles
660 vertical feet
Total Time: 3:08

Rating: 7/10

Directions: From Interstate 280 South, take the Page Mill Road exit and turn right onto Page Mill. Follow the winding road all the way up to Skyline Boulevard. Go straight, and the road becomes Alpine Road. Turn right into the parking lot for Russian Ridge Open Space Preserve, then walk back across Alpine Road to enter Skyline Ridge Open Space Preserve.   View Driving Map

When we arrived around noon, the parking lot was overflowing. Cars were parked on the side of the road, and also on the other side of Skyline. Many of those parked were probably mountain bikers or road cyclists. If you want a decent parking space, get here early. An alternative is to park at the large lot at Horseshoe Lake. That would make the hike a bit different than what we did, but you'd get the same views. We opted to park on the side of Alpine Road.

Looking back along the trail

From the nondescript park entrance on Alpine Road, you can see small Alpine Pond below, with the new David C. Daniels Nature Center next to it. We decided we would visit the center on the way back, so we followed the trail around the pond and then turned right onto the Ridge Trail. There are basically two ways to reach Horseshoe Lake (our destination). There's the main Ridge Trail, which is a wide dirt road, and then there's the alternate Ridge Trail, a narrower trail only for hikers, which we took.

The trail starts off in the forest, passes a couple old wooden structures, and then quickly breaks out into the sunlight. Rolling green hills spread out in front of us, and acres of green forest stretched out below us to the right, off to the next mountain range. To be quite honest, I was not expecting much of this hike, but I was pleasantly surprised by the fantastic views along the Ridge Trail. Be forewarned that the views are better in the morning/early afternoon. The late afternoon haze dampens the view. But even on our noon-time trek, we were treated to fantastic views almost all the way to the lake.

Green hills leading to green forest

The trail rolls up and down gently. You'll almost assuredly see raptors in the valley below if you look for them. Halfway in there's an undesignated trail intersection with a fork to the left; we continued straight, where some railings guide the way over some rocks. This entire section of trail is almost devoid of shade, so I'd definitely avoid it on a summer afternoon. Even in spring in the Bay Area, it was quite warm on the return trip. In the summer, not only would it be hot, but the hills would be brown instead of green.

Hiking along the ridge

Eventually the trail veers left, then intersects with the main Ridge Trail. Here, we turned right onto the wide Ridge Trail, toward Horseshoe Lake. The trail (still unshaded) now descends steeply. While before you could imagine yourself hiking in the wilderness, at this part of the trail, you can hear motorcycles screeching along Skyline Boulevard, which you can see to your left, along with a parking lot. So the illusion is sadly broken. In less than half a mile you reach the next intersection, where you can see the lake just in front of you. We turned right and went another tenth of a mile, crossed a bridge, and sat down at a bench next to the lake.

More fantastic views

Our lunch stop left a bit to be desired. It's nice to have a bench, but there was no shade. While we ate, we saw a lot of lizards running around, and a few ducks swimming in the water. The lake is mostly lined by cattails, so it's hard to get right up to the water's edge. After our break, we took the small trail back along the edge of the lake, but it doesn't provide any greater views of the lake. The trail ends at the handicapped-only parking area. We then turned left and continued back onto the trail we had descended to the lake. As you can imagine, since it was a steep descent, it was now a steep ascent. Not quite as steep as some of the sections on the Stevens Creek Nature Trail hike, though. Unfortunately, this ascent is completely unshaded.

Horseshoe Lake

We had the option of taking the main Ridge Trail back, but we decided to take the same way back, since the views were so nice. As I mentioned earlier, though, the afternoon haze detracted from the views on the return trip. After returning to the forest, and the intersection with the main Ridge Trail, we continued straight, toward the nature center. The center is a small building with a few displays about the inhabitants of the preserve. It's open every summer weekend from noon to 5pm (or at least it was at the time of this writing). Just outside the center is a deck where you can look down into the pond and see fish swimming (the pond is stocked with bass; no fishing!).

After our visit to the center, we continued around the pond, then up the hill back to Alpine Road. By now, the parking lot had plenty of space. But I would definitely recommend going in the morning as opposed to the afternoon, because of the views.

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