Park It

Lately I’ve been finding myself repeatedly asked to describe some of my favorite hiking spots. Rather than have the same abbreviated conversation multiple times, I figured I’d try to write out the list in some detail for future reference. (Don’t be surprised should other installments follow.)

Almaden Quicksilver:

The most recent discovery, and rapidly becoming something of a favorite. Large, located near the southeastern tip of the Bay, and generally not overrun with hikers. Fairly hilly. It’s located in the south hills, so it tends to be green, shady, and (relatively) cool, even in the summer.

Los Gatos Creek:

This one is quite literally across the street from me. It’s paved, which makes it a good choice during the rainy season, flat, and long, extending all the way to the Lexington Reservoir. It tends to be fairly busy, but the folks you find on it are usually friendly.

Rancho San Antonio:

The terrain type is very similar to Almaden Quicksilver, this being another place that hugs the south hills. It tends to be very heavily attended, especially on Sundays, and parking can actually be hard to find. If you go at the right time of year, around April, and walk carefully around the brush in the low-lying areas, you might be rewarded with the sight of proud Quail parents marshaling a parade of their small, antenna-headed offspring about. There are cuter things in this world, but not many.

Wunderlich Park:

I’ve only been here once, but it’s nice. Like Almaden Quicksilver and Rancho San Antonio, it’s in the woods of the south hills, though it might offer the steepest inclines of the three. According to my friend’s guidebook, but not the website, it is home to a pond which serves as a salamander spawning pool in spring. I’ve been to the pond, but, having been there in November, saw absolutely nothing going on. That’s a reason to go back right there.

Crystal Springs:

This is up in San Mateo, but it’s a favorite of my mom’s: it’s relatively flat, and paved, so it suits her style of fast walking. Being paved, it’s also a good choice during the rainy season, when some of the other park trails can be treacherously muddy. Oh, and it offers at-times spectacular views of the Upper and Lower Crystal Springs Reservoir. Like Rancho San Antonio, it can be very popular, so it pays to go early in the morning.

Joseph D. Grant Park:

“One of these things is not like the others.” Grant Park is nestled in the north hills, about halfway between San Jose and Lick Observatory. It’s huge, and sprawling. Being in the north hills means that it’s much more open: the terrain type is grassland dotted with the occasional oak, rather than woods. This means that it’s a good place to visit in the spring: if you go in the summer, bring lots of water, sunscreen, and a hat, because it can get wickedly hot and dry. (Note that the fact that it gets dry in the summer does not insure it against being muddy just after the rainy season, as I discovered to my chagrin one year.)

Although the park may sound harsh and spartan the way I’m describing it, it’s actually quite beautiful, with sweeping views of gently rolling hills and grasslands. It’s also home to various kinds of animals — I’ve seen cattle (often), wild boar (occasionally) and a bobcat (once).

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