Date: Late August 2019
Hiking Project info:
- Saratoga Gap Trail at Castle Rock
- Saratoga Gap Trail at Upper Stevens Creek
- Hickory Oaks Spur
- Achistaca Trail
- Skyline to the Sea Trail
California Route 35 runs through the Santa Cruz Mountains for about fifty miles. Since it winds along the peninsula’s backbone, the road has another name: Skyline Boulevard.
Skyline gives access to at least 15 different parks and preserves between Daly City, just south of San Francisco, and Lexington Reservoir near San Jose.
A few highways connect Silicon Valley to Skyline, including Highway 9 from Saratoga. Where the two meet, a group of parks also come together, linked by trails and common terrain.
In late August I visited three contiguous parks and preserves: Castle Rock State Park, Saratoga Gap Preserve, and Long Ridge Preserve. I also passed through part of Upper Stevens Creek County Park, and finished at the northernmost trailhead of the popular Skyline to the Sea Trail.
Castle Rock State Park
Castle Rock has a new entrance, complete with paved parking, new restrooms, and an amphitheater before the trailhead leading into the park.
The weather was hot, and the bugs were aggressive. But the trails were still reasonably crowded with casual families and more serious backpackers.
The area is known for its sandstone formations, and Castle Rock is a popular climbing destination. I didn’t visit the rock-climbing areas this time, but anyone who takes the trails will eventually have to get over some obstacles.
My first scenic stop was at Castle Rocks Falls. So late in the year, the stream was barely a trickle, and the overlook view was more down than out.
Heading east, the view was a different story.
Looking south towards Santa Cruz, I could see lingering orographic clouds from Monterrey Bay that feed the coastal redwoods. The air temperature here was near ninety degrees. I wondered if I should have gone further south.
But I wasn’t done here.
Saratoga Gap to the Hickory Oaks Trail overlook
On the last day of August I returned to the Saratoga Gap Trail, this time in Saratoga Gap Open Space Preserve. The forest was so green and lively that I wondered if there was some hidden spring. But all I found was mosquitoes, spider webs … and eventually a kiosk welcoming me to Upper Stevens Creek.
The trail wandered southwest, not quite parallel to Skyline Boulevard. I crossed the highway from Upper Stevens Creek and entered Long Ridge Open Space Preserve.
I had read that an overlook on Hickory Oaks Trail was a hidden gem. The light at midday wasn’t favorable, but I decided to take a look.
The Pacific Ocean was visible above a layer of clouds, and a week later I returned for the view at sunset. The weather was dramatically different, with a steady, cold wind that blew in ground-hugging mist as the sun disappeared.
To the long trail, then back
From the overlook, I turned east, following a trail through Long Ridge Preserve. The wildlife included mosquitoes and wild turkeys.
I could hear something else in the underbrush following me. Or maybe there was more than one. Probably deer. Whatever it or they were, I never saw them.
Skyline to the Sea Trail is a long trek between the highway on the ridge and the Pacific. I had reached the northern trailhead, back at Skyline and Nine.
Some of my hikes don’t go as planned. Others don’t have a plan. Funny, how those work out anyway.