7.2 mile loop starts in Portola Valley and climbs to the crest of the Santa
Cruz Mountains, then drops sharply back through grassland. Very pretty and
cool in summer fog.
Distance, category, and difficulty:
This 7.2 mile loop hike is moderate, with about 1400 feet in elevation
change. There are two main trailheads: the Portola Valley Trailhead elevation
is under 600 feet. The Skyline Boulevard Trailhead elevation is about 1800
feet. From either trailhead, you can create easy or moderate hikes on mostly
level trails, but as soon as you start climbing or descending, the hiking
is more challenging.
The climb to the ridge is mostly shaded and the descent is mostly exposed.
Dirt trails and fire roads.
Nice any time, but best in early spring.
From Interstate 280 in San Mateo County, exit Alpine Road (exit 22). Drive
west about 3 miles, and turn right at the first stop sign, onto Portola.
Drive about 0.8 mile, and turn left into the parking lot.
Get driving or public transit directions from Transit and Trails:
GPS coordinates* for trailhead:
(* based on Google Earth
data, shown as degrees, minutes, seconds)
Gas, food, and lodging:
Pay phone, deli, and gas station near the junction of Portola and Alpine
Road. More stores, gas stations, and restaurants back toward 280 on Alpine
Road. SamTrans bus #282 runs along Portola, right past the trailhead. There
is no camping in this preserve. Nearby parks with camping include Pescadero
Creek County Park and Portola Redwoods State Park.
Large parking lot. No entrance or parking fees. Two designated handicapped
parking spots, and trails are wheelchair accessible (with assistance, and
for a limited distance). Wheelchair-accessible pit toilet at edge of lot.
Maps available at the information signboard. No drinking water.
A few trails are multi-use. Most are open to equestrians and hikers only,
but seasonally closed to horses. Two trails are designated hiking only.
Leashed dogs are permitted on the hike described below; they are not allowed
on every Windy Hill trail.
The Official Story:
Windy Hill page
MROSD field office: 650-691-1200
from MROSD (download Windy Hill pdf).
This hike is
described and mapped in 60 Hikes within 60 Miles: San Francisco,
by Jane Huber (yup, that's me, the creator of this website). Order
this book from Amazon.com.
Tales and Trails, by David Weintraub (order
this book from Amazon.com) has an overview of the preserve, descriptions
of hikes, and simple maps.
Afoot and Afield: San Francisco Bay Area, by David Weintraub
this book from Amazon.com) has a great map and descriptions of this
Peninsula Trails, by Jean Rusmore, has a simple map and descriptions
of this hike (order
this book from Amazon.com).
Tom Taber's Santa Cruz Mountains Trail Book has a simple map
and preserve descriptions (order
this book from Amazon.com).
Ridge/Hamms Gulch in a nutshell -- a printable, text only guide to the
View photos from this hike.
Go to Bay Area Hiker Home page
at some bay area parks and preserves are
seasonally closed to cyclists and equestrians when winter rains create
muddy conditions. Trudging through mud is generally not fun, but by late
winter, unless it's been raining heavily, the trails are just a bit damp,
and although still closed to bikes and horses, perfectly passable. A seasonal
closure is a perfect opportunity to hike through a preserve normally heavily
used by equestrians and cyclists, such as Windy Hill.
The Spring Ridge/Hamms Gulch Loop at Windy
Hill is stunning during wildflower season. There are often so many hound's
tongue and trillium along Hamms Gulch Trail that I found myself bored
with them after a few miles. On Lost Trail, Anniversary Trail, and Spring
Ridge Trail, mule ear sunflowers, fiddlenecks, California poppy, checkerbloom,
blue-eyed grass, redmaids, lupines, and popcorn flowers are at their peak in spring. Spring and early summer,
when the temperatures are warm but not too hot, are good seasons to visit.
In autumn the maples and oaks at Windy Hill are lovely, and in the doldrums
of winter the berries on hawthorn, snowberry, and madrone are cheerful.
If you hike Windy Hill on a cool day, dress warmly. Winds can really whip
down Spring Ridge Trail, and you'll learn why Windy Hill got its name.
I really prefer hiking the Spring Ridge/Hamms Gulch Loop so that I ascend
on Hamms Gulch, rather than Spring Ridge Trail. Hamms Gulch is an easier
climb, but then again when you hike up Spring Ridge you'll have nice views
of Windy Hill, rather than east into the valley.
Start at the information signboard. Walk
west on a flat path through valley oaks and coyote brush. After about
250 feet, you'll reach a junction. Turn left (toward Alpine Road).
The broad level path, open to hikers, cyclists, and equestrians, skirts the shore
of Sausal Pond. On the left a retirement complex is visible. Once past
the pond, the trail begins a slight climb. Valley and coast live oaks
tower overhead, with willow, snowberry and coyote brush in the understory.
As the trail crests, at 0.50 mile, you'll reach the signed junction with
Spring Ridge Trail. Continue straight, toward Alpine Road.
The trail ducks beneath the shade of oaks.
You may see buttercups and hound's tongue in late winter. At 0.65 mile,
beneath some huge old oaks, you'll arrive at a two-part junction. A path
to Alpine Road departs to the left. A private driveway is on the right.
A few steps later, to the right, Meadow Trail sets off uphill on the right,
and Hamms Gulch continues to the left. So bear right, then turn left onto
on Hamms Gulch Trail, a trail open to hikers and equestrians (seasonally
closed to horses during wet winter months).
In late winter, I saw some bluedicks, blue-eyed
grass, and one ripe woodland strawberry, peeking out of the grass, heralding
spring. Sporadic black
oaks and coast live oaks give way to thick stands of California bay, bigleaf
maple, and buckeye as Hamms Gulch Trail heads into the woods, following
along Corte Madera Creek. Traffic noise from Alpine Road is audible. Poison
oak is common, along with snowberry. In spring, look for the dramatic
giant trillium, milkmaids, forget-me-not, and hound's tongue. You might
catch fading currant and gooseberry blossoms as well. Hamms Gulch Trail
dips down to cross the creek, then begins to climb. At 0.98 mile, Eagle
Trail departs on the left, on the way to Razorback Ridge Trail. Continue
straight on Hamms Gulch Trail.
There are only two steepish grades on Hamms
Gulch Trail, which ascends mostly on broad switchbacks. After a short
moderate climb (still easier than almost any fire road), the narrow trail
eases up. A few redwoods and Douglas firs can be spotted, but mostly you'll
see creambush, California bay, coast live oak, maple, madrone, poison
hazelnut. Shooting stars, gooseberry, and currant blossom in the winter,
while hound's tongue, milkmaids, solomon's seal, and trillium put forth
flowers in early spring. You'll be climbing along the south bank of Hamms
Gulch, and as you ascend, where vegetation permits you'll have views north
across the gulch, to grassy Spring Ridge. The trail takes a turn to the
left and briefly steps out into chaparral. Coyote brush dominates, but
if you're hiking in winter, look on the left side of the trail for the
yellow flowers of leatherwood, a rare shrub. Hamms Gulch Trail returns
to the woods, but soon steps out again to a clear spot with the best views
uphill to Windy Hill. A bench just before a sharp switchback is a good
location for a scenic rest break. The trail resumes a climb through woodland.
Hamms Gulch Trail creeps through the lower reaches of a sloping
grassy meadow. You'll catch a glimpse of the preserve's
forested slopes to the left. But the bucolic sojourn is short lived,
and Hamms Gulch Trail darts back into the woods. You'll pass a rustic
wooden bench next to a seasonal creek,then
climb through cool woods, where tanoaks make an appearance. Two large
maples, lovely in autumn, sprawl over the trail at a switchback. Currant
and thimbleberry are common trailside plants. The trail passes a couple
of huge Douglas firs, some of their branches as large as full-size trees.
At 3.36 miles, Hamms Gulch Trail ends at a signed junction with Lost Trail.
Turn right on Lost Trail, heading toward Spring Ridge Trail.
Douglas firs perch downhill on the right,
but the trail, open to hikers and equestrians only (seasonally closed
to horses) levelly sweeps through chaparral. You may see more flowering
currant in late winter, and creambush in bloom in early summer. Coyote
brush begins to fade away, and you'll enter grassland. Look for mule ear
sunflowers, fiddlenecks, and California poppies in early spring. Bob's
bench offers views to the east. After a brief foray through some California
bay, tanoak, coast live oak, and Douglas fir, Lost Trail cuts through
chaparral, and then ends at a signed junction near the Skyline Boulevard
trailhead, at 3.92 miles. Picnic
tables and a pit toilet make this a logical lunch break location. When you're ready, resume hiking on Anniversary
Trail, which begins where Lost Trail leaves off.
Part of the Bay Area Ridge Trail's Windy
Hill segment, Anniversary Trail is narrow, but open to cyclists, equestrians,
and hikers.Just before the trail begins a slight climb, there's a junction
at about 4 miles. Hikers continue to the right, while equestrians and
cyclists skirt the hill on a trail to the left. Stay to the right.
California poppy and checkerbloom dot the
grassland in early spring. There are nice views back down Spring Ridge
toward Portola Valley and beyond, to Mount Hamilton, the Santa Clara Valley,
Mount Diablo, and Mission Peak. Anniversary Trail climbs gently across
the hill's eastern face. Two side trails head off to the left, while some
benches content those happy to soak in the view. If you walk uphill to
the summit (there's no sign, but it's obvious), you'll have grand vistas
of western San Mateo County's rolling hills, and the ocean. Anniversary
Trail starts to descend, and ends at a signed junction near a Skyline
Boulevard pullout and the start of Spring Ridge
Trail, at 4.45 miles. Turn right on Spring Ridge Trail.
The broad multi-use trail almost immediately
plummets through grassland. Spring Ridge Trail can be muddy in winter,
and rutted as it dries out. There are sweeping views as you descend, past
the forested hillsides of Hamms Gulch and Jones Gulch, to Black Mountain.
Coyote brush dots the grassland, and Monterey cypress sit off
the trail to the left. Coast live oaks provide shade on a brief stretch.
A few feet of level trail is followed by another straight steep section.
In early spring, you might see California buttercups, blue-eyed grass,
scarlet pimpernel, redmaids, lupines, and popcorn flowers. Just past some
madrones, maples, and coast live oaks, Spring Ridge Trail reaches a signed
junction, at 6.13 miles. Meadow Trail, on the right, descends to meet
a junction you will have encountered earlier, at the start of Hamms Gulch
Trail. Stay to the left on Spring Ridge Trail.
There's some substantial shade at last,
from coast live oaks and madrones. You'll pass a large patch of blackberry
on the left. Spring Ridge Trail curves downhill, meeting Betsy Crowder Trail at the edge of a meadow at 6.41 miles. Turn left on Betsy Crowder
The somewhat narrow trail is hiking-only during wet months, although equestrians are welcome in summer and
autumn. Betsy Crowder Trail descends slightly at the edge of the meadow,
then turns and heads toward Sausal Pond. Poison oak, toyon, and coyote
brush accompany oaks, madrone, and buckeye. Poison hemlock (a dangerous
plant that is shockingly common in the bay area) crowds the trail in spring,
when you might see milkmaids, hound's tongue, and trillium in the woods.
Sausal Pond is audible but barely visible through the trees. The trail
drops down, turns away from a creek and the preserve boundary, and follows
along a private road before ending at a previously encountered junction
at 7.12 miles. Turn left and retrace your steps to the trailhead.
Total distance: about 7.17 miles
Last hiked: Tuesday, June 22,