"All good things are wild and free." --Henry David Thoreau

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Russian Ridge: wildflowers, headwaters, and ancient oaks

Last weekend my husband, baby, and I went to Russian Ridge, noted to be one of the top five places in the Bay Area for seeing spring wildflowers. It’s a 1,978-acre park along Skyline Boulevard, or Highway 35, on that western ridge above Silicon Valley. It’s only 45 miles south of San Francisco, but neither of us had been there before.

It’s a truly beautiful preserve: sweeping, green mountain sides falling into ravines dark with trees and wet with streams; views go to the ocean without a house or road in sight once you’re on the trail.

There are around 10 miles of trails at Russian Ridge, but the loop we took was just three miles, easy enough for a baby in a sling or a small, walking kid. There are connecting trails to Skyline Boulevard that can shorten the hike to a mild one-miler if we had wanted that.

We walked a loop made up of three trails: the Ridge Trail, Hawk Trail, and the Ancient Oaks Trail, in that order.

The single-track path led onto the ridge going north, and then curved down a hillside round as a pregnant belly. There were all sorts of colorful little flowers—we wished we knew the names beyond the recognizable lupines, buttercups, and poppies, which were lovely with their bright purple, yellow, and golden-orange colors, respectively.

Huge boulders protruded out of the hillsides. Two tall snags were riddled with holes; an acorn woodpecker with distinctive white bands on its wings flew up and knocked around on one trunk. Red-tailed hawks soared overhead. A stream burbled as we descended the ridge onto the Hawk Trail; the headwaters of the Mindego and Alpine Creeks are here. Moss-covered buckeye trees had just burst forth their leaves, shiny and new, a brilliant green. The oak trees were impressive looking, truly ancient with thick, gnarled limbs and mossy bits on their stout trunks. They seemed to embody a quiet fortitude and had an indescribable presence, something out of Tolkien’s Fangorn forest. Even the baby seemed at a loss for words.


Ø  Skylonda, a mountain community, has food and water at the junction of Skyline Boulevard and La Honda Road: Alice’s Restaurant, Skywood Trading Post (a convenient store and deli), and Mountain Terrace Restaurant. Hundreds of motorcyclists congregate here on the weekends. If you’re like my husband, you’ll need to stop here, put your baby in a sling to look real tough, and go ogle the bikes, looking for Ducatis, Triumphs, Hondas, and maybe an old BSA from the ‘50s. There are also two stinky port-o-potties in the central parking lot for anyone’s use. 

Ø  Mountain lions have been seen on Russian Ridge. I believe they keep to themselves, but if you encounter one the general advice is to appear large, make noise, and keep eye contact. The Mountain Lion Foundation has more information.

Ø  Besides a spring afternoon, other especially exquisite times to hike Russian Ridge include sunset and evening hours, and in late autumn when the hills are golden colored.


Midpeninsula Regional Open Space DistrictRussian Ridge information, guided hikes, and a printable trail map

Virtual Maps—a colorful trail map of Russian Ridge

California Wildflowers—look up flowers by their color, family name, Latin name, or common name

Bay Area Wildflowers—look up flowers, herbs, ferns, grasses, and shrubs by category and photo

Please give suggestions for hikes, anecdotes, or feedback in the “Comments” section below, or send an email to jericahahn@hotmail.com.
If you like to hike with kids or babies, consider a subscription to SF Hiking with Children at examiner.com.

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