6.5 mile moderately easy loop, with 1,000 feet elevation gain, that is one of those "you can have it all" hikes: cool canyon, grassland, views, wildflowers and wildlife all on one loop.
From Interstate 280 in Santa Clara County, exit Page Mill Road. Drive west on Page Mill about 7 miles, to the preserve entrance on the left side of the road (about 1 mile east of Skyline Boulevard).
Meeting place: in the parking lot.
Huge dirt parking lot. No entrance or parking fees. Maps are available at an information signboard. A particularly lovely pit toilet sits on the south side of the parking lot. There's no drinking water or direct public transportation to this preserve.
Most trails are multi-use. One trail is hiking only. No dogs. Open from dawn to 1/2 hour after sunset.
Hiking time: 2 1/2 hours.
Exposure: Mostly shaded in the initial stages, then almost completely exposed.
Trail traffic: Light-moderate.
Trail surfaces: Dirt fire roads and trails.
Season: Spring, spring, spring!
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:
Stores, restaurants, pay phone, and gas, about 7 miles north, at the junction of CA 35 and 84. Monte Bello has a primitive backpack camp near the top of Black Mountain, which requires advance reservations.
The Official Story:
MROSD's Monte Bello page.
This hike is described and mapped in 60 Hikes within 60 Miles: San Francisco, by Jane Huber . Order this book from Amazon.com.
• Map from MROSD (download Monte Bello pdf) .
• Peninsula 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 (order this book from Amazon.com) has a great map and descriptions of a Monte Bello hike.
• The Trail Center's Trail Map of the Southern Peninsula is a good map to the preserve.
• Peninsula Trails, by Jean Rusmore, has a simple map, trail descriptions, and suggested hikes (order this book from Amazon.com).
• Tom Taber's The Santa Cruz Mountain Trail Book has a simple map and descriptions of the preserve (order this book from Amazon.com).
View photos from the featured hike
• View 73 photos from a shorter hike (White Oak, Stevens Creek, and Canyon Trails).
(Text above and below quoted from Jane Huber's Bay Area Hiker Web site.)
"Monte Bello (beautiful mountain), a large preserve with varied features, is an important link in the chain of protected open space clustered off the top of the mid-Santa Cruz Mountains. It connects Upper Stevens Creek County Park withSkyline Ridge, Los Trancos, and Rancho San Antonio Open Space Preserves, enabling many different long hike combinations. Monte Bello boasts grassland, Douglas fir, live oak, and California bay forests, a riparian corridor, great views, and a backpack camp. The rare, limited camping option (by permit only) makes it possible to take a multi-day hike from the Santa Clara Valley to the coast.
Spring, with its attendant wildflower bonanza, is a great time to visit, but the other seasons are charming as well. In winter Stevens Creek is a roaring stream, and in late summer and autumn bigleaf maples and deciduous oaks put on a foliage display. The seasons really seem to stretch here, and you might see blossoms on a currant bush in the canyon, blue-eyed grass near the trailhead, and great spreads of popcorn flower, johnny-jump-ups, owl's clover, and bicolor lupine at the ridgetop.
When it's hot this trek to the top of Black Mountain may be too strenuous for beginning hikers. Canyon Trail, a mostly gentle fire road, is popular with cyclists and follows along Stevens Creek. Long loop hikes through adjacent preserves can be created; refer to MROSD's South Skyline Region map for ideas. For a shorter, easier loop, combine Stevens Creek Nature Trail with White Oak Trail for a 3.7 mile hike.
This featured hike starts at the edge of the parking lot on White Oak Trail.The narrow trail (which used to begin near Page Mill Road) now follows the edge of grassland along the shoulder of the wooded canyon. Initially there are views south to Black Mountain, but soon the trees shade the path and block views. At the signed junction at 0.6 mile, stay to the left on White Oak Trail, which begins to descend.
The trail passes through madrone and oak woods, then emerges into grassland peppered with huge old white oaks. Valley and Oregon oak are both classified as white oaks, but Oregon oaks are an unusual white oaks. Valley and Oregon oak are both classified as white oaks, but Oregon oaks are an unusual find in the South Bay. Some of these gorgeous oaks are Oregon oaks, but it takes a practiced eye to tell them apart -- oak leaves can vary from tree to tree, and the most telltale distinguishing feature, the acorn, is around for perusal only in autumn (valley oak acorns are slender and long, while Oregon oaks' are short and fat). Even though it's tough to identify them, it's easy to admire these venerable oaks.
A series of broad switchbacks marks a transition, and White Oaks Trail begins an earnest descent into the canyon. On the way down, look for a few canyon live oaks (easy to identify because the back of their leaves are golden colored). In spring, mule ear sunflowers bask in the last stretches of sunny grassland. The woods are a welcome relief on a hot day, if you can tolerate the biblical proportion of insects that sometimes frequent the area. As you get close to Stevens Creek and its tributaries, wild rose, gooseberry, ferns, poison oak, and creambush occupy the understory of California bay, big leaf maple, interior live oak, and tanoak. Currant shrubs linger at every creek crossing. At 2 miles Skid Road Trail sets off to the right at a signed junction, connecting this preserve to Skyline Ridge. Turn left, following the trail signs for Stevens Creek Nature Trail and Canyon Trail.
This next portion of trail is closed to cyclists and equestrians in the wet winter months, but be aware that some cyclists still use the trail, especially in this downhill direction. The broad trail descends at an easy grade, under cover of a dense forest of California bay, madrone, oaks, and Douglas fir. At 2.3 miles White Oak Trail ends at a signed junction with Stevens Creek Nature Trail. To shorten this hike, take the trail left, but for this featured hike continue straight.
Stevens Creek Nature Trail has informational placards sprinkled along the trail in both directions, enlightening trail users about animal tracks, the food chain, wildflowers, insects, and coyotes. This next stretch runs along (and across, thanks to some bridges) the creek, through deeply shaded woods. In spring, you may see western heart's ease, trillium, and coltsfoot in bloom. Look for an abundance of berries, including blackberry and thimbleberry, in July and August. A bit later, elderberry trees contribute some pretty blueberry-colored globes. In the wet winter months Stevens Creek rages (and you may encounter fallen trees and washed out sections of trail), but in the summer it's usually a mere trickle. At one bridge a sizable stream feeds into Stevens Creek; on this hike this is the first of two occasions you'll encounter this creek. The trail switchbacks easily up out of the riparian corridor through Douglas fir and live oaks, and at 2.9 miles you'll reach a signed intersection with Canyon Trail. Tall oaks stand above a patch of grassland where baby blue eyes bloom in spring. Turn right and head south on Canyon Trail.
The broad multi-use trail weaves uphill, through pockets of woods and stretches of grassland where there are views uphill, left, to the ridge. In the grassy sections, look for popcorn flower, blue-eyed grass, and checker-bloom in mid-April. At 3.1 miles, you'll reach a signed junction with Indian Creek Trail. Turn left.
Indian Creek Trail, open to hikers, cyclists, and equestrians, begins a moderately steep climb. At first the wide trail is lined with madrone, oaks, and California bay, but as the path ascends the vegetation shifts to poison oak, elderberry, yerba santa, coyote brush, chamise, toyon, sagebrush, monkeyflower, and coffeeberry. In spring you might see zigadene and mule ear sunflowers on the ground, while clematis blossoms dangle from shrubs. Buckbrush flowers will probably be dried up by mid-April, but that's when popcorn flowers, fiddleneck, California poppy, bluedicks, owl's clover, and johnny-jump-ups appear, with the displays intensifying as you ascend into grassland. There are sweeping views south and west. At 4.1 miles, after climbing about 750 feet in the last mile, you'll reach a signed multiple junction. In you want to continue uphill to the summit, continue straight, then retrace your steps back to here. Otherwise, turn left, following the signs to the backpack camp.
A slight path ascends a bit, arching around a hilltop. At 4.2 miles, the path ends at a T junction, a few feet from the backpack camp. Turn left.
A wide fire road descends slightly on the edge of grassland, with coast live oaks and buckeyes on the right. At 4.3 miles, you'll reach a junction. Bear left onto a slim footpath, Old Ranch Trail.
Almost immediately, an even smaller path heads uphill to the right, marked with a "no bikes/not a through trail" sign. Turn right onto this path.
The path ascends a few feet to a belvedere, with great views in every direction, extending north all the way past San Francisco to Mount Tamalpais. On an April hike, there were patches of johnny-jump-ups, fiddlenecks, and popcorn flowers sprinkled throughout the grass. This is a great place for a lunch stop. When you're ready, retrace your steps back to Old Ranch Trail, ignoring any other unsanctioned trails. Turn right.
As it descends through grassland, the multi-use trail keeps close to, but slightly downhill from the ridgeline. In spring, bicolor lupines line the path, with smatterings of owl's clover, and California poppy. Popcorn flowers and buttercups contribute their white and yellow flowers to the mix as well. Old Ranch Trail curves past the top of a ravine, conspicuous with buckeyes and clusters of poison oak. At 4.9 miles, you'll reach a signed junction. Stay to the left, now on Bella Vista Trail.
Bella Vista Trail, open to hikers, equestrians, and cyclists, continues downhill, to the west of the ridgeline. There are long views north. Grassland still dominates, but as the trail descends you'll pass through a few damp sections in the creases of the hillside, where buckeye, maple, oaks, and California bay thrive along displays of creambush. Here you'll pass over the same stream you earlier watched empty into Stevens Creek. Look for red flowers of California fuchsia blooming along the trail in August, and assorted colorful butterflies including painted lady and common buckeye. At 5.7 miles, Bella Vista Trail ends at a signed junction with Canyon Trail. Turn right.
Back on Canyon Trail, toyon, coyote brush, and buckeye mark the transition into a hot but moist area. Note a transitional sag pond sitting off the right side of the trail; the San Andreas Fault runs through this preserve (to learn more about earthquakes and this area, visit Los Trancos Open Space Preserve right across Page Mill Road). Continue straight past an unnamed path, departing to the left, signed "no bikes/no horses." At a signed junction at 5.9 miles, take the trail signed "to Monte Bello Parking Lot" off the left side of the trail.
This lovely path, open to hikers only, cuts through an old walnut orchard and reaches grassland where great views to the south compete with scurrying lizards for your attention. A path feeds into the trail from the left at 6 miles. To the west you should be able to pick out the upper portion of Skid Road Trail you passed earlier, the cut visible across the valley. Typically, around the last week in April there are luxuriant carpets of owl's clover on a descending hillside to the left. At 6.2 miles, Stevens Creek Nature Trail heads back down into the canyon at a signed junction across from a stone bench. This is a welcome place to sit and watch hawks fly over the grassland. Be sure to check out the placard identifying the mountain panorama to the south. When it is clear, especially in winter, Loma Prieta and Mount Umunhum seem quite close, just down the canyon to the south. When you are ready,continue straight, back to the parking lot."
(Text above quoted from Jane Huber's Bay Area Hiker Web site.)