Tucked away in a remarkably equestrian area of Silicon Valley lies the Coal Mine Ridge of the Portola Valley Trail system. Managed by the town, these trails offer respite for those of us living and hustling up and down the Peninsula.
Portola Valley Trails:
It's impossible for me to live in a place like the San Francisco Peninsula and not be hiking all the time. I think some people in my life assume I don't actually work, I just hit the trails 24/7. The truth of the matter is, I work a fairly typical job in Silicon Valley but I spend every moment of daylight outdoors. So why not particularly fortunate day when I got out of work on time, I stumbled upon the Portola Valley Trails which are tantalizingly close to the majority of Silicon Valley.
Once you cross west of Interstate 80, the land sharply transitions from hyper-dense residences and startup companies to bucolic ranch houses and swaths of redwood forest. I don't know if there's a law preventing much development in this corridor but it seems like it's been perpetually preserved in spite of the massive amount of growth a few miles East. Here I've discovered places like Pearson-Arastradero Preserve, Windy Hill and Foothill Preserves. One place that seems particularly enticing where the Portola Valley Trails of Coal Ridge. Maps are available here. Here's a rough map:
Getting to Portola Valley Trails, Alpine Trailhead
Getting to the Alpine Trailhead of Portola Valley Trails is not difficult. However it is not very well-marked. From either North or South, most approached by interstate 280. Exit Alpine Boulevard and head south (Follow signs for Portola Valley, take a right if heading from the north, left of heading from the south after the exit). Travel South on Alpine Boulevard through the well-to-do area. Once you reach the stop sign with Corte Madera Road, you are very close. The road takes a large and obvious “U” shape, following this the parking area should be on the right.
The Toyon Trail
My favorite trail from this trailhead is the Toyon Trail. This single track wraps around the deep valley carved by Coal Creek and has exceptional views. In the spring, while flowers are abundant. In the summer and early fall, fog often blankets the Santa Cruz Mountain ridgeline resulting in artistic scenery. As a bonus, the trail is mercifully shaded.
From the Alpine Trailhead to the end of the Toyon trail, the distance is 2.5 mi and about 600 feet of elevation gain. It's a steady though enjoyable climb to the “top” of Coal Mine Ridge. Note that this trail is restricted to hikers only. Dogs, bikes and horses are not permitted. The Toyon trail ends at the Lake Trail. It takes about 1 to 2 hours to hike the trail one way and most return by a different route.
Old Spanish Trail
My second favorite of Portola Valley Trails is the Old Spanish Trail. It mostly parallels the Toyon Trail though it is shorter. In contrast to Toyon, the views are mostly of Silicon Valley and the San Francisco Bay. Mt Hamilton rises in the distance on very clear days. With a one-way distance of 1.7 miles, it makes an excellent Loop when combined with the Toyon Trail.
Dogs are not allowed in the section except for a small part close to the Lake Trail.
Deer Path, Alpine and Sweet Springs Trail
This is another one of my favorites in the area, a relatively easy loop hike involving the Deer Path, Alpine and Sweet Springs trails. From the Alpine Trail parking lot/trailhead, follow the Alpine Trail as it heads East and parallels Alpine Road. After 0.3 miles, the Trail crosses Indian Crossing Road which is gated. Heading right will take you to the deer Path Trail while heading left continues on the Alpine Trail. After another 0.5 miles, the intersection with the Sweet Springs Trail is on the right. By following Sweet Springs Trail you remain in a pleasantly wooded and undisturbed section of Portola Valley. follow this path for 1.4 miles, past two forks as it circles around a small mountain.
Views are limited on this small hike but fortunately dogs are permitted
Portola Valley Trails quickly became one of my favorites for an after-work hike, especially when there's plenty of daylight. Hopefully places such as these continue to evade encroaching development.