Getting Out: Roaming the Bay Area’s open spaces

Beams of sun shine through a tree. 

Where on earth is there a road that marks such a stark boundary as Interstate 280 between San Jose and San Francisco?

On one side, an urban environment teeming with six million people scurrying about in pursuit of their busy lives. While just across this serpentine strip of pavement, much of the land appears utterly wild.

The contrast is striking.

It is not an accident. It did not just happen. An alphabet soup of organizations staffed and supported by dedicated people have fought hard over many years to set aside that open space. Now, it is our playground where we can roam in peace.

But which playground? From San Francisco to San Jose, Skyline Boulevard rides the crest of the peninsula hills west of Interstate 280 stringing together umpteen open space preserves along its length, each one offering different charms.

A sweeping view always tops my list of wilderness attractions, and my trail book promised “remarkable vistas” toward the Pacific Ocean at La Honda Creek Open Space Preserve.

Most of the preserves along Skyline Boulevard are free and open to everyone from dawn to dusk. But La Honda Creek OSP is at the end of a gated private road near a number of remote homes, so you need a special permit. Easy enough. I called Leslie Wright at Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District (call 650-691-1200 or email [email protected] a few days before you plan to visit) who asked a few questions, then emailed me a permit with the combination to the gate and all the information I needed for my visit.

Two miles north of Woodside Road (Hwy. 84), I turned off Skyline Blvd. onto Bear Gulch Road, a narrow twisting road through a dark forest. When we reached Allen Road, my hopes for a special view lifted as the forest began to brighten on our right. Through the locked gate, we parked at the designated pullout area and continued down the paved road on foot.

We could quickly see that we would not get the sweeping views we came for. Nevertheless, we were treated to an amazing visual experience. The morning fog was just beginning to recede, and the dance of the misty sunlight at the fog’s edge across the grassy slopes and through the Douglas firs was stunning.

A short distance up the paved road, we turned onto the trail, which was no more than two grassy indistinct wheel ruts. In the soft morning light, the forest and the grasses sparkled with moisture harvested from the morning fog. The trees dripped as if after a storm, and the jeweled grass quickly soaked our feet.

We barely noticed wet feet as we watched the interplay of light, landscape and fog. The thick forest on our left ended sharply at the trailside, and we walked atop an open grassy slope that overlooked a sea of fog running for miles toward the ocean.

Close in, groves of Douglas firs collected in the creases where the grassy hills fell away. On a clear day, the view of the ocean here must be spectacular, but we were not disappointed.

The trails at La Honda Creek OSP are apparent, but not sharply distinct, and there are no signs at junctions. Yet the way is clear. It is only a 2-mile round trip to Vista Point and back – normally an hour walk. But you will want to stay longer, and no doubt, come again.

After our visit, the ocean view remains a promise. However, we learned that this hidden gem has many moods. We saw a great one.

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