GETTING OUT: Be greeted by abundant views that stretch across South County

A view down from Baldy Peaks on the top of the Serpentine Loop Trail that spans toward Morgan Hill and South County with El Toro in the distance.

Calero County Park and Rancho Cañada del Oro Open Space Preserve in the Santa Teresa Hills are kissin’ cousins.  Though one is a county park and the Santa Clara County Open Space Authority owns the other, the properties are contiguous, and their trail systems interconnect.

One recent Sunday, the itch to take a short hike pushed me to the Rancho Cañada del Oro parking lot, but every inch of the four miles I walked was in Calero County Park.

Most of the land that comprises Calero County Park is a bowl-shaped watershed that captures runoff headed for Calero Reservoir and the San Francisco Bay. Bald Peaks, a high ridge south of the reservoir divides the Calero Creek watershed from Llagas Creek, which is southbound for Morgan Hill and eventually Monterey Bay. The ridge also divides the two properties – Calero County Park to the north and Rancho Cañada del Oro to the south – except for one section of Calero Park that extends over to the south side of the hill.  

Still with me?

It is this over-the-hill southern portion of Calero County Park I came to see.

South of Cinnabar Golf Course, McKean Road changes its name to Uvas Road right where it intersects Casa Loma Road. I drove to the end of the paved portion of Casa Loma Road and parked in the Rancho Cañada del Oro staging area. The Serpentine Loop trailhead was across the street from the parking lot entrance. On the 50-yard walk from the car to the trailhead, I left Rancho Cañada del Oro and entered Calero Park.      

I could walk the loop in either direction. I chose to turn left up Baldy Ryan Creek – a fortunate accident since walking this trail in a clockwise direction keeps the great views to come on the ridge above right in front of you.    

Baldy Ryan Creek was bone dry, but this cool, flat half-mile stretch of trail is a beautiful riparian landscape shaded with robust sycamores and oaks.

Then the work began.  

The trail turned right and I began the climb to Baldy Peaks, 1.2 miles away and 700 feet above. Even in the afternoon heat, this was a pleasant task.  

Farther inland, away from the coast, foliage changes to adapt to the drier and warmer conditions. Here, those borders between changing environments overlap. Coast live oaks mingled with the blue oaks more common in the dry interior. Oaks and bay trees covered the north slopes here, while just across the trail, sun-baked south-facing slopes wore treeless thickets of chaparral.

Before I knew it the world dropped away and I stood atop the high divide between Calero Creek and Llagas Creek. Bald Peaks Trail rolls along the ridge top with vast changing views in every direction. I have seen the San Francisco skyline from here in rain-washed air, but the hazy view over downtown San Jose and the south bay was still great. Mt. Hamilton seemed right there – just out of reach; and toward home, the view was amazing toward El Toro Mountain and down to the Hollister Hills.

From Bald Peaks Trail, I had several options. I could choose a route down into the reservoir side of Calero Park, or I could connect with the trail system in Rancho Cañada del Oro. Instead, I followed the ridge crest east until the trail began to descend and turn toward home.  

Frankly, I set out to do this hike with low expectations, but it won me over. There has to be something special out there to recommend a walk in our warm dry summer landscape. This Sunday afternoon loop – with changing landscapes, amazing views and solitude – gave me a great day out.

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