The South Valley’s four best day hikes

After eight years and 250 “Getting Out” columns, I have learned the local trails. Logging miles on any trail is a time well spent, but there is no question that some are sweeter than others. Here are my four favorites.

Each of these trails is only a short drive away from any south county home. Most importantly, they score high on the pleasure:pain ratio; maximum spectator value for little effort. None of these hikes is a major endeavor—maybe two to three hours—so you can do them on a moment’s notice. Instead of, “Hey, let’s catch a movie,” amend your whim to, “Let’s take a walk at Hunting Hollow.” No popcorn, I confess, but certainly a better show.


#1 Mummy Mountain Trail, Harvey Bear County Park.  This four-mile loop leaves from the Mendoza Ranch entrance above Gilroy on Roop Road. After a mile and a half approach that climbs four hundred feet up a manageable gradient, you are rewarded with a ridgetop ramble with wide views of Coyote Lake on one side and miles of the Santa Clara Valley on the other. Near dusk, I have watched bobcats hunting along this trail while the glow on the surrounding hills slowly sweetened. No day use fee. Dogs are permitted on a leash. If you plan to be there for sunset, park outside the gate. It is locked at sunset.


#2 Arrowhead Loop Trail, Coyote Valley Open Space Preserve.  Truth be told, this hike missed being number one by a coin flip. Few hikes have surprised me more. I first came to Coyote Valley Open Space Preserve north of Morgan Hill thinking “ho-hum” and left feeling “Holy Cow!” This four-mile trail climbs up and around the rim of the bowl-shaped preserve and transforms the Coyote Valley you thought you knew into a real treasure. There is a bit more climbing here, but the gradient is so friendly and the views so lovely, you won’t notice the effort. No day use fee. No dogs. Open 7:00 am to sunset.


#3 Mayfair Ranch Trail, Rancho Cañada del Oro Open Space Preserve.  This preserve is a hidden gem just over the hill from Calero Reservoir. It is tucked in the Santa Cruz Mountains a little less than two miles up Casa Loma Road that turns off McKean Road where it changes its name to Uvas Road. The loop climbs gently up the Mayfair Ranch Trail to another rolling ridge top, then drops down to Baldy Ryan Creek and brings you home on the Longwall Canyon Trail; just over four miles in all. If you are feeling feisty, double the distance and head up to Bald Peaks Trail with views from Calero all the way to Mount Tamalpais and the San Francisco skyline in clear conditions. No day use fee. No dogs allowed.


#4 Hunting Hollow, Henry W. Coe State Park.  Coe Park has a well-deserved reputation for rugged territory. Situated out on Gilroy Hot Springs Road three and a half miles beyond Coyote Reservoir, Hunting Hollow is the only park entrance where you can step from the car and walk a gentle path. Hunting Hollow Road slips more than three level miles between oak-cloaked ridges. Early season in wet years will present some wading or rock-hopping challenges at several creek crossings, but any time of year this valley shines with huge sycamores dangling wisps of lichen. Day use fee required. No dogs allowed.

There is more, of course; so much more. But if your feet are itching and time is limited, these trails will lengthen your stride.