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Chamise Trail at Rancho San Antonio

9.2 miles; 1000 ft climbing; moderate to strenuous
Mora Trail —> Chamise Trail —> Rogue Valley Trail

Of the many trails in Rancho San Antonio running east-west, out-of-the-way Chamise is the least crowded. It’s also a sleeper. While the majority of this route bordering the park’s northern boundary snakes upward through sun-blasted chaparral—which sure ain't everyone’s cup of tea—it also traces cool wooded sections in the unlikeliest of places, a couple of creekside segments and, at its terminus at the Mary Davey Loop, splendid grassy hillsides and hollows.

Starting in the main parking lot, this route begins, as many Rancho San Antonio adventures do, by crossing the small wooden bridge in the lot’s northwest corner, taking a right at the Permanente Creek Trail, then turning left at the tennis courts (just past California’s third-largest bay laurel tree) onto Lower Meadow Trail.

After .5 miles, make a sharp right onto paved Mora Trail and follow it up the hill to the water tanks for a first taste of the views to come. It then dips down and just before the park boundary hangs a left to become singletrack that winds very charmingly through a garden-like riparian zone bordering the back yards of Los Altos Hills mansions. Ye shall know them by the “Quiet Please” signs.

A trail junction .3 miles from the water tank lands you on Ravensbury Trail; jog right for a few hundred feet and behold one of the totally bitchen back doors to Rancho San Antonio: the locals-only (i.e., no parking) Ravensbury Road entrance. Hang a sharp left onto Chamise Trail, and let the ascent begin.

The next 2.7 miles lead steadily—occasionally steeply—up Chamise Trail. Springtime sees a cream-colored froth coating both sides of the road. It’s the flowering of the chamise shrub, also called greasewood, the gnarly boss of the chaparral, whose tricks for remaining in power include secreting a toxin that stunts the growth of other plants. Other spring delights include mobs of wildflowers (Indian paintbrush, globe lily, brodiaea, lupine, calochortus). Don’t miss the chaparral mallow about halfway up, on the south side of the trail; this pink-blossomed “party plant” is irresistible to hummingbirds and bees when in bloom.

Chamise Trail has a way of granting shade just when you really need it—something most of the other Rancho San Antonio trails don’t bother to do—and in fact ends up leaving the chaparral behind altogether at its highest elevation. A surprisingly verdant wooded section leads into the Mary Davey Loop, which dips into a highly picturesque meadow framed by the Santa Cruz Mountains. Take a short jaunt up to a knoll to enjoy the view from the Mary Davey memorial bench and oak grove. The loop meets up with Black Mountain Trail and could be a waypoint on a backpacking trip to Black Mountain Camp, 5 tough uphill miles away.

Completing Mary Davey Loop, retrace your steps down Chamise Trail, but for variety, take a hairpin right turn at the .2-mile cutoff to Rogue Valley Trail. It leads to a pond and a junction with Rogue Valley Trail. Ignore the sign’s misleading use of a common preposition; once you turn left onto that trail you will be onRogue Valley Trail, not on some mysterious unnamed path leading to Rogue Valley Trail. Follow this delightful, mostly level trail—hugely popular with runners and festooned with poppies and tidy tips in spring—another mile or so to Deer Hollow Farm, then hop onto Lower Meadow Trail and back to the parking lot.

—Words and most photos by Traci Hukill

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