Rancho San Antonio

A trip to Rancho San Antonio County Park & Open Space Preserve often begins as a little bit of a hike party. The wide, mostly flat trails entering the park from three large parking lots are, on most days, teeming with happy hilltrompers. While there are folks who might complain that Rancho San Antonio is too crowded, we say enjoy the people-watching, and push on to the higher elevations if you want some solitude.

With 4,000-plus acres and more than 25 miles of trails, Rancho San Antonio happens to contain many of the spectacular natural features that led early inhabitants of Silicon Valley to nickname it the “Valley of Heart’s Delight.”

The county park and preserve are managed by the Mid-Peninsula Open Space District, and occupy a particularly blessed piece of geography. Rolling grass-covered hillsides—green in winter, lush with wildflowers in spring and golden in summer and fall—are cut with steep canyons featuring remarkable specimens of every native local tree (except redwoods, which are rare on such east-facing properties). And as the trails rise, views of the valley, San Francisco Bay and ultimately the entire Bay Area, from Mt. Tamalpais and Mt. Diablo to the southern Santa Clara Valley, open up.

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Visitors to this park and preserve fall into three categories: 1) families, frequently multi-generational, here to see the critters at Deer Hollow Farm, or enjoy a snack in the shade of its old hay barn, or a BBQ picnic under the trees in North Meadow; 2) nature-lovers drawn to the stunning variety of huge valley oaks, huge California bay trees (including the third-largest in the world) and many, many California buckeyes (whose enormous flowers perfume the air in mid-late spring), as well as wildflowers, wildlife, etc.; and 3) trail runners. It’s a sure bet that you will see more runners in one day at this park—water bottles Velcro-strapped to one hand—than you’ll see the rest of the month.

Always bring plenty of water to Rancho San Antonio—most of the trails are at least partly exposed, and it's a big place once you leave the bucolic zone of Deer Hollow Farm.

BRING THE KIDS AND GRANDMA: Lots of relatively level trails lead to lots of beautiful and fun places, including Deer Hollow Farm, a 160-year-old homestead where there are baby goats (yes, the cutest critters in the world). Strollers and wheelchairs will fly like the wind over several of the wide, flat dirt trails near the entrance, including Permanente Creek and Rogue Valley, and the service road to Deer Hollow Farm.

REX, STAY!: At home, that is. Alas, no dogs allowed here.

GEEKS FREAK FREELY: Located two minutes from Highway 280 (and just a few more from Google headquarters), Rancho San Antonio is a super-convenient place to for a quick workout-in-the wild.

NOT SO GREAT FOR: Cycling of any sort—unless you’re jonesing for a short, steep blast up a paved portion of the Mora Trail to catch some views from the water tower.

YOUR MOM WOULD TELL YOU …: Not to traipse off-trail through the meadows, unless you wanna spend 10 minutes picking foxtails out of your socks.

THOSE THINGS SWOOPING THROUGH THE AIR? Radio-controlled non-gas model airplanes, which can be seen flying over the South Meadow on most days. (Or … red-tailed hawks, vultures, or black-shouldered kits also common at RSA.)

—Eric Johnson

22500 Cristo Rey Dr, Cupertino. 650.691.1200. Learn more at the official Rancho San Antonio Open Space Preserve website. Check out a map to Rancho San Antonio Park. Find another good overview at Bay Area Hiker.

High Meadow Trail to Vista Point
4.4 miles; 400 ft climbing; easy to moderate
A shorter trek to one of the park's most popular destinations, the lower Vista Point overlooking the Valley and the Bay.

Rogue Valley Loop
9 miles; 1450 ft climbing; moderate to strenuous
Combining the Wildcat Loop Trail with the Upper Rogue Valley and Rogue Valley trails yields scenic vistas, a field of picturesque oak trees and a good sense of the entire park. The route can be altered for a shorter hike.

PG&E and Quarry Trails
11.7 miles; 2450 ft climbing; strenuous
A challenging 12-mile hike up to the high country of Rancho San Antonio climbs almost 2500 feet and offers astounding views of Silicon Valley and the San Francisco Bay Area before descending through Upper Wildcat Canyon.

Chamise Trail
9.2 miles; 1000 ft climbing; moderate to strenuous
This sleeper trail skirts the northern boundary of the park, leading through chaparral to the storybook Mary Davey Loop.