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Skyline Ridge Trail to Alpine Pond

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A moderate hike to a charming pond at Skyline Ridge Open Space Preserve.

Ipiwa Trail to Alpine Pond to Sunny Jim to Butano View to Sunny Jim
2.6 miles; 500 feet cum. elev. gain; moderate; 1 hour 15 min.

There are two parking lots in the main entrance to Skyline Ridge; the upper parking lot, to the right, leads to the Ipiwa Trail and Sunny Jim trails, while the lower parking lot to the left (which you access after negotiating a roundabout, which tickles this writer's British soul) connects you with Fir Knoll and Tree Farm Trails.

Climb a half-mile up a gentle slope from the parking lot to connect with Ipiwa Trail, where it intersects with Sunny Jim Trail. The expansive view from this spot, such a short time into the hike, gives a hint as to the spectacular nature of this trail. Head straight across the Sunny Jim to continue climbing up the Ipiwa Trail.

These are some of the best views in the entire Midpeninsula Regional Open Space system. It’s an opinion I share with one Norbert Eberhart, who designed, engineered and built a great many trails in the Midpen District. Talk about a dream job. Sadly, Mr. Eberhart is no longer with us, but his trails provide an everlasting legacy. The Ipiwa Trail contains his favorite view, in fact—a look into a dense forest valley that is a part of Skyline Ridge but is undeveloped as of yet. The view is marked by a plaque to Norbert.

Continue along the Ipiwa, admiring its majestic views. Suddenly it veers down, and off to the left you catch a glimpse of a small body of water. This is Alpine Pond, a gem of a spot and a testament to the many ecosystems here. The pond is lined with marsh sedges and cats-o-nine-tails; just beyond the marsh grow birch trees, their near-white bark and bright greenish-white leaves standing out amongst the surrounding oaks and pines.

Stop for a time at the David C. Daniels Nature Center, situated on the shore of Alpine Pond. Definitely venture out on the inflatable pier for a superior view of the pond and its backdrop. If you don’t feel like hiking all the way out here, there’s a parking lot just above pond, past the main Skyline Ridge entrance if you’re traveling north on Skyline Boulevard.

Walk around Alpine Pond, keeping your eye out for black-tailed deer lurking in the undergrowth. Cross the new redwood bridge to stay on the Sunny Jim Trail heading back to the parking lot. (Or you can go up and over the hill, where the Sunny Jim Trail connects with Russian Ridge Open Space Preserve on Alpine Road.)

The best-named trail in all of Midpen, the Sunny Jim is a wide trail that leads across a ridge, running parallel to the Ipiwa Trail, which lies a couple hundred feet below. Wave to the friendly Midpen rangers as you pass the large Ranger Complex. At this point, look for a massive boulder with a very smooth face off the trail—behind it, and behind two other smaller boulders, is a grinding stone used by Native Americans. It's not signposted, so keep your eyes peeled.

Just past the Ranger Complex, up the hill, I like to take the Butano View Trail off to the right. It provides more wonderful views, and after three-tenths of a mile, hooks back up to the Sunny Jim Trail.

Keep hiking another half-mile or so along the undulating Sunny Jim Trail. A massive, ancient, tentacled oak tree greets you on the left at the top of a short uphill climb. Soon, you’ll find yourself back at the crossroads of Ipiwa/Sunny Jim. Keep on traveling straight on Sunny Jim, following the signs to Horseshoe Lake. A sloping descent down a hillside, and you’ll catch a view of the small lake, but this hike is coming to an end, as you take a left back towards the parking lot.

—Words and photos by Graham Haworth

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