After Work Hike: Russian Ridge OSP

Russian Ridge OSP on Skyline Blvd is the quintessential after work hiking area. It’s a 20 minute drive from the intersection of 280 and Page Mill Road so it’s quick to get to and it has more than a half dozen loops of varying length that can be done, ranging from the Ancient Oaks Loop, the best 1-mile loop on the Peninsula, to a longer 3.5 mile tour of the preserve, which is the hike I did last night.

About the Preserve: Russian Ridge Open Space Preserve is located at the intersection of Page Mill Road and Skyline Blvd in the hills above Palo Alto. Technically Page Mill Road turns into Alpine Road on that side of Skyline but most people will be coming from the Valley so I’m using that as the reference. The preserve is located across the street from Skyline Ridge OSP, which is home to a nature center and the main office for the rangers and open space technicians of the MROSD. What this means is that this is ground-zero for rangers and enforcement, you’re in their back yard. Plan to play nicely and obey all regulations, this is a heavily trafficked preserve and the rangers and volunteers are aggressive at patrolling it. If you go on the weekend plan to be accosted by at least one volunteer trail patroller who will assume you’re a fool who is lost and needs direction, no matter where you encounter them. Just put up with them and move on, as long as you stay on the trails and obey the regulations you’ll be fine. Bikers should be aware that the rangers frequently set up radar guns on the main trails and will ticket you if you’re over 15 mph. This is a ridiculous limit, IMO, but I advise you to obey it nonetheless, the tickets are expensive. Make sure you either print out the map to the preserve or pick one up at the main parking lot, this is a trail-dense preserve and getting more so. If you’re doing this during the heat of the day be sure to have some water, the ridgelines are exposed and can be very hot in the summer. Also, although I frequently hike alone this is one place that I would really advise you to have a partner. This is mountain lion country and they come out at sunset.

Getting to the Trailhead: To do this hike you will not be parking in the main lot at Page Mill and Skyline, you’ll be going into the preserve from the back door. From the main parking lot at PageMill/Skyline drive roughly westward on Alpine Road about 3/4 mile. Watch for a little unmarked gate on the right, this is the Ancient oaks Trailhead and you should park here if you can. If there are already cars here you can usually park in one of the other pullouts in the area. If you go a little farther on Alpine Road you’ll come to the marked RR02 gate, there’s a small space to park here as well but it’s tricky. Try to park off the road so you don’t get a ticket and then walk back to the Ancient Oaks Trailhead.

Doing the hike: From the Ancient Oaks Trailhead walk a few feet uphill to the beginning of the Ancient Oaks Trail. Turn left on this trail and you’ll be on a rolling singletrack with great views of Portola State Park and Pescadero Creek County Park to the west. Closer in is the new Mindego Ridge property that MROSD will be adding to its stable of preserves in the future. After 0.3 miles you’ll come to a wooded section of, well, ancient oaks. There’s a singletrack trail coming in from your right, if you only have 30 minutes or so to walk take this trail. It’ll lead you to the Ridge trail and you can do a short 1.1 mile loop that’ll take you back to your car. I highly recommend this hike for a later day.

For folks who have a bit more time, though, continue straight on Ancient Oaks following the sign towards the Mindego Trail. The trail will meander downwards through a mixed oak and Douglas Fir woods. There’s some poison oak in the neighborhood so be cautious about touching any plants you can’t identify. When you reach the wide Mindego trail continue straight/turn right and follow Mindego as it winds along below the ridgeline of Russian Ridge. This is an old ranch road and is patrol-width. It’s also a nice cool spot on a hot day. At various points you’ll hear some funny sounds off the side of the trail, mostly this is water trickling through culverts but you’ll also be enjoying the sounds of lots of birds and small critters. It’s a great soundtrack.

After about 0.3 miles on Mindego there’ll be a big wide fireroad coming down from your right. If you’re short on time you can turn right on this and head back but really you should continue straight on mindego all the way to the Hawk trail, a small singletrack that will come in form the right after another 0.4 miles. Turn right on hawk trail and wind your way up to the top of the ridge. This is a premier trail for mountain bikes so keep your ears open for approaching cyclists and give them the right of way if you can, you’ve got more options than they do on this trail.

As you climb Hawk check out the big hill to the West. It’s sort of rounded on the Southern side and has a big scoop out of the northeastern side. the scoop is filled with green trees and shrubs. This, I believe, is the long extinct Mindego volcano. And was the source for a lot of the big rocks you see scattered around the ridge you’re climbing.

At the top of Hawk Trail turn right on the Ridge trail and begin your return to where you began. You’ll follow Ridge for about 0.6 miles and you’ll come to that shortcut fireroad that was mentioned earlier. Continue straight on Ridge for 100 yards and there’ll be a singletrack trail coming in from your right, take this trail. This is the singletrack portion of the Ridge trail and it’s my favorite trail to ride my bike on. it’s twisty, just bumpy enough to keep you honest and has killer views. After 0.5 miles you’ll re-encounter the arm of Ancient Oaks the forms the short loop on your right. You can return on this but I’ll advise that you continue past it and rejoin the fireroad portion of ridge in another 100 yards.

Once on the fireroad turn left and go back the way you came. You’ll see a high point on your right and a steep little trail leading to the top. Go up there and enjoy the view from the top of the preserve. You can see Moffet Field and all of Silicon Valley. See all that nasty brown air hanging in the Valley? That’s why I’m a bumpkin living on the Coastside. For you geocachers, there’s a USGS marker at the top of this hill.

Return to the Ridge Trail and walk in the southeastern direction. After about 0.2 miles there’ll be another fireroad coming in from your right, that’s your return path that will lead you back to the Ancient Oaks Trailhead and your car. In all you will have done about 3.7 miles. Walking at a medium pace this will take you a little less than 2 hours.

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