The John Nicholas Trail

Sanborn County Park

Length 7.8 mi · Climbing 1530 ft
California > San Francisco Bay Area > Sanborn County Park

The beginning of the trail features some really well-built footbridges


Built in 2015, this is the newest of the trails that climbs Skyline Ridge. The trail seems to have been designed mainly for mountain biking: it’s much wider than a typical single track trail, it has a shallow gradient, and it’s smooth enough to ride a road bike on. As a hiking destination, though, it’s a little dull.

The best way to hike this trail might be to make a 10-mile loop, climbing on the Sanborn Trail and descending on the John Nicholas Trail. The only problem is that you have to close the loop by walking for a mile on Sanborn Road, which is narrow and doesn’t have any shoulder but at least isn’t especially busy.

Hike description

Click map to show all roads and trails
Part of the Bay Area Trail Map: Skyline Ridge (Redwood Hikes Press, 2017)

Here’s the trailhead location in Google Maps.

Start at the end of Sanborn Road. The park map has a no parking symbol here, but in fact there are two small pullouts where you can park. Just uphill from the pullouts, the trail starts out as a steep dirt road that climbs through a heavily-wooded canyon. The trail levels out at Lake Ranch Reservoir, a picturesque little lake surrounded by wooded hills.

Continue straight ahead to the John Nicholas Trail. The trail gets off to a great start, running through lush canyon-bottom woods along a little creek. Soon, though, the trail climbs out of the canyon and the woods become less interesting.

Lake Ranch Reservoir

For hiking, the trail has way too many switchbacks; it takes forever to get anywhere.

Unlike the nearby Todd Creek Trail, the John Nicholas Trail doesn’t have any redwoods. At lower elevations the trail passes through mundane fir and bay laurel woods with a few spruce groves. The scenery starts to improve as some madrone trees appear, their distinctive peeling bark revealing gold branches. As the trail approaches Skyline Ridge, the woods noticably lusher and more attractive. Near the end there’s a viewpoint, the only one in the park. The view of the South Bay is restricted by trees but is still pretty nice; Mount Diablo and Oakland are clearly visible.

A madrone tree on the John Nicholas Trail

More information

The John Nicholas Trail


© 2015 David Baselt