Featuring an open ridgetop with panoramic views of the Santa Cruz Mountains, Russian Ridge offers the best hiking of all the preserves atop Skyline Ridge. This is mainly because, even though the other parks have similar or even better views, Russian Ridge is the only one that isn't affected by the sound of gunfire. The park also feels less developed and offers longer hikes than the other Skyline Ridge parks.
The park is quite popular; on a nice weekend afternoon the parking lot overflows, and the main trail out of the parking lot gets about 3 or 4 groups of hikers per minute. Past Borel Hill the trails aren't quite as busy.
The recommended loop hike mostly runs through open grasslands, although there's a nice wooded stretch near the end.
Park in the main lot off Skyline Boulevard and take the singletrack trail that climbs up to the nearby ridgetop. There's a lot of traffic noise at first, but it gradually fades away as the trail climbs. The trail leads to Borel Hill, which is just a little lump in the ridge. The hill is low and gently sloping so it doesn't offer any really exceptional views.
Take the singletrack Ridge Trail that splits off from the road at Borel Hill. The trail offers some nice views as it contours along an escarpment, then it descends to a saddle across from a Caltrans vista point. Continue along the road as it climbs away from the saddle, overlooking Mindego Hill.
Turn left onto the singletrack Hawk Ridge Trail, which gradually descends to another dirt road, the Alder Spring Trail. This trail winds through meadows and passes through an oak-lined ravine before entering a more extensively-wooded area.
Take the Ancient Oaks Trail, which climbs through woods and open meadows along a minor ridge that does, in fact, have a few pretty substantial trees. This is one of the best parts of the hike.
Take the Bo Gimbal Trail through dense, shady woodlands back to Borel Hill, and return to the parking lot on the busy Ridge Trail.
© 2017 David Baselt