Skyline Ridge Open Space Preserve
Located atop Skyline Ridge, this preserve has two small ponds: Alpine Pond with its little nature center, and peaceful Horseshoe Lake with its softly quacking ducks. Between the two ponds are some magnificent views of the Santa Cruz Mountains.
A short but pleasant trail connects the two ponds and is one of the most scenic trails atop Skyline Ridge. The first half of the trail, from Alpine Pond to the viewpoint, is shielded from Skyline Boulevard by the ridge and is the most enjoyable part. After coming around the ridge, the second half of the hike, from the viewpoint to Horseshoe Lake, suffers from the problems that affect all the South Skyline parks: traffic noise and the continuous sound of gunfire from the Los Gatos Rod and Gun Club. For a short hike, you could just turn around at the viewpoint, but if the noise isn't too bad the full hike is a lot more rewarding.
Start at the hot and dusty Russian Ridge parking lot and walk through the tunnel under Alpine Road. The trail descends a few yards to the little nature center, tucked in under some trees by the side of Alpine Pond. There's a short trail that loops around the pond, but it's kind of a disappointment since all views of the pond are blocked by vegetation.
Staying to the left after the nature center, the Ridge Trail proceeds through pleasant oak woods and crosses a dirt road. A few rustic shacks stand to your left. Soon the trail breaks out into a grassy meadow and you get the first views of the vast, redwood-filled Peters Creek valley far below you. Portola Redwoods State Park occupies the bottom of the valley and it's possible to hike from where you stand to the bottom of the valley without leaving the trail system.
The trail gradually climbs, topping out at a small, fenced-in rock outcropping. This is the viewpoint and it makes a good turn-around spot if you just want a 45 minute (1.6 mile) walk.
For a longer walk, continue on to Horseshoe Lake. The trail rounds a corner and begins to descend. The sound of gunfire becomes louder, and cars and motorcycles roar by on Skyline Boulevard. Antenna-capped Black Mountain is clearly visible directly ahead, while below is the Christmas Tree farm that occupies part of the preserve. Turn right onto the first dirt road, which descends toward Horseshoe Lake.
The lake is really more of a small pond. The path that runs along its wooded eastern shore is particularly scenic. It's possible to walk a loop around the lake, but since the rest of the lake isn't as scenic the best option is to walk up the eastern shore, then turn around and return the way you came.
© 2010, 2012 David Baselt