Rancho San Antonio is one of the Bay Area’s most popular parks. On weekends there’s a continuous stream of people on the main road to Deer Hollow Farm. It’s often said that the park is overcrowded, but the activity (along with the wide, well-maintained trails) also help to make the park feel safer and more family-oriented than the more remote parks.
It’s easy to see why the park is so popular: it’s just a few minutes’ drive from most of Silicon Valley and it’s quite attractive, with a mixture of woodland, open grassland, and some very nice panoramic views of the Bay Area. The park is also large and well isolated from the nearby suburban neighborhoods, so it offers a real escape from the city without a long drive.
Even though it’s partly wooded, Rancho San Antonio, like most of the parks in the area, can get really hot and unpleasant when the forecast high for the day is above 85 degrees.
Parking at Rancho San Antonio has become a lot more difficult over the past few years; this is the only park I’ve ever seen that has lines of cars waiting for parking spaces to open up. Oddly, though, the trails don’t seem any more crowded, and the upper half of this hike is actually less busy than it used to be; maybe people who jog and hike longer distances are just going elsewhere.
The Stephen E. Abbors Trail loop is a good workout with some great scenic views and is one of Rancho San Antonio’s most enjoyable hikes. Until 2018 the trail was known as the PG&E Trail.
Park in the first lot that you come to as you drive into the park. This used to be the equestrian parking lot. The Coyote Trail begins from this lot at a footbridge.
The Coyote Trail immediately begins to climb a grassy, oak-studded hillside, offering a few views of the nearby suburban developments before entering a pleasantly wooded canyon. Arriving at a 5-way intersection near a water tank, turn left onto the Abbors Trail, which immediately begins a steep climb.
The trail was built by PG&E to service the electrical towers that occur every few hundred yards. The (sometimes) buzzing towers can be annoying but can also be kind of scenic, marching off into the distance over the green hills. At least since the trail is mostly wooded, you can’t see them most of the time.
The trail descends to the intersection with a crossover trail, then begins a long and fairly steep climb. There are increasingly scenic views of the Santa Clara Valley along the way. As it winds through a series of gulleys, the trail repeatedly dives into shady bay laurel woods and then breaks out into sunny chaparral. This part of the loop isn’t nearly as busy as the lower-elevation trails.
The trail finally tops out at a bench next to an electrical tower, then begins a steep descent. Having switched from the south to the north side of the canyon, the trail has much less tree cover on the descent.
Turn right onto the Upper Wildcat Canyon Trail, which descends into a cool, shady canyon. The woods, which become increasingly dense and lush as the trail descends through the canyon, mostly consist of bay trees, and the slight perfumey smell of bay leaves sometimes fills the canyon. The woods are lush enough that there’s a sparse groundcover of ferns, and in winter a little creek flows alongside the trail.
The Wildcat Canyon Trail turns into the Wildcat Loop Trail, which continues through the same canyon. The loop is one of the more popular trails in the park; on a nice day there’s a group of hikers or joggers every 10 or 15 seconds on this part of the trail.
The descent ends and the trail exits the canyon just before reaching Deer Hollow Farm. The farm with its white 19th-century buildings is attractive, but high fences keep visitors well away from the animals and there really isn’t much to see, although you can sometimes get fresh eggs at the stand inside the farm. There’s a similar farm a few miles away at Hidden Villa that’s a lot more fun — but Hidden Villa charges $5 for parking.
The remaining mile or so of road is the most crowded in the park, making it feel more like an urban park than an open space preserve. It’s still quite scenic, though, especially the Permanent Creek Trail with its huge laurel tree and open meadows.
© 2010, 2012, 2013, 2017, 2022 David Baselt