San Francisco Top Trails

Monte Bello Open Space Preserve
By David Weintraub
Key Info

0.0 – Take Stevens Creek Nature Trail
0.1 – Right to Stay on Stevens Creek Nature Trail
1.2 – Left on Skid Rd. Trail
1.8 – Right on Canyon Trail
2.0 – Left on Indian Creek Trail
3.0 – Road to backpack camp on left
3.2 – Right on Monte Bello Rd.
3.4 – Black Mountain Trail on left, summit of Black Mountain (2,800'); retrace to backpack camp junction
3.8 – Right on dirt road, then left at T-junction with gravel road
4.0 – Left on Old Ranch Trail
4.5 – Left on Bella Vista Trail
5.3 – Right on Canyon Trail
5.6 – Left on Stevens Creek Nature Trail
6.0 – Back at parking area

Trail Use:
Hike, run, bike
6.0 miles, 3 to 4 hours
Vertical Feet:
1 2 3 4 5 +
Trail Type:
Surface Type:

Canyon, mountain, stream, autumn colors, wildflowers, birds, great views, photo opportunity, geologic interest, camping

Excerpted from Top Trails: San Francisco by David Weintraub

Not able to go leaf-peeping in New England this fall? Don't despair—just enjoy this jaunt along Stevens Creek, where bigleaf maple and poison oak may put on a colorful display. Top it off with a climb of Black Mountain, and you have the makings of a perfect day.

Finding the Trail
From I-280 in Los Altos Hills, take the Page Mill Rd./Arastradero Rd. exit and go south on Page Mill Rd. 7.2 miles to a parking area on your left.

From the junction of Skyline Blvd. and Page Mill Rd. southwest of Palo Alto, take Page Mill Rd. north 1.4 miles to a parking area on your right.

The trailhead is on the south corner of the parking area.

Trail Description
Passing two information boards and a map holder, you follow the self-guiding Stevens Creek Nature Trail, a single track, as it wanders through open grassland. Along the way you'll find interpretive signs describing the flora, fauna, and geology of this wonderful preserve.

At a junction marked by a trail post and a rest bench, you stay on the Stevens Creek Nature Trail by veering sharply right. Now descending via switchbacks, you soon enter a mixed evergreen forest. A canyon, right, holds a seasonal tributary of Stevens Creek. A sharp left-hand bend brings you to a set of wooden steps leading down to Stevens Creek. After crossing Stevens Creek on rocks (this may be impossible during wet weather), you climb an eroded bank to get back on the trail. A moderate climb that soon levels brings you to a junction with the Skid Road Trail, where you bear left.

Now a bridge takes you across Stevens Creek, and then the route temporarily narrows to single-track width. A moderate climb brings you to a bridge over a tributary that falls from Monte Bello Ridge. Curving right and climbing steeply, the trail takes you across a precipitous hillside and soon returns to dirt-road width.

Now ascending via S-bends, you reach a fence with a gate that prevents access to the Skid Road Trail by bikes and horses during wet weather. In a clearing, you find a T-junction with the Canyon Trail, a dirt road. Here you turn right.

The Canyon Trail angles left and almost immediately begins a steep climb. At a T-junction, the Canyon Trail turns right, but you switch to the Indian Creek Trail, also a dirt road, by veering left. Now you begin a long, steady climb up the side of Monte Bello Ridge.

The road eventually reaches two closely spaced junctions. At the first, a single-track trail leads left to Monte Bello Road. At the second, a dirt road veers left. To reach the Black Mountain backpack camp and a well-deserved rest spot, turn left on this dirt road. After about 100 feet, you come to a T-junction with a gravel road where you turn left to reach the camp. For backpack camp reservations, call the MROSD office: (650) 691-1200.

To press on to the summit of Black Mountain, stay on the Indian Creek Trail as it curves right and climbs past the turn-off to the backpack camp. The Indian Creek Trail ends at the next junction, where you join Monte Bello Road by bearing right. Continuing straight past the Black Mountain Trail, left, you soon stand atop Black Mountain, marveling at the 360-degree views from the broad, rocky, and treeless vantage point.

After enjoying this splendid summit, retrace your route to the backpack camp turn-off. Here you swing right and after about 100 feet meet the gravel road at the T-junction mentioned above. Turn left and walk through the backpack camp. Just past the camp, you pass the single-track connector to the Indian Creek Trail, left. Continuing straight, you follow the ridgetop to a four-way junction. Here, Monte Bello Road joins sharply from the right and continues by veering right. Your route, though, is the single track Old Ranch Trail, which angles left.

At the next junction, you swing left onto the Bella Vista Trail, another single track. When you reach the Canyon Trail, a dirt road, angle right. After passing a rest bench, right, you come to a junction with a hiking-only trail on the left. Continue straight for about 100 yards and then turn left on the Stevens Creek Nature Trail, a single track also closed to bikes and horses.

Now you pass through an old orchard of mostly English walnut trees, soon reaching a junction, left, with the previously mentioned hiking-only trail. Here, you bear right and leave the orchard behind, making a rising traverse across an open slope. When you reach the junction where you started this loop, simply retrace your route the short distance to the parking area.

Article © Wilderness Press. All rights reserved.

Published: 4 Oct 2004 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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