Windy Hill Loop

An 8 mile loop in Windy Hill Open Space Preserve starting at the base of the Santa Cruz Mountains and climbing up to the top and back down again. The undergrowth and hills are glowing green following the winter and early spring rains.

It’s springtime in the bay area and the temperatures are starting to climb, the skies are turning blue, memories of rain are receding, and the foothills are flush with green. In a few months they’ll be scorching hot and golden brown as the moisture evaporates into dust.

I have had a late start to the hiking season this year, not getting out until this past weekend for the first time. I’m hoping to spend a lot more time backpacking in the Sierras again this summer. I kicked off the season with a gentle 8 mile loop in the Windy Hill Open Space Preserve.

The trailhead I started from is at the last intersection of Alpine Road, which is also a trailhead for Coal Mine Ridge trail system. On the weekends the Santa Cruz mountains are teaming with lycra clad cyclists, both cycling and hiking are very popular in the Bay Area, and for good reason. A steady stream of cyclists zips past climbing up Alpine Road.

A sign post along Eagle Hill Trail; “Constructed 1973 as an Eagle Scout Project”

The loop I did takes a connector trail to Hamms Gulch Trail and then follows to Eagle Trail. Hamms Gulch is a very popular trail but I’ve taken Eagle Trail to Razorback Ridge Trail twice now and both times its been much quieter, usually only seeing a couple of trail runners.

Eagle Trail follows alongside Alpine Road, but at this point Alpine Road has turned into a dead-end so there’s no traffic on it, save for the cyclists. The trail connects back to the road in a couple of places to cross bridges before branching away and turning into Razorback Ridge.

Springtime wildflowers along Lost Trali

Razorback Ridge zig zags up the side of the mountain. It’s a very well-built trail and is a very gentle climb up to the top of the ridge. The whole loop is shaded, even early on a spring morning the exposed sun would heat you up so the shade is welcome. As the trail nears the top of the ridge, stopping just short of Skyline Road, some views across the preserve and bay open up. The sound of motorcycles whining along Skyline grows.

Razorback Ridge becomes Lost Trail and continues to zig zag, this time contouring the ridge. This early in the year there are little streams down some of the gullies, and this early in the morning the ground is wet from the morning mist. Along the way I passed two Open Space Preserve rangers cutting a tree out of the trail.

Lost Trail meets with Hamms Gulch, and continues on to the exposed windy hills for which the preserve gets its name (which this morning were not windy at all, although last time I was here were very windy). I take the branch and follow Hamms Gulch down to close the loop. Hamms Gulch is a much busier trail, and maybe it’s also just a little later in the day.

All in all this is a pretty springtime hike, and thanks to the mostly shaded route I imagine would be pleasant in the summertime too, especially early in the morning. From the top there are glimpses across the bay from Palo Alto up to San Mateo. My first hike of the season under my belt I’m looking forward to more to come.