For Hike Number 21, I ventured just a few miles south of Silicon Valley to Almaden Quicksilver County Park. Almaden Quicksilver County Park has the rolling hills and native oaks typical of Southern San Jose. It is also steeped in California history. The park is the site of over 135 years of mining activities, former home to more than 1,800 miners and their families who lived in part of the park known as English Town, and the site of a Civilian Conservation Corps Camp Mt. Madonna. The park is over 4,000 acres, occupying a majority of the Capitancillos Ridge withing sight of the Sierra Azul Mountains. There are many historical sites along the trail. I entered the park from the Hicks Wood Road entrance at the southern edge of the park. This entrance is only a short drive from San Jose’s Almaden Valley.
One thing that I want to highlight about this loop hike is that the Santa Clara County Parks do an excellent job of providing informational signage and really maintain the trails very well. Here are some examples of the great signs.
Trailhead Sign With a large map, take along maps, and nature guides:
Along the way, there is a view of Mt. Umunhum and the old Almaden Air Force Base radar tower.
The old Almaden Air Force Station has been de-commissioned and the land has been purchased by the Mid Peninsula Open Space District for a future hiking and historical area. http://www.openspace.org/plans_projects/mt_umunhum.asp
A great looking Manzanita along the trail
At about the 1.5 mile mark, you climb up a hill and are able to see part of the old mining rotary furnace off the trail along with a good informational sign! Mining for mercury – or, quicksilver – which was essential to the mining of gold and silver, exploded here after gold was discovered in California. At one time, the Quicksilver mines in the area were the most productive in the world.
I then took the Castillero Trail at the top of Mine Hill. The Woods Trail and the Castillero Trail are both part of the Bay Area Ridge Trail http://www.ridgetrail.org/ and the Juan Bautista de Anza National Historical Trail http://www.nps.gov/juba/index.htm . That’s a lot of famous western trail that you can mark off in your trail book!
At a little over the 2 mile mark, I reached the site of an old mining town known as English Town after the English Miners who settled here and, later, the site of a CCC Camp – Camp Mt. Madonna. http://www.hmdb.org/marker.asp?marker=52778
I followed the Castillero Trail for another quarter of mile…most of this part of the trail is a dirt road cut into the side of Mine Hill and covered by Native Oaks. I turned left at a trail fork and took the trail going up. This is the Mine Hill Trail. This trail climbs approximately 300 feet over 1 mile to the top of Mine Hill. It is mostly shaded..which was a welcome change from the Woods Trail – much of which is across open grassland and low lying bushes. The real exciting part of this trail is the San Cristobal Mine just off the trail about midway up Mine Hill. Of course, you can’t actually go in the mine…but, the little boy in me still thought that it was pretty neat!
The top of the Mine Hill Trail intersects with the western leg of the Castillero Trail. This leg of the Castillero Trail travels along the Mine Hill ridge for approx. 3/4 of a mile and gradually descends about 100 feet wher it intersect with the Woods Trail back at the old rotary furnace. Just before I turned right onto the Woods Trail to head back to the trail head, I was able to catch a glimpse of the Almaden Valley and the Eastern Santa Clara Valley Hills beyond.
As the sun just started to glide down towards the pacific, the Woods Trail was bathed in golden light that was quite spectacular and a fitting end for my day hiking at Almaden Quicksilver County Park.
Mileage: 5.5 miles Round Trip
Elevation Gain/Loss: approximately 800 feet
I would rate this 5.5 mile hike as moderate. The trails themselves are mostly dirt roads that were used by the miners and kept up very well. There are a few steep climbs of approximately 300 feet – notably on Mine Hill Trail. I saw many California bay, coast live oak, toyon, California coffeeberry, chamise, and buckeye along the trail. There are also a lot of historical markers and sights to see in this park! Trails: Woods / Castillero / Mine Hill / Woods Trail.
Great time as always in our Santa Clara County Parks! Well, that’s 21 hikes and 120.5 miles! 19 hikes and 79.5 miles to go. Until next time, if you are looking for me, I’m over the hill.
5.5 Miles Moderate