The Bay Area Ridge Trail segment in Mt Madonna County Park is the southernmost segment in the Bay Area Ridge Trail system currently. With a 3-mile length but several other trail options to lengthen the hike, it was a good choice for an in-town holiday weekend hike. I approached the park from Gilroy on CA-152, passing Gilroy Gardens and even a couple of wineries, one of which was called Sarah’s Vineyard.
The Bay Area Ridge Trail segment runs from the Sprig Recreation Area at the south end to the park boundary at Old Mt Madonna Rd at the north/west end. The outbound hike is uphill and the return is downhill. I identified a couple of short exploratory side trips to take on my return path, if time and energy permitted (which they did).
Along the lower portion of the trail I quickly got a preview of what the hike would be like, with many spectacular large oaks and even a small stand of redwoods.
The route goes up the Merry-Go-Round Trail; I did not find any kind of reference to an actual merry-go-round, however. A write-up I had consulted in advance mentions “massive shrubs of poison oak,” so I carefully stayed to the center of the trail and was grateful that it was wide, since I wanted to avoid another poison oak incident. Forewarned is forearmed: I saw lots of poison oak but stayed well away from it, taking pictures using the very powerful zoom on my camera.
After the hike, while researching pictures to confirm my identification (see this site for example) I learned that poison oak leaves apparently can look different depending on the nearby trees and vegetation: the poison oak leaves sometimes mimic the leaves of nearby vegetation. Diabolical!
Since it was a warm day, I was grateful that most of the trail was in forested areas with adequate shade. At the top of the Merry-Go-Round Trail the Bay Area Ridge Trail route goes west along the Loop Trail without much further elevation change to the end at Old Mt Madonna Rd.
In the upper portion of the park there are many beautiful redwoods in the forest.
There was a small sunny area with a good-sized patch of ferns.
Near a particularly moist area I was somewhat surprised to find clover-like ground cover with especially large leaves. The three-leaf “bundles” were nearly 2 inches across.
The side of Mt Madonna is fairly steep, and the trail has been built into the hillside. Here and there is evidence of soil erosion. A particularly striking example was a long section of a tree root, perhaps 12 feet long and 8-10 inches in diameter, fully exposed.
Not surprisingly, there were also eucalyptus trees in the park. This one was notable by the length of the strips of bark being shed.
After turning around at Old Mt Madonna Rd I started to return to the trail head. At the junction of Loop Trail and Merry-Go-Round Trail, I took a detour to climb the final few tenths of a mile to the top of Mt Madonna. At the top are ruins of the old Miller estate, cattle baron Henry Miller’s summer home, among the redwoods.
Continuing back toward the trail head, the trail emerges from the forest to pass through some grasslands for less than a mile. Suddenly a spectacular view opened up across the Coyote Valley toward the Diablo Range. This wonderful view had been behind me on the way up, and it was a lovely surprise for the return trip.
I took one more side trip, along the Old Mine Trail, just to see what would be visible. The only potential evidence of a mine was a small pond at the bottom of a depression down the hill from the end of the trail.
All in all, this was a very pleasant hike in a pretty county park.