Almaden Quicksilver County Park is in the South Bay, south of San Jose, and is one of 28 Santa Clara County Parks. The park partially overlaps the New Almaden National Historic Landmark District. The park and Landmark District recognize an important mining history in the area. Quicksilver is an archaic term for the element mercury, which was mined here and used in the purification of gold during the Gold Rush. All of the mines have been closed and sealed off, but there are interesting remnants of the mining history to be found along the trails in the park.
New Almaden is a small village established in 1845 to support the nearby mining activities. It is named after an “original” (and famous) Almaden quicksilver mine in Spain dating from Roman times. The history is quite interesting to check out in the above links. Driving through New Almaden approaching the Hacienda trail head, I noted numerous flags lining both sides of the road, presumably recognizing the upcoming July 4 holiday.
The hike itself was in a semi-loop or balloon configuration, mostly along a portion of the network of old mining roads.
The first part of the hike climbs steadily at an 8% grade along the Mine Hill and Randol Trails.
After reaching 1000 feet elevation the trail is relatively level for the next few miles.
Along the Randol Trail about 1.6 miles from the trail head, the sealed-off entrance to the Day Tunnel is almost hidden in the hillside undergrowth. I would have gone right by if not for the Keep Out sign.
The recommended route went along the Santa Isabel Trail, rejoining the Randol Trail after about 0.4 miles. Along the Santa Isabel Trail I encountered what looked like a collapsed mine tunnel, with a bit of mining debris nearby.
About 4 miles from the trail head, in an open grassland area, there is a picnic table with a lovely view of Mt. Hamilton to the northeast.
The Prospect #3 Trail crosses the Randol Trail at the picnic table. The recommended/highlighted route takes the Prospect #3 Trail uphill to join the Mine Hill Trail. A longer route (about 2.2 miles longer) continues along the Randol Trail and returns along the Mine Hill Trail. The Prospect #3 Trail climbs about 350 feet in a little over a half mile and is the steepest section of the hike. Near the top I came across several patches of undergrowth in which some of the leaves were red. This appeared to be poison oak, though I was surprised to find leaves already turning red in late June!
The Mine Hill Trail continues to climb, though more moderately. About 0.8 mile after the turn onto the Mine Hill Trail, there is a short spur trail to the left to Catherine Tunnel. I was expecting to find some kind of hole in the ground, so I was startled to realize that this tunnel is open to the sky except for several trees arching overhead.
Shortly after passing the Catherine Tunnel spur trail, the recommended route leaves the Mine Hill Trail on the Castillero Trail, which goes around the south side of Mine Hill and reaches English Camp after about a mile. The highest point of the hike, at 1650 feet, is along this section. At English Camp there are remnants of a few buildings.
At English Camp there is a complex junction of several trails. I probably missed a critical sign and got a bit directionally confused; in any case I initially left the junction on the wrong trail and had hiked a few tenths of a mile before being fully convinced I was on the wrong trail. After returning to English Camp, exploring a bit, and asking a couple of hikers coming up the hill, I found English Camp Trail and hiked down to the junction with the Mine Hill Trail and back to the parking area at the trail head.
The mining history and artifacts from mining activities in the Almaden Quicksilver area made this an especially interesting hike. There is a segment of the Bay Area Ridge Trail that passes through the park, crossing this loop twice with perhaps a half mile of overlap near English Camp. I look forward to a return visit to hike again.