St. Joseph’s Hill Open Space Preserve

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My hike in St. Joseph’s Hill Open Space Preserve was kind of a spontaneous happening.  I had not realized that it was National Get Outdoors Day, but as soon as I read something about it on-line after finishing an early morning walk with a friend, I decided it would be fun to do a short local hike.  So I pulled out a couple of hiking books and found a write-up of St. Joseph’s Hill in one of the guides.  The write-up was for a 4.4 mile semi-loop that would be easy to extend if I wanted to.  Perfect!  I was soon out the door again and on my way.

St. Joseph’s Hill OSP is relatively small at 270 acres, but its proximity to downtown Los Gatos makes it a popular place for locals to hike, bike, walk dogs, etc.  My hike also passed through Novitiate Park and a portion of Lexington Reservoir County Park .  The GPS track looks complicated, but mainly I just took advantage of the network of trails to elaborate on the write-up in the book to extend my hike to nearly 7 miles with minimal overlap.

GPS track

GPS track

The trailhead I used was at the south end of Jones Rd, and the trail accesses St. Joseph’s Hill OSP via Novitiate Park.  The trail immediately splits, with both Jones Trail and Flume Trail starting up the hill and rejoining after a bit over a half mile.  In this lower part of the park the trail passes through an oak woodland with shade that is welcome on warm days.

photo on the lower portion of Flume Trail

On the lower portion of Flume Trail

From several locations there are nice views of the hills to the west, probably El Sereno Open Space Preserve across CA-17.

image of hills with busy CA-17 in the foreground

Hills with busy CA-17 in the foreground

Much of the trail passes through chaparral terrain, and one of the most prevalent plants is manzanita.  One of the main trails in St Joseph’s Hill is the Manzanita Trail.  Here is a great example of a manzanita just off the trail.

picture of manzanita next to the trail

Manzanita next to the trail

The main landmark of St Joseph’s Hill OSP is the hill itself.  Before I finished the 750-foot climb, however, I continued on the Jones Trail to an alternate trailhead on Alma Bridge Rd in Lexington Reservoir County Park.  Along the way I had several nice views of the reservoir.

photo of Lexington Reservoir

Lexington Reservoir

Near the end of this 1-mile side trip I saw some sticky monkeyflower.  I’ve seen this on several hikes, but finally got a nice close-up picture.

image of sticky monkeyflower

Sticky monkeyflower

I then started up the Novitiate Trail, taking a somewhat circuitous route up the hill, with a few short breaks from a steady climb.

Elevation profile

Elevation profile

The GPS track shows kind of a 3-lobed figure eight.  On the way up I took the north part of the west lobe (Novitiate Trail), then the Range Trail to the south side of the center lobe (Manzanita Trail), followed by the Upper Brothers Bypass back to the north side of the east lobe (Manzanita Trail) for the final ascent to the hilltop.  On the way down I reversed the north and south sides of each of the lobes.

Very near the Manzanita Trail – Range Trail junction I found some beautiful mariposa lilies.  When I compared my pictures to the ones I recently took at Henry Coe State Park I could see that they are not the same species – or, if they are the same species, they are different variants!

picture of beautiful mariposa lily

Beautiful mariposa lily

As I hiked along the upper portion of the Manzanita Trail I encountered an interesting bird perched in the chapparal and singing its head off.  I think it is a California thrasher.

photo of California thrasher (I think!)

California thrasher (I think!)

From the top of St Joseph’s Hill there are great views in many directions.  To the southeast there is a close-up view through Sierra Azul Open Space Preserve, where I hiked my first Bay Area Ridge Trail segment.  In this picture the distinctive tower on top of Mt Umunhum is visible on the skyline.

image of Sierra Azul OSP and Mt Umunhum

Sierra Azul OSP and Mt Umunhum

The day was hazy, so the views of San Francisco Bay were somewhat obscured.  As I continued my figure eight down the hill, I took another side trip, this time a little less than 1 mile round trip, on a northern section of the Novitiate Trail.  Along this trail I had a somewhat clearer view of the East Bay hills.

picture of East Bay hills from the northern section of the Novitiate Trail

East Bay hills from the northern section of the Novitiate Trail

On the lower section of the Manzanita Trail I found some yellow thistles, which I’d not seen before.  I thought they were quite pretty.

photo of yellow thistle along the Manzanita Trail

Yellow thistle along the Manzanita Trail

On the lower part of the hill I had taken Jones Trail uphill, and I took the Flume Trail down.  Along the Flume Trail I noticed an unusual shrub with shiny dark green leaves and interesting white fluff-balls.  Here I’m showing a close-up, but there were dozens of these balls all over the bush.  I have no idea what it is, but I thought it was unusual and interesting.

image of fluff-balls on a bush in the chaparral

Fluff-balls on a bush in the chaparral

St Joseph’s Hill OSP was kind of a surprise find; it’s easy to see why it is a popular destination for local residents.

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