There are many highlights along this Bay Area Ridge Trail segment in Joseph D Grant County Park. They include wonderful vistas, hills to climb, and a variety of trees, wildflowers, birds, and other fauna. The most prominent is clearly Lick Observatory on Mt Hamilton, visible at the start and, it seems, almost continuously along the trail. With a couple of detours, my hike covered 13.7 miles out and back, with nearly 3000 feet of elevation gain.
The beginning of the hike was at the north (gated) end of the Edwards Loop Trail on Mt Hamilton Rd, about 1.5 mile from the main visitor parking area. I planned to turn around at the southern park boundary, but ended up doing some exploration around both the start and end of the route.
From the roadside parking area (with space for just a couple of cars) I had a wonderful view of Lick Observatory from relatively close range (about 4.5 miles away).
The oat-grass-covered hills are well into their typical summer coloration. As may be anticipated from this picture, much of this hike is in open grassland with only scattered shade: something to keep in mind when selecting a day for this hike.
The first 1.2 miles is along the Edwards Loop Trail, which climbs a few hundred feet as it winds through the hills. This trail was, in places, somewhat indistinct, but I actually didn’t have any trouble with way-finding.
At the junction with Heron Trail the Ridge Trail route turns right to follow Heron and crosses Quimby Rd about a half mile later. (I had not realized previously that you could get up there from the Eastridge Mall just by driving 6 miles or so up Quimby!) Another half mile after crossing the road there is a nice view of Grant Lake below in Hall’s Valley, where the original Grant Ranch buildings were located.
The trail passes through occasional groves of trees, and one grove contains a particularly spectacular bay tree with numerous trunks emanating from the central core.
About 2.5 miles from the trailhead the Heron Trail becomes the Dutch Flat trail at a junction where you continue straight. As I hiked along the Dutch Flat trail it occurred to me that some of the trail names seem to reflect a different reality than I experienced that day: I saw wild turkeys and swallows along the Heron Trail, and the Dutch Trail was actually not very flat. In fact, the 700-foot elevation range along this trail is greater than all of the Netherlands except its highest hill!
The Dutch Flat Trail climbs pretty steadily, gaining ~400 feet in ~0.8 mile. Along the way I found an unusual thistle-type flower. I thought it was unusual because of its color, which was much redder than typical thistles.
Closer to the top of the trail I noticed several cows enjoying the shade under an oak tree. Somehow I doubt that the cattle appreciated the fantastic views over the crest of the hill!
Shortly before the top, if you turn around and look back, and if the day is clear enough, it is possible to see Mt Tamalpais over 60 miles away in Marin County! In this picture Mt Tam is hazy but unmistakable.
At the top there is a Scenic Overlook with spectacular views of the Santa Cruz Mountains across the Santa Clara Valley. Here distinctive Loma Prieta appears to hover between the trail signs.
A short distance farther northwest along the skyline Mt Umunhum is also unmistakable.
After the Scenic Overlook the Dutch Flat Trail mostly descends, losing 700 feet in elevation. Here is a view of the trail descending through scattered oak trees, illustrating why I thought a better name for the trail might be Dutch not-so-Flat Trail.
There was a particularly remarkable dead tree right next to the trail. The trunk and remaining branches were almost completely covered with woodpecker holes. There must have been an impressive supply of insects in the bark at an earlier time!
The end of the Ridge Trail segment is at an unmarked junction with a small side trail that goes to the park’s south boundary. The Ridge Trail signage is actually a little confusing at this time, so I continued walking past this junction about a half mile to a signed junction with Eagle Trail, before I realized that I had gone past my intended turnaround point. The end of the Ridge Trail segment is roughly 2.7 miles past the Scenic Overlook.
On my return trip I was happy to revisit all of the wonderful views of my outbound trip. Also, it occurred to me that a straight line between Loma Prieta / Mt Umunhum and Mt Hamilton would come rather close to crossing the southern part of the Dutch Flat Trail. I am intrigued by this kind of unusual juxtaposition of landmarks. (For example, I have a favorite view of Mt Diablo “next to” Mt Tam from the Bolinas Ridge Trail. This juxtaposition only occurs in one spot.)
After I got back to the Edwards Loop Trail I noticed something I’d not seen on the outbound part of my hike: quite a few of what looked like holes or even cracks in the ground, covered with spider webs. I think they were noticeable at the end of my hike because of the angle of the sunlight. I also think perhaps they are spider burrows. Only after my hike I read that tarantulas are relatively common in this park.
After I returned to the Edwards Loop Trail trailhead I walked up Mt Hamilton Rd until I found the other end of the loop, about 0.25 mile away. This short exploration was part of how I confirmed that I’d started at the “intended” trailhead for the Ridge Trail segment. Joseph D Grant Park has an interesting array of terrain and, on clear days, views. This hike was a great introduction to the park and I look forward to returning another time.