Skylawn Cemetery Trail

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Every year new segments are added to the Bay Area Ridge Trail. This year a newly-dedicated segment passes through Skylawn Memorial Park in San Mateo, connecting to the Fifield-Cahill Trail at the north end and CA-92 at Skyline Blvd at the south end. According to plans, a future segment of trail will proceed south across CA-92 into San Francisco PUC watershed lands.

I hiked this new section of trail on the day of its dedication, which marked the 25th anniversary of the dedication of the first two segments of Bay Area Ridge Trail in 1989. Currently only a portion of the segment is truly open to the public: the portion that passes through Skylawn Memorial Park. The rest of the segment is on PUC watershed lands and is not regularly open. For the dedication, trail users were able to traverse the entire 1.6-mile segment to Cemetery Gate as well as a short section of the Fifield-Cahill Trail.

GPS track

GPS track

The new trail section passes essentially along a ridge line, with gently rolling topography. The entire out-and-back hike included less than 400 feet of elevation gain and loss. There were wonderful views of the San Francisco Bay, the Pacific Ocean, and the ridges that run along the Peninsula.

Elevation profile

Elevation profile

The dedication ceremony took place outside the Funeral Home building, on a portico from which it is possible to see Mt Umunhum, 35 miles away to the southeast. After a few speeches, there was a ribbon-cutting at the trail head. Everyone was invited to stand behind the ribbon with the official folks, with several people at-the-ready to photograph the actual ribbon-cutting. Since I was behind the ribbon, I got to photograph the photographers!

image of photographers ready to record the ribbon-cutting

Photographers ready to record the ribbon-cutting

After the formalities there were outings to experience the new trail, which runs along a service road in the memorial park and onto watershed land. There are some reminders that you are in an active cemetery: on the day of the dedication there was also a burial, and as we started up the trail we soon encountered a casket being transported down the service road.

About 0.3 mile from the trail head, as the trail climbs slightly higher on the ridge, there is a pretty view of the East Bay hills across San Francisco Bay, with Crystal Springs Reservoir in the foreground and CA-92 snaking up the hill to I-280. I did go several yards off the service road on a sidewalk at the edge of a landscaped area of the cemetery to take this picture. The East Bay skyline includes Mission Peak and, farther south and 40 miles distant, Mt Hamilton, as well as Mt Diablo farther north.

picture of East Bay hills across San Francisco Bay and Crystal Springs Reservoir

East Bay hills across San Francisco Bay and Crystal Springs Reservoir

Less than 100 feet further along the trail there is a spectacular view of Half Moon Bay and the Pacific Ocean across a portion of the memorial park.

photo of Half Moon Bay and the Pacific Ocean across Skylawn Memorial Park

Half Moon Bay and the Pacific Ocean across Skylawn Memorial Park

Among the wildlife in the area are killdeer, which make plaintive calls as they fly around. Here, one has paused on a decorative rock.

image of killdeer

Killdeer

About 0.6 mile from the trail head the trail curves to the right. Approaching this curve there is a nice view of the edge of the forested watershed property. The service road that serves as the Ridge Trail passes just outside the forested area along the ridge top.

picture of forested watershed lands

Forested watershed lands

Shortly past this curve there is an older, interesting-looking, house on the hillside to the right of the trail. It appears that there is some renovation work ongoing, but I didn’t learn the history of the structure.

The trail continues 0.2 miles or so to the northeast before turning northwest again. The views to the left are along the canyon formed by Pilarcitos Creek, which exits Pilarcitos Lake – one of the PUC watershed reservoirs – and flows to the ocean. In this area the creek makes a right-hand turn. This view looks upstream toward the watershed lands. The more pointed hill on the skyline may be Ox Hill or Scarper Peak.

photo of view across Pilarcitos Creek canyon

View across Pilarcitos Creek canyon

After the trail turns left and follows the fence line, it is on PUC property. There are ongoing views down the Pilarcitos Creek canyon, and several types of wildflower along the trail. I noticed poppies, thistle, Douglas iris, ice plant, and a few others. At 1.6 miles from the trail head there is a locked gate, designated Cemetery Gate. Some of the PUC outings, notably wheelchair outings, use a small parking area just inside the gate as a staging area. In this area there are beautiful trees, with many spindly branches radiating from the trunk starting rather close to the ground. I always think of these trees as the ghostly trees, because of the branch structure.

image of many-branched trees in the watershed

Many-branched trees in the watershed

For the dedication day outing, hikers entered Cemetery Gate and walked about 0.4 mile further along the Cahill Ridge Trail to its mile marker 2, where we turned around. Near the turnaround point there was a log near the trail with three banana slugs. On the return trip, as we passed the second curve there was a pretty view across the heart of the memorial park to the hills beyond.

picture of view of hills beyond CA-92 to the southeast

View of hills beyond CA-92 to the southeast

The hills on the Bay side of Skyline Blvd south of CA-92 are also part of San Francisco PUC watershed lands. Future plans include more Ridge Trail traversing this watershed, eventually connecting to the Phleger Estate section of Golden Gate National Recreation Area several miles away – something to look forward to.

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One Response to Skylawn Cemetery Trail

  1. Pingback: Fifield Cahill Ridge Trail (northbound) | trailhiker

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