Sanborn County Park: Sanborn and Skyline Trails to Skyline Blvd

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Sanborn County Park is in the Santa Cruz Mountains along Castle Rock Ridge, above the village of Saratoga. The main entrance is a mere 3 miles from downtown Saratoga, yet the park has a wonderful remote feel, rising 1500 feet up rugged hillsides to Skyline Blvd (CA-35).

This round-trip hike began near the main entrance, at the Costanoan parking area, and proceeded up Sanborn and Skyline trails to the Biddle stairs next to Skyline Blvd. The round-trip distance (without detours) is about 6½ miles. When I reached Skyline Blvd I crossed the road to check out the ocean views, and on the return part of the hike I explored the upper portion of the San Andreas Trail. The orange dot on the GPS track shows the start and end of the hike.

GPS track

GPS track

As is evident from the elevation profile, the outbound hike is a pretty steady climb all the way to Skyline Blvd. The average grade is just under 10%. The trail is well-designed, so the hike does not present challenges other than the distance and elevation change.

Elevation profile

Elevation profile

After following signage across a grassy picnic area toward the Youth Science Institute, the Sanborn Trail initially is a paved road that passes through a walk-in campground. The campground includes some 30 camp sites that extend for about ½ mile and 250 feet of elevation gain. Each camp site includes at least one picnic table, a fire ring, bear box, and trash receptacle. It looks like a wonderful place to take a scout troop for a first-time camp-out.

photo of camp site in walk-in campground

Camp site in walk-in campground

At the upper end of the campground the pavement ends and the trail continues up the hill, later becoming single-track width. I continue to be impressed at how nicely-laid-out trails can maintain a reasonable 10% grade and scale much steeper hillsides.

picture of Sanborn Trail

Sanborn Trail

A Steller’s jay flew across the trail ahead of me, then landed in a Douglas fir and proceeded to play hide-and-seek. This rear view shows its beautiful coloring and distinctive crest.

image of Steller’s jay

Steller’s jay

Sanborn Park has a well-deserved reputation for interesting rocks and rock formations. Shortly after passing the Peterson and San Andreas Trails, there is a particularly interesting-looking outcropping of porous rock (tuff, perhaps). For some reason it reminded me of the infamous shark in Jaws.

photo of rock outcropping reminiscent of the shark in Jaws

Rock outcropping reminiscent of the shark in Jaws

The trail passes by the Todd Redwoods. In this area, when you look away from the trail you are literally seeing a redwood forest.

picture of redwood forest

Redwood forest

The park’s redwoods are not the largest on the Peninsula, but they are impressive and beautiful nevertheless. I used my hiking poles to show the scale of a pair of stately redwoods that were immediately next to the trail.

image of impressive redwood trunk bases

Impressive redwood trunk bases

Just about 3 miles from the beginning of the hike is a T junction with Skyline Trail, which is also the Bay Area Ridge Trail. I continued uphill on Skyline Trail for another 0.2 mile to the Biddle stairs, which lead to a small parking area on Skyline Blvd (CA-35). To this point the climb had been just under 1600 feet.

photo of Biddle stairs leading to Skyline Blvd

Biddle stairs leading to Skyline Blvd

I had planned a short detour here, up the stairs and across Skyline Blvd, before returning back down the trail. I wanted to check out the views, which would include the Pacific Ocean if the weather was clear enough. In fact, Monterey Bay is almost due south, about 20 miles away. I have not been able to convince myself whether the light swath in the picture is water or some residual coastal fog.

picture of view roughly south from Skyline Blvd at Biddles

View roughly south from Skyline Blvd at Biddles

On my return trip I decided to explore a bit on the San Andreas Trail. The San Andreas Fault runs through the area, very close to the lower part of the trail near the Visitor Center. Almost immediately I noted that there were many madrones in the forest. The bare branches created an almost eerie feeling.

image of forest of madrones along the upper San Andreas Trail

Forest of madrones along the upper San Andreas Trail

After I had descended about 400 feet in 0.6 miles I decided to turn around, and did that at a switchback. There were a couple of places where there seemed to be alternate trails. In one such place, where there wasn’t any formal signage, I found an informal sign: an arrow drawn right in the trail!

photo of arrow indicating the “correct” trail

Arrow indicating the “correct” trail

After retracing my path to the Sanborn Trail, I resumed the descent toward the campground. As I was approaching the top end of the campground I could hear excited children’s voices, and I wondered what kind of activity was in progress. Just as I approached the cusp of the distinctive U on the GPS track, I saw a group of youth emerging onto the trail as part of a supervised hike along Aubry Creek. In a quick exchange with one of the adults I learned that the hike was part of a youth science camp. Clearly the kids were having a great time! (The ones who are blurry in the picture did not hold still for the necessary duration of the exposure.)

picture of youth science camp participants

Youth science camp participants

Near the Visitor Center I noticed signage I had not noticed at the beginning of my hike, denoting the Peterson Grove of redwoods. This is a very compact grove, with 26 trees (yes, I counted) in a rough circle and a viewing platform inside the circle. I was able to stand in the center of the circle and take a picture directly upward. It provided an unusual perspective on these stately trees.

image of Peterson Grove of redwoods

Peterson Grove of redwoods

Sanborn Trail is well-shaded and would be comfortable for hiking on all but the hottest days. It is a very nice forest hike, not far from the usual bustle of the Silicon Valley.

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