John Nicholas Trail, Sanborn County Park

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Recently a new trail in Sanborn County Park was dedicated as a new section of the Bay Area Ridge Trail. Sanborn Park is located in the Santa Cruz Mountains above Saratoga and Los Gatos in Santa Clara County. The John Nicholas Trail has been named in honor one of the co-founders of a unique park management program at nearby West Valley College. This program is one of only a few in the United States that train park management personnel.

I was glad to be able to hike the John Nicholas Trail on the day of the dedication festivities and ribbon-cutting. The easiest access to the trail is from the Sunnyvale Mountain picnic area on Skyline Blvd (CA-35); the John Nicholas Trail trailhead is about 0.15 mile from the parking area. The trail descends 3.4 miles and 950 feet to Lake Ranch, which can also be accessed from a small parking area along Black Rd via a 1.9-mile access trail. The top of the trail connects to the Skyline Trail, which roughly parallels Skyline Blvd to Saratoga Gap at CA-9.

The John Nicholas Trail winds through beautiful forest as it descends the hillside, with a vista point and several interesting geological (rock) features along the way. On the GPS track the orange dot shows the beginning of the trail at the picnic area parking area.

GPS track

GPS track

The outbound descent and return ascent are steady but with a reasonable grade of about 5%.

Elevation profile

Elevation profile

Between the parking area and the trailhead I found a few wildflowers, including some pretty baby blue eyes (Nemophila menziesii).

picture of baby blue eyes near the John Nicholas Trail trailhead

Baby blue eyes near the John Nicholas Trail trailhead

There was also some scotch broom (Cytisus scoparius) near the trail head as well as at Lake Ranch. Scotch broom is actually rather handsome, but is considered a nasty invasive species in the US; it is native to western and central Europe.

image of handsome scotch broom blossom

Handsome scotch broom blossom

The small rise on the elevation profile shows the location of the John Nicholas Trail trailhead. A short distance down the trail there is a special tree stump next to the trail. It has been “autographed” by California Conservation Corps staff who helped build the trail.

photo of specially marked tree stump

Specially marked tree stump

About 0.5 mile from the parking area is a vista point, the only one along the trail, overlooking the south end of Silicon Valley and San Francisco Bay and the East Bay hills, including Mt Diablo. Several benches have been installed to encourage trail users to stop and enjoy the view.

picture of view from John Nicholas Trail

View from John Nicholas Trail

Barely 0.1 mile past the vista point, as the trail curves around a small gully, an overturned VW bug can be seen about 10 yards off-trail. I haven’t heard the story about how it got there, but apparently it can’t be removed without disturbing some delicate habitat, so it remains in place.

image of VW bug just off the trail

VW bug just off the trail

About 1 mile from the parking area there is a unique section of trail dubbed Lombard St. When you get there you immediately understand the nickname, as the trail has several short, sharp switchbacks. In the picture a mountain biker is negotiating one of the switchbacks.

photo of Lombard St negotiated by a mountain biker

Lombard St negotiated by a mountain biker

Just past the bottom of Lombard St the trail passes an impressive tafoni outcrop.

picture of tafoni outcrop near Lombard St

Tafoni outcrop near Lombard St

At the next curve around a gully there is a culvert to accommodate the seasonal stream (when it has water). The trail construction crew built a beautiful rock work retaining wall at the end of the culvert.

image of culvert with detailed rock work

Culvert with detailed rock work

After passing these features the trail continues to wind through the mixed forest, occasionally passing additional large rocks. In this picture two bay laurel trees happened to be lined up, emphasizing the many trunks that spread out from the base of each tree.

photo of trees along John Nicholas Trail

Trees along John Nicholas Trail

The lower part of the trail crosses three bridges over small creeks. The upper bridge has kind of a bump-out with a built-in bench, here enjoyed by other trail visitors.

picture of bridge along the lower part of John Nicholas Trail

Bridge along the lower part of John Nicholas Trail

The trail was laid out so that the already-existing natural features enhance the trail experience.

image of trail winding around a rock

Trail winding around a rock

Along the lower part of the trail, near the creeks, there were ferns and some miner’s lettuce. At Lake Ranch there is a small lake, formed by damming one (or more) of the small creeks. Sometimes the lake is dry, but there appeared to be ample water at the time of the hike.

photo of Lake Ranch

Lake Ranch

In the sunny open area near the lake there was more scotch broom, some red maids, and a cluster of delicate Fernald’s iris (Iris fernaldii).

picture of Fernald’s iris next to Lake Ranch

Fernald’s iris next to Lake Ranch

After enjoying a short break at one of the picnic tables I began the climb back to Sunnyvale Mountain. Along the way I met a horse and rider coming down the trail. The rider had hoped to be the first to ride on the newly dedicated trail (after the ribbon-cutting).

image of equestrian visitor to the John Nicholas Trail

Equestrian visitor to the John Nicholas Trail

The John Nicholas Trail is a beautifully constructed trail that takes advantage of the terrain and passes through pretty forest. This is a nice hike in almost any weather, but the shade would be particularly welcome in warm weather.

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One Response to John Nicholas Trail, Sanborn County Park

  1. Pingback: Ridge Trail Cruz 27-mile hike | trailhiker

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