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Almaden Quicksilver Park

This park is in the Almaden area of southern San Jose and is very close to a major residential area. The park consists of 3,977 acres with about 10 miles of bike accessible trail. The trails are basically fairly well maintained fire roads. There is a fair amount of climbing, but it is not particularly steep or technical. There are several places to stop to take pictures or explore some of the local history or take in the views of the surrounding hills.

Park: Almaden Quicksilver County Park
Date: Multiple
Distance: 7 - 14 miles
Ride Time: :55 - 1:50
Total Ascent: 1500 - 2200 feet
Map: Detailed trail map
Overall Rating: 6

This park was once a quicksilver (mercury ore) mine in heavy production from 1845 to 1927 and at lower levels of production from 1927 to 1976. The mercury produced was used to extract gold from other components of pulverized gold ore through the California gold rush and in a variety of other applications. This was also the site of a CCC camp during the Depression. There are many abandoned mine buildings, tunnels, trestles and other remnants of this rich mining history still visible in the park. These mines were the subject of lots of legal cases all the way to the Supreme Court due to conflicting claims between Mexican land grants and later claims and various business issues. This mine produced the great total value of any mine in all of California, including the famous gold mines.

We usually go to the Hacienda entrance off of Almaden Road, but you can also access the park from the Mockingbird Hill parking area. You could also park at the Jacques Ridge parking lot on Hicks Road near Sierra Azul and enter Quicksilver via Wood Trail. All three areas have large parking lots.

The climb up Mine Hill Road starts right at the Hacienda parking lot and winds its way up the hill. The initial climb is about 900 feet in 1.8 miles to the junction with Castillero. At the junction, veer left and continue climbing on Castillero another 350 feet over the next mile to the top. Along the way, you will pass English Camp. At the top of the hill on the left side of the trail is an abandoned rotary furnace that was part of the mine. There is a great view if you can take a detour on a little used path to the top of a tailing heap that provides a great view. If you head downhill here, you connect to Wood Trail and then to the Sierra Azul open space. If you ride past the rotary furnace (left off of Castillero), you will pass Spanish Town and then join Hidalgo Cemetery trail that takes you to an old miners' cemetery. English Camp and Spanish Town are two abandoned ethnic mining towns (there was also a small Chinese Camp for a short time). Most of the camp structures have been removed for safety reasons. Past the cemetery is the Almaden Quicksilver Chimney. This chimney is about 60 feet tall and was built around 1870 to vent sulphur gases from the reduction furnace that once stood where the Hacienda overflow parking area is now located. There are visible cracks in the chimney from the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989, whose epicenter was only a few miles away.

The rest of Castillero is a very pleasant, easy ride to the junction of Mine Hill Road. This section is very scenic with a great very across an uninhabited canyon to another set of hills in the Sierra Azul Open Space.

If you want to explore some of the old mines, go down (right) Mine Hill Road to abandoned San Cristobal Mine. This tunnel goes in only a few yards before is it blocked, but it is still fun to explore. You can continue on to April Road and past the old Powder House to the April Mine and a train trestle used to remove ore to a common point for transport to the reduction furnaces. Continuing on April Road returns you to the Mine Hill Road/Castillero junction where you rode up to the top.

If you don't turn down Mine Hill from Castillero and stay on the top of the ridge, the trail name changes back to Mine Hill (confused yet?). About 1.5 miles past the upper Mine Hill/Castillero junction is the junction with Providencia trail. This trail takes you to Providencia Pond and the Enriquita trail. The abandoned Enriquita Mine is at the end of Enriquita trail. Retracing your path returns you to Mine Hill. You can follow this fast, easy downhill fireroad all the way to Guadalupe Reservoir (no swimming or fishing due to mercury levels). The biggest danger is being distracted by the scenery.

At the bottom of Mine Hill and almost at the reservoir, bicyclists are forced onto Randol Road, an easy non-technical scenic ride that passes the Day Tunnel before it rejoins Mine Hill Road. There are some hills to climb on Randol, so pace yourself.

Quicksilver Park is near El Sombroso in Sierra Azul and they are connected by Wood Trail, so you can do both rides together. Quicksilver is also close to Santa Teresa, but this requires a short road ride between the two (some maps show trails or access roads between these parks, but they are fenced off by the water company.

This park is great for a quick ride or for linking up multiple parks in the area. It is also good for people who have some endurance (for the hill climbing) but prefer road-width trails to narrow single track. This park is very pretty in the spring when everything is moist and green and the wildflowers are blooming. It can great hot in the summer. There is no water available on the trails, so come properly prepared. There are lots of hikers and some equestrians, so keep your eyes open and your speed under control (especially on the descent back to the parking area).

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