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Alum Rock/Sierra Vista

Alum Rock Park is a San Jose City park covering 720 acres. It has a long history, including being a rather fancy mineral springs resort in the 1800's up to about 1920. There are still many remnants from this period, but most of the original buildings have been removed. The park is located in a canyon along Penitencia Creek and has numerous picnic areas, trails (mostly hiking) and a Youth Science Institute.

Park: Alum Rock City Park (San Jose) and
Sierra Vista Open Space (Santa Clara County)
Distance: 20.8 miles
Ride Time: Too Long
Total Ascent: 4,157 feet
Maps:

Combined Alum Rock/Sierra Vista trail map (small)
Official Sierra Vista trail map

Overall Rating: 4

 

The Sierra Vista Open Space is a Santa Clara County Open Space Authority area adjacent to Alum Rock Park. This open space spans 1,672 acres up to the top of the ridge on the north side of Alum Rock Park. This open space is well maintained and signed and basically consists of a single loop up to the top. The Open Space Authority also maintains the Canada del Oro Open Space.

I start at the Alum Rock Road entrance because I knew how to get there and there is no parking fee (there is a fee to park in the main parking lot). Head down the service road, passing nice looking singletrack entrances on both the left and right (they were all signed to prohibit bikes). The service road ends on the Penitencia Creek Trail and the creek itself. There are several picnic grounds and a couple of stone arch bridges crossing the creek here. This is the site of a luxury spa many years ago where people would come to "take the waters" that still percolate out of the hillsides.

You can ride northeast out to the end of the ridable portion of Penitencia Creek. There is a small bridge here than ends in the middle of a tree and a stair case down. The trail continued but bikes are not allowed past this point, so you have to turn around. You can cross over the creek on one of the arched stone bridges to explore the other side. There are several active springs still percolating into what used to be stone soaking tubs, several of which still had visible carvings on them. It was a quick trip to a bygone era.

Crossing back over the creek, ride west on Penitencia Creek to the end, where it crosses over a bridge onto the road and then connects to the North Rim Trail. Continuewest to the end of this trail. At the end (road), you can turn around and retraced your path to Lariat Trail. There is a sign that indicates it goes up to Eagle Rock, so I thought I should explore. After a bit of climbing, I got to a part that was seriously uphill. I tried to ride up, but the combination of a steep grade and very loose soil got the better of me. My GPS indicated a grade of over 30% where I stopped. The trail was even steeper and looser ahead...I don't think I could have made much progress even with a hike-a-bike, so I turned around and headed up North Rim to the Eagle Rock Trail. This took me up to the rock and the view. The other trail was hard to see due to the drop off.

Descending from Eagle Rock and head north a bit more on North Rim to the Todd Quick trail. Ascend the western side of the loop and go through the gate into the Sierra Vista Open Space, transitioning from a San Jose city park to Santa Clara County Open Space lands. After reading their sign boards (there are several, generally well written and informative), you can headup the west side of the Boccardo Loop trail to the top. This is trail takes you up to the top pretty quickly with an average grade in the 15-20% range, but there is one straight and steep section out in the sun that seems to reach a 35% grade. After passing through some trees, the Boccardo Spur takes you to the top of the hill for a very nice view of everything below. When I was there, there was a flock of vultures riding the wind currents at the top of the hill, swooping down to zoom just over the hill top very close to where I stood. Total climb from the Alum Rock parking lot to the vista at the top of the Boccardo Spur is about 1,400 feet.

I descended on east sides of the Boccardo Loop, Todd Quick and Weather trails. The eastern routes have a more gentle grade due to quite a few switchbacks. The Todd Quick trail was pretty nice. I continued north on the North Rim trail, dropping me down to the picnic area again. There is a paved road near the bottom of North Rim that heads off into the hills, but is aggressively signed as a private road. I headed back up to the starting point, with a brief detour to something labelled as Inspiration Point. I didn't find any inspiration there.

In October 2011, the Sierra Vista Open Space open a large new area that significantly increased the ridable trails in the Open Space. The Sierra Vista Trail starts at the bottom ofthe Boccardo Spur and runs along an elevation contour. The singletrack trail has just been cut into the hillside. The trail is plenty wide, but there is a steep drop on one side that seems to be an issue for some people (I did not find it difficult). Heading left at a junction continues up the hill on Calaveras Fault Trail, getting to a gate to Sierra Road before it turns back into the open space and finally heading downhill. The descent continues until you get to the junction with Sierra Vista Trail (which was the right turn at the previous junction).

Part way along Sierra Vista Trail is the new Kestral Trail that is a short, gentle climb up to Sierra Road and a small parking lot (no facilities). Crossing the street takes you over to the short Aquila Trail loop. This is a nice ride that can be handled by beginners while allowing them the feel of a bit of dirt under their tires.  It is especially nice in the spring.

Rather than returning, continue downhill on Calaveras Fault Trail, quickly passing an abandoned farm house (with lots of beehives - no problem with bees) and down to a paved road. Head downhill on the road to the point where the trail continues on the left (and the road is signed as private). After crossing over a small bridge, you start heading up.  After a few switchbacks, it gets even steeper. There is a small flat section before making the final push to the vista point.  The total climb from the road to the vista point is about 1,000 feet. There is a nice picnic table at the vista point, but the view was a bit less than I was hoping for after the long climb up.  The vista point is the end of the line and the only thing to do is retrace your path back to the abandoned farm house. The easier router is to go up Sierra Vista and back to the new singletrack cut (only about 800 feet of climbing) and then down on your choice of trails.

This was a OK ride. The western side of the Boccardo Loop and Calaveras Fault Trail are certainly steep. The picnic areas in Alum Rock Park looked nice. I was surprised to get as much riding and hill climbing in as I did since the map made the trails look very short. As can be seen in the elevation profile, there is a lot of climbing involved. There is relatively little shade and no water anywhere. Overall, this place is worth a try.

 

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