Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Overlook Trail: St. Josephs Hill OSP


St. Josephs Hill offers remarkable views of Lexington Reservoir, the Santa Cruz mountains, and the Silicon Valley. It isn't a peaceful escape or a destination park, but I found myself coming over highway 17 with the hiking itch and found it did just the trick. It is also a phenomenal park for trainers because of its connection to Los Gatos' Novitiate Park. Sunset seems like the ideal time to visit the park, it is consistently exposed so the cooler evening temperatures make the hills a little more bearable. The crank of bicycle chains, and the huff and puff of runners will be constant though so keep that in mind.

The trail starts out from the main Lexington parking lot just across the Alma Bridge Dam. After immediately climbing up a steep hill the rest of the hike levels off a little bit offering up a slow gentle 1.6 mile climb.

Mission Bells along the Jones Trail

At the park boundary, about 1/2 a mile into the hike there are maps available but are not necessary as the park is very well signed. Merely follow the signs that indicate Hilltop View to get to St. Josephs Hill itself. The vegetation is primarily chaparral for the majority of the hike but does offer up the occasional wildflower in some of the serpentine grasses located on the lake facing side of the hill.

This park is remarkably well connected to local wildlife and as I rounded the corner to approach the Brother Bypass trail junction I found a large bobcat sunning itself in the middle of the other trail. Several cyclists and runners went by without noticing him even as I sat there and watched him. For awhile he started back at me, wondering what my deal was. I ran into another hiker here who remarked how nice it is to have such a local connection with wildlife. He then told me a story about his encounter with a mountain lion here in the park, giving me the impression that such visits from big cats are more or less common in the park around this time of day.

Bobcat sunning on the Lower Brothers Bypass trail.

Shortly after the bypass trail the trail kicks back slowly and approaches the summit of the hill. The sun was just descending behind the mountains to the west when I arrived. Wildflowers were in bloom on the grassy hill which offered views in all directions. Sadly because of the late hour I had to descend quickly looping over to the Serpentine trail which was more open and offered more wildflowers and a better view of the sunset.

The view from the top of St. Josephs Hill.

I cut back over to the more direct trail up at the first junction choosing to conserve time at the expense of continuing on the nicer looking Serpentine trail. I collapsed my trekking poles, cinched the straps on my bag and started running down the trail, stopping only to tie my shoe. In the end I arrived five minutes after park close to find a locked gate. Fortunately some very cool ranger (to who I am extraordinarily grateful to) left the second gate open so I could leave.

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