Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Hike // Rancho San Antonio, Wildcat Loop

rancho san antonio

I have a love hate relationship with “Rancho”. On the one hand it’s just 10 minutes from our front doorstep and very convenient. On the other hand all kinds of overcrowded (especially in the summer). It can be tough to find even a moment or two of peace and quiet until you’ve hiked several miles into the park. Consequently we hardly ever go hiking there. When light permits however you’ll be able to find us there several times a week getting our trail run on.

Hike Summary
Difficulty Easy
Distance 5.5 Miles
Popularity Crowded
Peak Season Any Season
Fees None

Each time out I try and and run a slightly different variation of the Wildcat Loop, never with my camera though. On a chilly, cloudy, December afternoon I figured the weather might be garbage enough for us to go hiking, camera in hand, without combating the usual Rancho crowds. Wrong. We arrived to find a full parking lot even as a light mist started to fall.

rancho san antonio mossy trail

Winding down the Coyote Trail

From the small dirt parking lot the trail immediately crosses a small wooden bridge and climbs a small hill for about a half-mile until the trail forks near a large water tower. A few steep stretches make this a great little warm up hill on trail runs. I almost always follow the Coyote trail down through the junction at the top of the hill. Here the trail ducks back down through the forest which is cool and shady even in the hot summer. After bombing it down the hill the trail turns into the Wildcat Loop just about a tenth of a mile from Deer Hollow Farm where most of the crowds are either going to or coming from.

Things get a lot quieter once you swing out deeper into the park up the Wildcat Loop. The trail winds up a shady canyon which stays cool year round and in the winter a small creek babbles along for a pleasant accompaniment to a slow and steady climb under the oak forest. At the next junction the trail swings out right and climbs a bit more steeply up to the trails highest point. The hike also opens up a bit and reveals some nice views down the canyon. This is the least crowded part of the hike.

wildcat bridge

Footbridge, Wildcat Canyon.

wildcat canyon

Climbing Wildcat Canyon

Shortly before the top, the trail kicks back a little bit and opens into a grassy meadow. A family of deer were crossing and admiring the view as we arrived. A short walk leads out to a large bald hill with a fabulous view of Silicon Valley, the highlight of the hike. At only a mile and change back to Deer Hollow Farm though the crowds start to return near the meadow and noise from groups of hikers is pretty much constant the rest of the way.

rancho the bench

Deer near The Bench. The highpoint of the Wildcat Loop.

A series of switchbacks lead down the hill which is again, nice and shady. At the bottom the trail dumps into the Rogue Valley trail which leads back to Deer Hollow Farm where you can visit with baby goats, admire handsome pigs, and spend some time with some local domestic cats which hang around the gardens.

deer hollow farm

Holiday Decorations on Deer Hollow Farm.

The trail basically turns into a hiking super-highway back to the parking lot over very level and open terrain. I truly hate this stretch of trail, its hot, not very pretty, highly developed, and all kinds of crowded, but necessary to get back to the trailhead and escape. On a run that last mile goes by pretty quickly anyway.


  1. I have found that the lower part of Rancho is typically populated enough to spoil the experience, but the higher reaches are better. The Ruis Ridge route to black mountain is better even though it gets lots of morning traffic; mostly runners who will leave soon. I realy enjoy making Black Mountain part of a route around Monte Bello, or an even wider loop.

    By the way, good to see you blogging again. Outdorky? whatsup with that?

    1. Thanks for the welcome back! It's good to be back!

      Getting elevation, and getting out early are the only ways I know to avoid crowds. You do spend a lot of miles looking down into the cement plant as you climb up to Black Mountain though (or at least on your way back down).

      I covered the name recently here:

      I'm really excited about the name. I also recognize it's pretty strange.