Wunderlich County Park

I have three main criteria for a great local hiking park: interesting enough to warrant multiple visits, reasonably quick to drive to, and no entry/parking fee. A number of parks along the 280 meet these criteria, but three stand out as my favorites:

* Edgewood Park

* Arastradero Preserve

* Wunderlich Park

Wunderlich Park makes the list for one major reason–only about 10 minutes up Woodside Road (Highway 84) from the 280, it’s one of the most convenient ways to access a redwood forest. It’s also nice because it offers a few nice panoramas of the Bay and has a number of great loop trails that get the blood flowing without being painfully steep. One other plus: below the Meadows, most of the trails are well-shaded, so this park is a good choice even when it’s too warm for more exposed trails. Trails are well-maintained and signed, and there are free maps at the parking lot, so it’s very hard to get lost.

My favorite hike is to start on the Alambique Trail and take it to the Alambique Flat, a terrific redwood grove that meanders up a quiet canyon. As second growth redwood forests go, Alambique Flat is as good as it gets. It’s a perfect spot for lunch or quiet contemplation. I then continue to the Meadows, which isn’t very meadow-like but does offer good mountain views. From the Meadows, I continue down the Bear Gulch Trail through Redwood Flat and back to the parking lot. This is a great 6 mile loop trail offering lots of redwoods, bay views and mountain views, plus some good exercise.

As a variation, at Redwood Flat, turn along the Redwood Trail (which exits the redwoods disappointingly quickly) and go to Salamander Flat, where there’s a small and not especially attractive reservoir. I then take the Madrone Trail (which has more redwoods than the Redwood Trail) back to the Bear Gulch Trail. This adds a little extra exercise and variation to the trip.

Another variation is to continue from the Meadows up to Skyline. I must confess that this doesn’t do it for me. After the Meadows, the trail follows a relatively boring fire road. It’s satisfying to reach Skyline, but the ennui usually isn’t worth it.

Instead of going up the Alambique Trail, an alternative is to hike up Bear Gulch Trail to Redwood Flat (3 miles RT). This portion of the Bear Gulch Trail goes through many redwood groves, making this a great redwood experience. At Redwood Flat, you can turn around and retrace your steps, or make a small loop by going to Salamander Flat and taking the Madrone Trail back to Bear Gulch Trail.

A few other things to consider:

* this park is popular with horses, so watch your step. On the plus side, no mountain bikes!

* even though it’s well-shaded, always bring plenty of water

* at peak times (i.e., weekend mornings) the parking lot can be full

* Bear Gulch Trail follows Bear Gulch Road, so it will get a little road noise. Alambique Trail follows Woodside Road for the first mile or so; it gets a lot of motorcycle and truck noise. As with most parks on the east side of the Santa Cruz Mountains, it also gets a fair amount of airplane noise from planes heading to SFO or the local San Carlos/Palo Alto airports.

The official park website and a map of the park.

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