Palo Alto High School's News and Features Publication

Verde Magazine

Verde Magazine

Verde Magazine

Vikings go hiking: Nearby spots for a nature fix

Lizzy Williams
TWISTING TRAIL — A stone staircase marks the beginning of a trail near the Youth Science Institute at Alum Rock Park.

Finally, it is daylight saving time. Many high school students — who have spent the winter months hunched over laptops — emerge from their caves to enjoy the fact that the sun stays up for more than an hour or two after school ends. To find out where to get outside this spring, we visited three nearby hiking spots, reviewing them based on scenery, wildlife sightings and hiking difficulty.

Alum Rock Park

One minute we were driving on city streets, and the next, the pavement and tall buildings descended into a lush, green landscape. Directly adjacent to bustling San Jose lies California’s oldest municipal park, Alum Rock Park, which was established in 1872.

In addition to several hiking trails, the park features amenities for families such as playgrounds, a small museum/visitor center, a youth science institute and picnic areas.

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Perhaps its most beautiful feature, however, is the winding Penitencia Creek, still rushing with water after a rainy winter. Relatively flat, shady trails lie alongside the creek, with quaint wooden bridges and sunny, wildflower-laden overlooks.

We observed quite a few purple butterflies among the plant life, as well.

Alum Rock is a popular spot, full of families on a Saturday afternoon, but as we ventured further into the trails, they felt serene and secluded. Although the drive into the park may not look promising, the peaceful sound of the running creek and scattered wildlife make this spot well worth it for a nature escape if you are in the San Jose area.

Pulgas Ridge Open Space Preserve

Not far from the busy Redwood City streets that many Palo Alto High School students know as the Department of Motor Vehicles driving test route, the urban setting shifts into a grassy open area that feels more like a Midwestern small town than a Bay Area suburb.

As the sun set, we entered Pulgas Ridge’s secluded trails with bright, clean shoes — a far cry from the caked-on mud at the end. Recent rainy weather and little sunlight through the dense tree canopy made for a muddy hike that required a lot of care to not slip. The trails are considerably steeper than Alum Rock’s, with narrow paths twisting up a large hill as we approached the top. The slippery mud made the hike difficult at times, especially on the way up.

However, the views of the darkening sky and hilltop houses through the trees, when coupled with the interesting mosses, mushrooms and wildflowers that follow the route, made for an overall enjoyable experience.

Pulgas Ridge provides a more secluded-feeling, less manicured experience and proves a solid choice for a hike — but consider waiting until the rain becomes less frequent (and don’t wear clean shoes).

Ravenswood Open Space Preserve

The Palo Alto Baylands is a well-known spot for a quick hike, but just north of it lies what we found to be a more peaceful, beautiful marshland area: the Ravenswood Open Space Preserve. The flat, mostly paved trails snake through the marsh with small planes taking off from the nearby Palo Alto Airport.

The main draw of the park compared to the Baylands is the stunningly blue water, populated by several kinds of shorebirds.

We observed seagulls, several groups of ducks and a huge heron resting on the surface of the bay.

There are wonderful overlook areas, with little docks and platforms stretching into the water, that are perfect for catching a glimpse of the shorebirds or watching planes go by.

But be warned: Ravenswood is similar to the Baylands in that the standing water attracts hordes of bugs. Be sure to wear long sleeves and pants to avoid a mosquito ambush before summer even starts.

Spring is synonymous with semester finals and preparations for summer, but getting a dose of the outdoors with friends and family can help alleviate the stress and provide a much-needed escape.