Light of Los Trancos
Hike Los Trancos Open Space Preserve in the Santa Cruz Mountains
In autumn, Los Trancos Open Space Preserve lights up with orange-red maples, yellow hazelnut, and deciduous oaks. Mingling among the colors are Los Trancos Creek, mountain vistas, earthquake history, and plentiful shade, making this 2.5-mile hike in the Santa Cruz mountains a wonder-fall destination.
Begin your hike at the information kiosk in the parking lot, heading north towards the Franciscan Loop. (Alternatively, take the Nonette Hanko San Andreas Fault Trail from the west side of the lot. This lesser-traveled trail climbs a rocky hillside to a stone bench with sweeping northward views of Mount Tamalpais, San Francisco, the San Francisco Bay, and Mount Diablo. The two trails meet up in a meadow sprinkled with coyote brush.)
Turn left onto the Franciscan Loop, descending north. Yellow hazelnut leaves cast a warm glow onto the madrone and oak forest. Groves of big-leaf maples are an autumn highlight, creating a flutter of orange-red leaves. Mixed among them are enormous oaks, whose branches twist up above moss-covered trunks to jigsaw-puzzle canopies.
Bear left in 0.6 mile, following signs for the Lost Creek Loop. Descend clockwise to a view of peaceful Los Trancos Creek, surrounded by elk clover and riparian plants. The narrow trail looks down to the trickling creek beneath a shady forest. After this serene vista, the loop begins climbing on a crisp carpet of fallen leaves.
Rejoin the Franciscan Loop at the 1.5-mile mark, climbing south. California bay trees grow wild along this stretch, giving off a warm, fragrant scent. Pass the Nonette Hanko San Andreas Fault Trail on your right, an optional 0.6-mile loop addition to this hike. Posts with yellow bands mark the main break along the San Andreas Fault during the 1906 earthquake. Close the Franciscan Loop and retrace your steps to the parking lot.
From downtown Saratoga, drive west on Hwy. 9. Watch for cyclists. In 7.3 miles, turn right onto Skyline Blvd. Drive 6.4 miles, then turn right onto Page Mill Rd. Drive 1.4 miles to the Los Trancos parking lot on your left. The preserve is open from dawn until dusk. Trails are well signed. This is an inverse hike, so you will descend first and then ascend on your way back. A map and interpretive brochure for the Nonette Hanko San Andreas Fault Trail are available on the park’s website. No dogs.
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