The Peninsula’s Skyline Ridge Open Space Preserve knows how to make a grand entrance when it comes to changing seasons. Hills turn golden, and crisp leaves carpet trails on the preserve’s 2,000+ acres. Combine autumn colors, ridgetop vistas, and a tranquil lake on a 4-mile (round-trip) hike that includes a section of the Bay Area Ridge Trail. The hike starts at David C. Daniels Visitor Center.
Stroll the 0.5-mile trail around quiet Alpine Pond before following signs for Ipiwa Trail. A winding grassy meadow soon offers the first unimpeded views of the Santa Cruz Mountains, whose richly wooded peaks cascade into Portola Redwoods State Park at the bottom of the valley through a frame of smoldering red and orange madrone branches. Descend along Sunny Jim Trail to Horseshoe Lake, where a 1-mile trail goes to an overlook and two oak-shaded picnic tables. Instead of returning the way you came, hike a segment of the Bay Area Ridge Trail to maximize the scenery. Views of the Pacific and San Francisco Bay on this section are span-tastic.
BONUS BATS! Townsend’s big-eared bats are back in the Santa Cruz Mountains, and with luck and timing can be spotted flying over Alpine Pond around dusk through November.
Park for free at the Russian Ridge Open Space Preserve parking lot, located on Alpine Rd. off of Skyline Blvd. (Hwy. 35). Walk through the tunnel, which immediately takes you to Skyline Ridge Open Space Preserve, and follow the Ipiwa Trail. After 1 mile, make a right on the Sunny Jim Trail and go 0.5 mile to Horseshoe Lake, where a 1-mile trail will lead you around the water’s edge. Return the way you came, staying straight on Sunny Jim instead of turning left onto Ipiwa at the junction. No dogs.