Reach a new height and gain a round-the-compass panorama at El Sereno Open Space Preserve. Just off Highway 17 in the Santa Cruz Mountains near Los Gatos, the preserve’s 7.5-mile (round-trip) out-and-back Aquinas Trail offers a sky-scraping, sun-soaked ridge with striking panoramas of the Lexington Reservoir, the South Bay, and neighboring open space preserves St. Joseph’s Hill and Sierra Azul.
Start at the Montevina Ridge Trail and hike in for 0.2 mile to the Aquinas Trail—the star of the show. It’s a dirt fire road that climbs at a fairly easy uphill grade before making a descent. Coyote brush and chamise are dominant throughout El Sereno, but madrones offer welcome intermittent cover. Dried bay leaves carpeting the trail emit an inviting fragrance with every step.
You’ll see junctions for a couple of shorter trails, the Loma Vista Trail and the Serenity Trail, but be sure to continue straight to stay on Aquinas. Eventually, your descent brings you to a flat clearing, and your turnaround point. Stop for a snack break before climbing back uphill for the return trip.
TIP: You can also mountain bike this trail.
Access to the southern part of El Sereno Open Space Preserve is from the end of Montevina Rd., 3 miles west of Hwy. 17. Take the Bear Creek Rd./Montevina Rd. exit off Hwy. 17, and follow Montevina Rd. until it ends. There is limited parking for 3 to 4 cars at the roadside turnout. Avoid hiking this trail in mid-day during extreme heat. It’s exposed. Dog-friendly!