Hikes and other activities offer magnificent panoramic views from Coyote Ridge, Diablo Foothills

Published in the March 13 – 26, 2019 issue of Morgan Hill Life

Photo courtesy Open Space Authority
Check out the carpet of wildflowers on a hike through the Coyote Ridge Open Space Preserve this month.

The hills that frame South Valley are gorgeous year-round, resplendent in lush shades of green or warm soothing gold, depending on the season. But when they put on their party dress — a carpet of wildflowers — they’re breathtaking. This spring, the public is invited to enjoy the unique views and gain access to the various wildlife and flora of Coyote Ridge and the Diablo Foothills like never before, through Self-Guided Access Days.

Previously open only to docent-led tours, the Coyote Ridge Open Space Preserve will be open to the public, thanks to the Santa Clara Valley Open Space Authority and the Greenbelt Alliance, March 16, 17, 23, and 24. You can arrive at your leisure from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., and take in the sights until 5 p.m. These events are free, although an RSVP is required and directions to the site will be given at the time of registration. Participants will be checked in upon arrival. Attendance is only limited by the number of parking available.

“This is an opportunity to experience Coyote Ridge at your own pace,” said Alisha Maniglia, communications specialist at the Santa Clara Valley Open Space Authority.

There are a couple options, and participants can choose the one that best suits their abilities.

The lower area is the easier hike. Up to two miles, this little ramble with festive scenery is perfect for families or people with limited mobility. You may see butterflies and dragonflies, as well as wildflowers along the creek.

There’s another, more strenuous option, encompassing a five- to eight-mile round trip hike with a 900-foot elevation gain. Trek up the Coyote Ridge Trail for a more vigorous workout and you’ll be rewarded with extraordinary views.

Hiking poles are recommended for the descent, as it can be quite steep. Due to the steepness, this trail is not recommended for children younger than 12 unless they have extensive hiking experience. On this trail, you may spot burrowing owls.

In addition to the beautiful wildflowers, there are opportunities to see wildlife, such as the endangered Bay checkerspot butterfly, which makes its home on Coyote Ridge. This serpentine soil habitat is home to more than 10 different endangered species of plants and animals. You may even encounter the Tule Elk herd which roams Coyote Ridge.

“Because there are several endangered species of plants and wildlife, hikers are asked to tread lightly and stay on the trails,” Maniglia said. Docents will be placed throughout the trails, to chat about the wildlife and flora hikers may encounter.

To keep you informed and help identify species, everyone will have the opportunity to take home a copy of the Come Discover Nature Guidebook. The guidebook covers all four of the Open Space Authority’s major preserves: Coyote Ridge; Rancho Canada del Oro; Coyote Valley; and Sierra Vista. The publication is also available as a digital download.

The Coyote Ridge Open Space Preserve is part of a 7,000-acre, 12-mile stretch of rare serpentine grassland. It was protected in October 2015 and is located along the Diablo Ridge.

If you decide to visit, be sure to keep your eyes and ears out for the western meadowlark. About the size of a robin, it has a bright yellow belly, chin, and chest with a black bib and white outer tail feathers. The meadowlark’s bright, whistling warble will greet you in the grassy meadows, a sure sign of spring.

Maniglia, who grew up in Gilroy, added, “This is a wildly popular time of year. All of our docent-led hikes are booked.”

Can’t make it to the March events at Coyote Ridge? Don’t worry. The Open Space Authority will hold similar events in late April and early May, in the Diablo Foothills, just south of Gilroy. This preserve is currently open by reservation only, but the authority will open it to members of the public for hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding.

Activities vary by date. On Saturday, April 27, and Saturday, May 5, the Preserve will be open for hiking and mountain biking. On Sunday, April 28, and Sunday, May 6, it will be open for hiking and horseback riding.

For hikers, there are three options in the Diablo Foothills Preserve. These include an easy hike of one mile, a moderate hike of 3.3 miles, and a hard hike of 4.4 miles.

The easy hike follows a road along the creek. Head up to the Gray Trail junction as you walk between the divide of the Coyote Creek Watershed to the right and the Pajaro River Watershed to your left. Catch a glimpse of the middle pond, grasslands, rock outcroppings, and oak woodlands.

For the moderate hike, take the Orange Trail up the road to the Gray Trail. You’ll arrive at the first Scenic Overlook with views of the lower pond, Gilroy, and the Gabilan Range. Continue to the Green Trail, which travels to the next Scenic Overlook with sweeping views of the valley’s agricultural lands, rock outcroppings, and the Diablo, Santa Cruz, and Gabilan ranges. Then return along the Blue Trail for more views of lower pond and Gilroy.

If you’re up for the hard hike, from the Orange Trail, hike up the steep portion to the final Scenic Overlook, with views of Gilroy and beautiful rock outcroppings.

Take the Orange Trail back to the Yellow Trail for a shaded walk through sycamore and bay laurels, with views of the lower pond. Connect with the Green Trail and stop at another Scenic Overlook for sweeping views of the valley’s agricultural lands, rock outcroppings, and the Diablo, Santa Cruz, and Gabilan ranges.

Protected in January 2007, Diablo Foothills is an 819-acre undeveloped preserve with rolling hills, oaks, ponds, and creeks that are part of the primary watershed for the Pajaro River, as well as Coyote Creek. The preserve features Coast Live Oak and annual grasslands and provides habitat for the threatened California red-legged frog and endangered California tiger salamanders.

If you’re planning to hike, be sure to pack water, snacks and/or a meal, sunscreen, sunglasses, a hat, and your camera.  Dress in comfortable layers and don’t forget a good pair of hiking shoes or boots. No smoking is allowed, nor are pets.

Donna Lane

Donna Lane is a storyteller and San Jose native who earned her journalism degree at San Francisco State University. She lives in Gilroy with her family, who inspire her to celebrate life each day.
Donna Lane