The distance from sprawling, suburban San Jose to wide-open mountain-lion country is remarkably short--if you start out from Alum Rock Park.
This track will have you walking in the wilderness in about an hour. It starts at the parking lot of Alum Rock Park on the southeast corner of San Jose, climbs steeply to the hills just beyond the city limits, then descends to the section of the park that has drinking fountains, bathrooms and other civilized amenities. From there it's a flat stroll along the burbling Penitencia Creek back to your car.
Trails on this hike: Penitencia Creek Trail > North Rim Trail > Weather Loop > Boccardo Trail > Todd Quick Trail > North Rim Trail > Penitencia Creek Trail.
Best times to go: Spring for the wildflowers; winter for the smog-free views after a cleansing rain. Avoid in the summer, when lack of rain and arid terrain create a high risk of wildfires.
This really is mountain-lion country, though sightings are extremely rare. Check the sign boards for advice what to do if you encounter one.
Wear sunscreen, there's not much shade on this hike.
If you're feeling frisky, add another four miles by taking on the South Rim Trail as well.
Contact: 408-259-5477 (call before coming during peak fire season, July-September).
Hours: 8 a.m. to half-hour after sunset; closed on Mondays.
Fees: $6 inside park gate if the free-parking lot is full.
Dogs: Prohibited (except assistance animals)
Driving directions: Take Interstate 680 to Berryessa exit and go west to Capitol Avenue. Go south for 0.3 miles and turn east on Penitencia Creek Road; follow it for two miles to the park entrance.