This route at Rancho San Antonio County Park and Open Space Reserve ventures beyond the popular sections of the park to offer a diverse introduction to the terrain on the eastern side of the Santa Cruz Mountains.
Rancho, as the locals call it, draws big crowds with its abundance of flat trails and attractions at Deer Park Farm, but few visitors venture deeper into the wilds of this park seen on this loop hike.
Trails used: South Meadow Trail > Permanente Creek Trail > Lower Meadow Trail > Wildcat Loop Trail > Upper Wildcat Canyon Trail > Upper Rogue Valley Trail > Rogue Valley Trail > Lower Meadow Trail > Permanente Creek Trail > South Meadow Trail.
Upper Wildcat Canyon is one of the prettiest sections of the park. The trail also climbs to impressive vistas looking out over the South Bay from the Rogue Valley sections of the loop.
Best times to go: Spring wildflowers and winter vistas are the most inviting; autumn will have a touch of fall color; summer will be hot in the exposed areas, but fairly cool in the covered canyons.
South Meadow Trail connects the two parking lots at Rancho San Antonio. If you can find a spot in the main lot, you can skip this section of the hike.
Watch for poison oak on narrow sections of trail.
Use sunscreen and bring enough water and snacks to maintain your energy level.
Dress in layers: The hike goes from cool canyons to warm open terrain and back.
Contact: (650) 691-1200.
Park hours: Sunrise to sunset.
Dogs are not allowed.
Driving directions: From I-280 take the Foothill Boulevard exit and go south on Foothill to Cristo Rey Drive (less than a quarter mile). Go right on Cristo Rey for about a mile, veer right around the traffic circle, and turn left into the County Park entrance.