Menlo Park photographer Frances Freyberg Blackburn is exhibiting her work in a show called "Views from the Trail" at Portola Art Gallery in Menlo Park through May. She offers Almanac readers observations on some of her favorite places to hike, with a few of the photos that are on exhibit at the show.
One of the reasons I love living in Menlo Park is the bountiful access we have to open space within an hour's drive. These parks and preserves offer an amazing variety of views, as well as plenty of hikes of varying lengths and difficulty.
My ideal hike includes both ocean views and relative solitude, so I favor trails along Highway 35 (Skyline Boulevard) or at the coast when I'm on my own. But during wildflower season, or when I want a shorter hike that's kid-friendly and closer to home, I often head to Edgewood Park or Pearson-Arastradero Preserve.
Purisima Creek Redwoods Open Space Preserve
Purisima Creek boasts beautiful vistas at any time of year. My favorite 9.8-mile loop combines forest, ocean and creekside views: starting from the Skyline Boulevard parking lot, take the North Ridge/Whittemore Gulch Trail to the Purisima Creek Trail, then the Craig Britton/Harkins Ridge Trails back to Skyline. I also like a mossy, quiet, 10.4-mile out-and-back from the Higgins Canyon Road entrance following the Purisima Creek Trail to the Grabtown Gulch/Bald Knob/Irish Ridge Trails. For those looking for a shorter, trail stroller-friendly option, Purisima Creek Trail from the Higgins Canyon Road entrance is especially scenic in fall, when the bigleaf maple leaves turn yellow and drift along the creek.
Long Ridge/Skyline Ridge/Russian Ridge
My favorite hike along Highway 35 is at Long Ridge, because of the spectacular views of the ocean and rolling hills paired with the quiet that comes with its distance from town. From the Skyline Boulevard parking lot at Saratoga Gap, the Hickory Oaks Trail and Long Ridge Road (2.8 miles out and back) are short, easy, and wide, with three well-situated benches. Deer sightings are frequent, and during wildflower season, poppies and lupine dot the hills.
Skyline Ridge and Russian Ridge provide similar ocean views as Long Ridge, but the solitude on the trail decreases as you get closer to Highway 84. One fabulous thing about the network of trails along Skyline is that they all connect as part of the Bay Area Ridge Trail. If you're training for a marathon, or just want to do a mega-hike, you can park at the northern end of Russian Ridge and hike all the way through to the southern end of Long Ridge and back for a grand total of 20-plus miles. Or, if you want a shorter hike with a fun detour, you can start at the Russian Ridge parking lot and hike north to Thomas Fogarty Winery (just beyond the northern end of the preserve) for a wine tasting.
Arastradero is another favorite place for a quick hike close to home, and its trails are trail stroller-friendly. During wildflower season, you can find fields of lupine along Arastradero Creek Trail, and sometimes up by the Bowl Loop Trail, which has wonderful views of Windy Hill. Poppies often bloom along Bonus Hill Trail later in the spring.
Edgewood is one of my first places to look for wildflowers during the spring, and it's quick and easy to access from Menlo Park. My go-to loop (2.8 miles) starts at the Canada Road parking area (less crowded than the main parking lot) and follows the Clarkia Trail to the Sunset Trail to the Ridgeview Trail and back via the Serpentine Trail. This is another good hike with a trail stroller or baby carrier. Although it's hard to escape the sound and sight of nearby Interstate 280, this loop offers sweeping views of the Santa Cruz Mountains to the west.