Steep Meadows and a Knobbly Forest at Windy Hill Open Space Preserve

We found plenty to enjoy at Windy Hill Open Space Preserve: iridescent orange poppies, a gnarled fairyland forest, panoramic views of San Francisco Bay. Most impressive, however, was the jogger who wheeled his toddler to the summit in a stroller. Breath-taking.

The 7.5-mile loop on the Spring Ridge and Hamms Gulch trails offers two approaches: 1) Begin at the 1,905-foot summit off of Skyline Boulevard and hike down and back. 2) Begin at 541 feet in the Portola Valley and hike up and back.

Spring Ridge Trail, Windy Hill Open Space Preserve. Dawn Page/CoastsideSlacking.com

We began in the valley. Who wants to end a hike with a three-mile ascent? Not us.

Spring Ridge Trail, Windy Hill Open Space Preserve. Dawn Page/CoastsideSlacking.com

But the classic “clockwise vs. counterclockwise” loop-trail conundrum defied consensus. Did we want to stride up the Spring Hill Trail’s steeper grade in the sunshine and wind our way back to the valley in the shade of the Hamms Gulch Trail? Or pamper our heart rate but risk our knees to traverse the reverse?

Hamms Gulch Trail, Windy Hill Open Space Preserve. Dawn Page/CoastsideSlacking

The Geek would have preferred to begin with the shady switchbacks up Hamms Gulch, but the day was cool, despite the sunshine, and MontaraManDan’s penchant for getting the hard part out of the way first won the day. He hoped The Geek would thank him later.

Spring Ridge Trail, Windy Hill Open Space Preserve. Dawn Page/CoastsideSlacking.com

The Spring Ridge Trail rises through one of the few “naked” hillsides in the Santa Cruz Mountains. The preserve’s meadow stretches across several hundred acres, making Windy Hill a popular launch spot for hang gliders and paragliders.

Spring Ridge Trail, Windy Hill Open Space Preserve. Dawn Page/CoastsideSlacking.com

We saw no hang gliders, but were passed by several determined runners, including the stroller guy, as the trail rose sharply up the poppy-dappled meadow. At one point, MontaraManDan slowed as the grade reached 27 percent. The Geek passed him without a word of thanks.

The Spring Ridge Trail ends at the Skyline Boulevard parking area. A short walk up the Anniversary Trail took us to the Windy Hill Summit, where we enjoyed the view before continuing onto the Lost Trail to Hamms Gulch.

Hamms Gulch Trail, Windy Hill Open Space Preserve. Dawn Page/CoastsideSlacking.com

Bent, twisted and toppled live oak, bay laurel and fir trees cling to the edge of the Hamms Gulch Trail as it winds along the lip of the gulch. The occasional stand of coastal redwoods rises from the abyss.

Hamms Gulch Trail, Windy Hill Open Space Preserve. Dawn Page/CoastsideSlacking.com

Spring flowers nodded as we passed.

Hamms Gulch Trail, Windy Hill Open Space Preserve. Dawn Page/CoastsideSlacking.com

A gingerbread house in a clearing or wicked wolf skulking in a thicket would have fit right in.

Hamms Gulch Trail, Windy Hill Open Space Preserve. Dawn Page/CoastsideSlacking.com

Instead, we found a creepy snarl of caterpillars.

Corte Madera Creek, Windy Hill Open Space Preserve. Dawn Page/Coastsideslacking.com

The descent ends at Corte Madera Creek, a nice spot to cool tired feet. But we waited until we got home to soak our feet in an icy tub of water. And the Geek made smoothies – the best kind of thank you at the end of the trail.

Spring Ridge Trail, Windy Hill Open Space Preserve. Dawn Page/CoastsideSlacking.com

One thought on “Steep Meadows and a Knobbly Forest at Windy Hill Open Space Preserve

  1. I do so enjoy your literary and descriptive narrations of your many hikes or travels, plus Dawn’s (the Geeks) beautiful and outstanding photos.

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