This is a lovely loop through redwood and evergreen forest, cool canyons, and a few areas of chaparral and open meadow. It's a steady uphill followed by steady downhill (if you do it from Woodside Road), with virtually no flat trail, so come prepared for climbing and descending. In most places, the trails are gradual and not too technical, making this a potentially strenuous workout that will also be accessible to more casual runners / hikers.
The lower half of the park (below the Crossroads) can get a little crowded on summer weekends, but it's not usually a problem. The upper half of the park sees much less traffic.
Woodside Road parking area has a porta-potty, potable water spigot, and several picnic tables.
This loop can be done in either direction or even starting from the high point at Skyline Blvd if you like to save all the uphill for the end. When starting uphill from Woodside Road, it can be nice to start by ascending the slightly less gradual Alambique Trail
, saving the rolling singletrack of Bear Gulch Trail
for the end of the hike. Either direction is lovely though.
To start out on Alambique Trail
, head left from the parking lot and take the wide dirt path that parallels Woodside Road. The trail quickly heads into the trees and climbs steadily past several other junctions on the right. Around 2 miles, Alambique Trail
turns left off the wider path (which continues as Oak Trail
) onto a narrower trail. After a couple tight switchbacks, you'll pass the turnoff to Bear Gulch Trail
on the right - you'll take this trail on the way back down. For now, continue climbing another 0.6 miles on Alambique Trail
to The Crossroads, where you'll find two conveniently placed benches and the remnants of some very old trail signs being swallowed up by the bark of an old tree.
Heading through The Crossroads, take a hard right to continue on Alambique Trail
, which snakes its way up the side of a canyon all the way to Skyline Blvd. There are some nice views to the right as you ascend. When you get to the power lines sweeping across the valley, you're almost at the top. At Skyline Blvd, you can choose to expand the loop into nearby Huddart or El Corte de Madera parks. Otherwise, take a left and head back downhill on Skyline Trail
. When you reach the Crossroads again, continue downhill the way you originally came up - this will be the only 0.6 miles of trail you repeat in the entire hike.
Watch for the cutoff on the left to Bear Gulch Trail
, a brief break from all the downhill that leads to the nicest view on the hike, known as The Meadows. Head through the gate to the left of the bench to continue down Bear Gulch Trail
, with gradual switchbacks leading all the way back to the parking lot.
Second and third generation redwood forest, evergreen forest, chaparral. Poison oak can be plentiful, but trails are generally clear. You might see deer (very common), raccoons, black squirrels, and occasionally a bobcat, fox, coyote, or even mountain lion.