If you’re heading into the Mid-peninsula Regional Open Space District to access any of the wonderful preserves, and you’re coming from San Francisco, I highly recommend taking Skyline Boulevard. Redwoods and other trees shade the winding road and there are multiple pull-outs with sweeping views. Russian Ridge is about twenty miles from the CA-92 & CA-35 junction.
Summer has arrived with its dry and dusty conditions. The rolling hills of the preserve were golden yellow with straw-like tall grasses. Even though wildflowers are no longer out in force, what flowers I did see were colorful and varied. Small lizards scurried across the paths and several species of butterflies could be seen. Hawks made lazy turns above the hills.
I started out from the parking lot off Alpine Road and followed the Ridge Trail to Ancient Oaks Trail. The path was wide and fairly easy going despite the initial incline. It was a hot and clear day so I slathered on the sunblock. Exposed parts of the trail felt a bit punishing, but a breeze and the shade of big, mossy oaks provided some respite. Before plunging into the shade of a small forest on the way to Charquin Trail, Ancient Oaks Trail afforded good views of Mindego Hill and the terrain all the way out to the ocean.
At the junction of Charquin and Alder Spring, I decided to extend the hike. I wasn’t quite tired and I wanted the exercise from at least one big hill climb. Alder Spring took me out to Hawk Ridge Trail, which was very narrow for about a half mile, only widening near the top of the ridge. In this area I glimpsed a deer crossing about 50 feet up the path – I was watching my feet at the time and would have missed it if I hadn’t heard it move through the brush.
Here Hawk Ridge rejoined the Ridge Trail but I couldn’t resist going the opposite way to check out some nearby power lines. The views east from this ridge encompass the south bay, including San Jose. On the return leg I came across a tractor; not really sure what its purpose was up there. The atmospheric conditions were getting hazy so I mostly focused on finishing the hike rather than taking photos. Not too far from the end I reached Borel Hill, the high point of San Mateo County at 2,572 feet.
The loop is not too long and not too short and includes a good amount of variety as the trails move between shaded and exposed areas. As with most summer hikes in the area, I’m reminded that spring and fall probably make for better photographic opportunities, at least when it comes to hiking in the afternoon. In the summer, morning or dusk might be better in terms of temperature and photography. I still enjoyed the hike and Russian Ridge warrants a return trip at different time and seasons.