Erskine: Holiday hiking for family and friends

The holidays are at hand. The joy and festivities of the season reach a fever pitch as family and friends begin to arrive for their annual visit. If you recall, it was about day two or three of their visits last year before the walls of your house appeared to be closing in. Remember? At the same time, you felt a slight rush of anxiety and an unusually rapid heart rate.

I am sure your guests and family are lovely people, but a good way to steady your heart rate and restore the original square footage of your home during their visit is to get out of the house and onto the trail. Here are four short hikes suitable for grandparents and grandchildren alike.

After a few spells of winter rain, the creeks begin to collect the runoff. That’s when Uvas Canyon County Park shines. The Waterfall Loop Trail follows Swanson Creek as it tumbles past moss-covered rocks down the shaded north slope of the Santa Cruz Mountains. It is only a mile long, and you will pass a lovely succession of cascades and waterfalls. Be sure to grab a map or you might miss beautiful Blackrock Falls hidden around a bend near the top end of the trail. The canyon is deep and doesn’t see much sun in winter, so take something warm to wear. Uvas County Park is at the very end of Croy Road, which turns off Uvas Road near Uvas Reservoir. There is a $6 day-use fee.

Harvey Bear Ranch has lots of options, but the trails around and over Mummy Mountain have more visual bang per hiking buck. From Leavesley Road in Gilroy, head out Roop Road toward Coyote Reservoir to the Mendoza Ranch entrance. The big hill in front of you is Mummy Mountain. Combine the Coyote Ridge Trail and the Mendoza Trail for a level 3-mile walk around the mountain with great views of the Santa Clara Valley and Coyote Reservoir. A little more effort returns a big mountain feeling if you choose to leave the Mendoza Trail and climb up the Mummy Mountain Trail to the route along the mountain’s crest. Parking is free.

How do you pick just one hike at Mount Madonna County Park?  There are so many, but any walk there should include Rock Springs Trail. Here is a redwood forest at its most sublime. Redwood duff on the ground softens the footing and dampens the sound as you walk past carpets of redwood sorrel and ferns. Add the dappled light sifting through the redwoods and tanoaks, and you’ve got a movie set for Lord of the Rings. Non-hikers can take a guided horseback ride through the park at Mount Madonna Stables or just drift past the site of cattle baron Henry Miller’s summer home. All preferences are covered at Mount Madonna.

Picchetti Ranch Open Space Preserve is where rustic meets country elegance. Would the hiker-haters among your holiday company feel differently about a day in the woods if a winery was at the trailhead? Step out of your car onto the beautiful winery grounds. Sprawling lawns and picnic tables spill down from the restored tasting room and other building in the trees above. If you choose to stretch your legs, it’s a very short walk to a pond from which you can complete a one mile loop, or just turn around and head back to the tasting room. Exit Foothills Expressway off of Highway 280 and follow Foothill/Stevens Canyon road 3.5 miles. Turn right on Montebello Road. The preserve is a half mile up on the left.

Feel better? Have the walls retreated and the pulse rate eased a bit? Wide open spaces make Uncle Harry a lot less annoying.

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