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Almaden Quicksilver Trails

Mockingbird Hill Entrance

Mockingbird Hill to Bull Run and English Camp Loop – This loop follows the New Almaden Trail to the Prospect #3 Trail, ascends Prospect #3 to the Ridge Trail, following it past Bull Run to English Camp, then down the Mine Hill Trail to the Capehorn Pass junction with the Hacienda Trail back to Mockingbird Hill. 7.35 miles.

Description – After the short climb from the parking lot on a wide trail, take the right turn onto the New Almaden Trail (unmarked on 5/3/03), a twisty footpath that drops into a valley and then ascends and descends past small creeks, turning northwest to traverse along the lower part of the ridge toward the Prospect #3 trail. Turn left at Prospect #3 (as most people apparently do, judging from the lack of wear on the straight-ahead trail) and ascend through grassland to the junction with the Randol Trail. Cross the Randol Trail to continue ascending through the grassy area, then enter tree cover and climb steeply before reaching the ridge and the junction with the Mine Hill trail. Turn left and follow the ascending trail (more of a road, actually) past Bull Run, following the right fork (Castillero Trail?) to climb to the high point (1400″+) on the ridge and pass the old mine site before descending towards English Camp. Turn left at English camp and descend to rejoin the Mine Hill Trail as it descends to the right. Follow the Mine Hill Trail until the Hacienda Trail junction and turn left toward Capehorn Pass (but don’t hairpin back to the left onto the Randol trail). Briefly ascend before dropping steeply back down to Mockingbird Hill.

Highlights – Good workout with a lot of early up-and-down hiking and climbing to over 1400′; the first part is on a narrow footpath, rather than on old dirt roads; fewer hikers on New Almaden Trail between Mockingbird Hill and Randol Trail junction; spring wildflowers and lots of running water in creeks on first part of hike; pretty valley before crossing Randol Trail; spring wildflowers on Prospect #3 above Randol Trail; early spring flowers in the woody area below junction with Mine Hill Trail. great views from ridge summit on Mine Hill and Castillero Trails (and from Catherine Tunnel lateral trail); pass the old mine site on Castillero trail (and great white Lupine display in late April-early May; visit English Camp site.

Downsides – Not too many, but there can be an over-abundance of weekend mountain bikers on sections of Mine Hill Trail; many spots can be quite muddy right after rain.

Variations – This route can be the basis of some very long hikes at Almaden Quicksilver. I have extended it to about 13 miles as follows. Where the New Almaden Trail intersects with Prospect #3 Trail continue straight ahead (rather than turning left and up the hill to cross Randol Trail and reach the ridge on Mine Hill Trail). The first part of this trail can be barely visible in spring when the new grass is growing, but it soon becomes wider as it passes through large patches of poison oak and generally contours in and out of small drainages, climbing up and down quite a bit. The trail is very low on the side of the ridge and you’ll both see and hear suburbia just below. Eventually the trail arrives at a junction with the Mine Hill Trail coming from the McAbee Road entrance – approximately .7 miles down the trail to the right. From this junction you can try the Senador Mine trail, head down to Guadalupe Reservoir, or (as described here) turn left and head up the ridge toward Bull Run. The trail (actually a dirt road) generally ascends and eventually crosses the ridge to the drainage holding Guadalupe Reservoir. Continue ascending past the junction with the Randol Trail and up the rather steep climb to eventually meet the junction with Prospect #3. Continue to ascend on the Mine Hill Trail (as described elsewhere) to English Camp and then back down Mine Hill Trail and Hacienda Trail to the Mockingbird Hill entrance. The full loop is about 13 miles long.

Hacienda Entrance

Hacienda Entrance to Bull Run/Catherine Tunnel via English Camp – There are several variations on this hike. I’ll describe a semi-loop that begins at the Hacienda Park Entrance; ascends via the steep English Camp Trail; traverses to Bull Run and Catherine Tunnel via the Castillero Trail; and descends back to the Hacienda entrance via the Mine Hill Trail. Approximately 5.7 miles.

Description – Starting at the Hacienda Parking lot ascend the old dirt road for about .4 miles to the intersection with the English Camp Trail. Turn left onto this trail and ascend steeply, mostly following the route of some power lines toward the ridge. Except for one very short section this trail climbs continuously and is sometimes quite steep – it is a good workout! Most of the trail is generally open to the south, making it a poor choice on hot summer afternoons. Shortly before English Camp the trail climbs through a narrow valley and S-turns through a steep section before the final climb to the site of the old settlement. Several building are found near the junction with the short lateral to the Mine Hill trial and others can be found a bit further off the trail. Follow the Castillero Trail (a dirt road) as if forks to the left here and ascends to mining structures at the junction with the trail to the Hidalgo Cemetery. (An outstanding patch of white lupine is found here in the spring.) Continue to follow the Castillero Trail as it gently ascends to the west and northwest, revealing views of the entire San Francisco Bay Area. There are picnic tables at the scenic overlook (great views of Mt. Umunhum and Loma Prieta) at Bull Run, where our trail intersects the Mine Hill Trail. To return to the Hacienda Entrance via a different route, take the downhill fork onto the Mine Hill Trail past the site of the San Cristobal Mine (.1 mile lateral) past a slide area (may be closed during the wet season) to the lateral trail to English Camp. Continue downhill on the Mine Hill Trail, descending steadily to the junction with the Randol Trail and Hacienda Trail near Capehorn Pass. Take the right fork here (stay on the main trail) and descend about 3/4 mile to the junction with the English Camp Trail. Continue on the main trail for another .4 mile to reach the parking lot.

Variations – There are quite a few possible variations on this route – depending upon weather, trail conditions, desire for steep or not-so-steep hiking, and other whims. Here are a few possibilities.

  • Doing the trip in the reverse direction starts with a more gradual climb and ends with a steeper descent.
  • Take the un-named footpath that leaves the main dirt road just above English Camp. This takes you past another old mining site and tops out on the ridge at the Hidalgo Cemetery Trail about .1 mile below the trail described above.
  • In wet conditions the slide area on the Mine Hill Trail between Bull Run and the lateral to English Camp may be impassible. Avoid it by using the lateral trail between English Camp and the Mine Hill Trail. (Sometimes the \”Trail Closed\” sign is up on this section even when the slide area is not in bad condition, so you may want to check for yourself before believing signs.)
  • For a great view of Santa Clara Valley, walk about 100 yards past Bull Run and look for an unsigned footpath heading into the brush on the right side of the trail. Take this short lateral to the Catherine Tunnel site. Either walk through the cut in the ridge or around it to the right to find a scenic overlook.
  • Ascend and descend via the English Camp trail.

Highlights – Early in the morning you are likely to see deer on this route; if you are lucky you may seen a coyote. There are signs of wild pigs near the summit (especially near Catherine Tunnel) although I’ve never spotted them myself. This is a fairly direct route to the ridge with its excellent views – and it is a good workout. And, of course, you’ll see some of the best examples of the mining history of this park.

Downsides – There aren’t too many, but here are a couple to consider.

  • There can be a lot of mountain bikers on much of this route, especially on the Mine Hill Trail. You can minimize this problem by sticking to the English Camp Trail for the ascent and descent (bikes are prohibited from using this trail) and by using the footpath route above English Camp.
  • As mentioned above, the slide area on the Mine Hill Trail can be impassable during the wet season. Avoid it by sticking to the Castillero Trail for both the ascent and descent. Also be aware that the park rangers are often overly-zealous about closing this section of the trail. Warning signs are often put up when there is little or no danger in the slide zone.

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