The closest place to hike near my house is a county park called Almaden Quicksilver. A mere ten minute drive from my front door, it offers enough to keep me interested and going back over and over again. Wildflowers, steep grades, rolling ridge hiking, multiple trailheads and trails, historical sites, wildlife, views, and surprisingly uncrowded trails make it my regular go-to park when I want to sneak out for a quick hike. It’s even dog friendly! This loop, approximately 11 miles long with about 2200 ft of gain and descent, is one of my favorites when I have a half-day to sneak away.
Here is a link to the park map (pdf) with all of the features that I name below labeled.
Start at the Mockingbird Hill entrance in the northeast corner of the park. It’s easily accessible through a residential neighborhood and offers plenty of parking, restroom facilities, and a trailhead board with a generous supply of paper maps. Parking is free.
I always like to get my climbs out of the way at the beginning of a hike, so I prefer to hike this in a clockwise direction. Going the other way, you’ll end with a steep descent, and if your legs are anything like mine after ten miles of hiking you’ll prefer going up. So, start on up the Hacienda Trail. There is nothing spectacular or interesting about this trail at the beginning, but as you ascend (passing a few trail junctions), you’ll eventually find yourself at a high point with a view towards Mine Hill (the core of the park), The Cube on Mt Umunum in the distance, and Silicon Valley far below.
After about a mile you’ll reach the first major junction with the Cape Horn Pass trail. Follow this wide dirt road until it connects with the Mine Hill Trail, and continue along Mine Hill until you can connect to English Camp via the Castillero Trail. Although the view is obstructed by trees and bushes, there are some interesting plants along this stretch – check out the giant root systems on some of the trees bordering the road.
Take a break at English Camp. Built in the 1860s, English Camp housed a large number of miners and their families. The mines at Almaden Quicksilver produced mercury which was used during the gold rush to extract gold from the ore. Because of the high demand from the gold mines, the mercury mines at Almaden Quicksilver were actually the most profitable mines in California at the time. The remains of the mining operations can be found all over the park, not just here at English Camp.
Once you’re done enjoying English Camp, follow the single-track Yellow Kid Trail to Spanish Town. While Spanish Town doesn’t have the ruins like English Town, you will walk by the former main tunnel entrance with an sign that has a cool picture of what the busy town used to look like from where you’re standing.
At the junction with Hidalgo Cemetery Trail stay straight and loop around the old Rotary Furnace until you connect with the Wood Road trail. Take time to check out the signs about this large ruin, and how they would extract the mercury from the cinnabar ore. This Furnace was in operation until the 1970′s!
Connect back to the Castillero Trail and follow it west until you reconnect with the Mine Hill trail. This stretch offers excellent views towards Mt Umunum and the Valley below. Stay on the Mine Hill trail for a little over two more miles, then turn off on the Cinnabar single track trail. You’ll descend to the New Almaden trail, which you then take east for several miles all the way back to the Mockingbird Hill parking lot. This stretch is completely different than the first half of the hike, offering dark and damp ravines with wildflowers galore.
Almaden Quicksilver is within a few minutes drive of one of the country’s largest cities, yet I can get away for a relaxing, uncrowded hike. I’ll nod hellos to other hikers and mountain bikers (speaking of which, they always seem to be courteous and slow in this park, thank you!) and continue on my loop. It’s an easy and quick getaway on a busy weekend when I want to squeeze in a hike, and this loop isn’t the only option. Take a look at the map and find a hike to suit your preferences – history, difficulty, wildflowers, solitude, views etc. Maybe I’ll see you out there someday!