Lessons Learned From Hike in Monte Bello

Monte Bello Hike, where we took a few wrong turns, but ended up with the perfect 10.9 mile hike.

Since our first hike to the Stanford Dish earlier in November, we both wanted to try another weekend hike. This time, out to the Monte Bello Open Space Preserve, in Palo Alto. We found a 5.3 mile loop hiking path that would be more challenging than the Stanford Dish hike, but not overly grueling. According the link, the best time for the hike in Palo Alto is April/May when the wildflowers are blooming. But we decided regardless to go for it!

Knowing that this hike would be more grueling, we decided to bring a small backpack loaded with two bottles of water, a couple of granola bars, and candy (leftover from Halloween). Other than that, wore the same running shoes, shorts, and a t-shirt. It was a cool November morning, so we also brought a light jacket.

The start of the hike was farther from 280 than I recall when reviewing it on Google Maps, but we eventually arrived to the trailhead at 10:45am. There is a parking lot and half the spots were available. There's also a smaller overflow parking lot which I assume was empty. It's also important to note that we did not receive any Sprint service (cell or data) as we neared the parking lot and during the entire hike. There was also no entrance fee into the open preserve or parking lot.

The start of the hike was all downhill. It was easy and there wasn't much cover. Right as we started the hike, I realize we didn't have a map nor did I remember to download map data for the EveryTrail app. Figuring it was only a 5.1 mile loop, I didn't think much of it and figured we'd see other hikers along the route (given that half the parking lot was full). I was also tracking our hike using Enomondo, so in the worst case scenario, we could always backtrack. For the first 4 miles, the path was mostly covered in shade and we saw no other hikers. We did see many groups of mountain bikers zoom past. After the hike and reviewing the data from Enomondo, I concluded we stayed on Canyon Trail too long (which was apparently a popular mountain biking route).

We decided to begin backtracking (~4 mile mark) when we reached the edge of Palo Alto. As we backtracked, we took a fork around the 7 mile mark to Monte Bello Road instead of Monte Bello Parking Lot. Only after a mile of an intense uphill battle did we realize it. Along the way, we also passed many more hikers, one of whom we stopped to ask for direction. They gave us a spare map of the open preserve, which came in handy and was available for free at the trailhead. This route was a steep uphill ascent, but at the top had some amazing view of the Bay Area. There was also a outhouse (which smelled terrible even from a distance) along the way and this route was much more exposed to the sun. 

Outline of Trails Taken:

  1. From Parking Lot, start on Stevens Creek Nature Trail
  2. Right onto Canyon Trail
  3. Continue on Canyon Trail until reaching Palo Alto city limits (well shaded trail)
  4. Backtrack on Canyon Trail
  5. Right onto Indian Creek Trail (uphill and sunny trail)
  6. Left onto Old Ranch Trail (a bit of a confusing intersection, just keep left)
  7. Left onto Bella Vista Trail (another confusing intersection, just keep left)
  8. Right onto Canyon Trail (should recognize this portion of the trail).
  9. Right onto Stevens Creek Nature Trail back to the parking lot.

Overall, our whole hike ended up being around 10.9 miles and took about 3 hours and 8 minutes (link to Endomondo data). Also handy is the official Monte Bello website. Despite taking a couple of wrong turns, it was a good hike on a beautiful day. Much of the path in the beginning was shaded and comfortable with falling golden colored leaves. The uphill portion was a great challenge which rewarded us with views of the bay, and remaining portion of the hike was mostly downhill. I'm positive we'll be hiking in Palo Alto at the Monte Bello Open Preserve again.

Things I Learned:

  1. Check the trailhead for phsycial maps. It did cross my mind, but I was overly confident of the route and excited to get started.
  2. Always bring plenty of water. We couldn't decide to bring 1 or 2 bottles, but ended up with 2. About halfway through, we had finished our first botle and was onto our second.
  3. Know when the path could be shared by mountain bikers. Getting run down by a mountain biker is one more thing to be concerned about while hiking. For the most part, the mountain bikers were all friendly.
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