Coal Mine Ridge Nature Preserve of Portola Valley Ranch offers a refuge from the settled landscape. Its varied ecosystems range from open grassland to dark woodlands. Occasional views reveal vistas from Mt. Diablo to Windy Hill. In the spring, a rolling sequence of wildflowers brings continual surprise and delight.
Here is a collection of views from the trails of the Coal Mine Ridge Nature Preserve.
Toyon Trail – Toyon Trail was planned by Portola Valley naturalist Herb Dengler, and hand-built by volunteers in the ‘70s. Herb kept the slope gentle, less than 5% grade. These photos begin from Alpine Trail near the Willowbrook parking lot. The narrow trail winds up through a shady forest, with shy wildflowers in spring and early summer. There are glimpses of San Francisco and then Windy Hill. Past the narrow log bridge, the trail opens up a bit, traversing around several sharp valleys, through forest, grassland, and chaparral. A final connection leads up through twisted Madrones to the Grandmother Tree and trail junction at the top of the ridge. (Later, a trail machine was used to extend Toyon Trail from the junction and on through Blue Oaks Open Space.)
Old Spanish Trail – These photos highlight the path beginning at Alpine Trail near the Willowbrook parking lot. The lower section of Coal Mine Trail is a rather direct route up to the ridge which forms the spine of the Preserve. Climbing through forest abundant with Coast Live Oaks and Bay Laurel, there are a few glimpses of chaparral, and seasonal wildflowers. Crossing a gravel road near junctions with Bay Laurel and Coalmine Trails, Old Spanish Trail takes a more gentle climb along an old historic road, a route to the coast once used by Native Americans and later inhabitants, including Spaniards. Here one also finds Valley Oaks, Madrones, and Toyon as well as open grassland. The trail continues to climb through chaparral up to the trail junction at the Grandmother Tree and on up along the spine of Coal Mine Ridge, past the intersection with Arroyo Trail, exiting the Nature Preserve and continuing on into Blue Oaks Open Space.
Coalmine Trail – These photos begin from the trail junction at the Grandmother Tree at the top of the ridge. From here Coalmine trail runs downhill along the ridgetop. Emerging from a forest of Coast Live Oaks and Madrones, festive with Warrior’s Plume in springtime, one enjoys a wide view down to the Bay and across to Mount Diablo. As the trail gradually descends, it passes a nearby seasonal vernal pond, a haven for the Sierran Chorus Frog. Then, dropping more steeply, it rounds a switchback in an ancient forest of Bay Trees, passes a trail junction for a connector to Toyon Trail and climbs to the water tank. From here the trail runs along the edge of grassland until it terminates at a junction with Old Spanish Trail. Most of Coalmine Trail is forested with ferns and Toyon. Springtime flowers include Mule’s Ears in addition to the usual Hound’s Tongue, Trillium, Milkmaids, Fremont’s Star Lily, and more.
Arroyo Trail - These photos are ordered along the trail as it leaves Old Spanish Trail at the crest of the Ridge, and zigzags along the east side of the Preserve, dropping down toward the houses of Portola Valley Ranch. It passes through varied ecosystems on the way down, through woodland with oak and madrone, then chaparral, then across open meadow and back into woodland. From here a series of switchbacks traverses along two steep canyons – thus the trail’s original name, “Dos Arroyos”. Occasional breaks in the forest reveal glimpses out across the Bay. Nearing the bottom of a shady, steep ravine, the trail crosses a sturdy wooden bridge before it terminates at a connection with Bay Laurel Trail.
Historical Photos - This album includes photos from the past, including the building of Toyon Trail and some of the first volunteers who contributed to the creation and maintenance of CMR trails.