Russian Ridge is a crown jewel among the open space preserves strung along Skyline Boulevard atop the San Francisco Peninsula hills. From the preserve parking lot at the top of Page Mill Road, hikers on the Ridge Trail are quickly rewarded with amazing views: the Pacific Ocean, the Bay, Tamalpais, Diablo, Hamilton and even El Toro.
The western view from the Ridge Trail looks over a succession of ridges that tumble down to the ocean. Not far below, the broad and treeless hulk of Mindego Hill sits distinct and alone, poised above the surrounding hills like some natural vista point. The hill is within the Russian Ridge Open Space Preserve, but until a year ago, it was closed to the public. With funds from Measure AA passed in 2014, Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District (aka MidPen) has built a trail to the top and opened Mindego Hill to hikers.
I pulled into the Mindego parking lot, a little over a mile down Alpine Road from the intersection of Skyline Boulevard and Page Mill Road. I walked a short distance to the Audrey Rust Commemorative Site, a terrace honoring a longtime president of the Peninsula Open Space Trust. From there, I had an uninterrupted view of Mindego Hill. The world dropped away, stretched 2.5 miles, then rose impressively back up to the hilltop; a tempting site to any hiker.
The parking lot sits at the same elevation as the top of Mindego Hill, but that did not mean I didn’t have climbing in my future. The Mindego Trail drops quickly through a forest of Douglas fir, live oaks, bay and an occasional madrone. Down below and out of sight I could hear just-born Mindego Creek splashing its way to San Gregorio Creek for the short trip to the Pacific. Farther down the trail, I left the forest behind and entered rolling hills wrapped with coyote brush. I had dropped 400 feet below the parking lot. Mindego Hill, which had been “over” there, was now “up” there.
At the base of the final hill, I crossed two cattle gates, and tiptoed past an indifferent group of dull-eyed cows. The Mindego Hill area of Russian Ridge OSP is the first cooperative arrangement between MidPen and local ranchers. Many agencies now follow a new grassland practice that encourages prudent cattle grazing to curb the growth of alien turf grasses, which in turn allows more room for native plants to thrive.
The trail switched back and forth through the wooded northwest side of the hill before I unexpectedly popped onto the green expanse of the wide open summit. The trail circled around the edge of the broad hilltop presenting distant and spacious views from every compass point. The view from the ridge to the northwest seemed to roll on forever. I was truly surprised by the immense amount of open space on the west slope of the Santa Cruz Mountains as they tumbled seaward.