Rancho San Antonio is one my favorite parks for trail running. It’s in the heart of Silicon Valley and yet within 5 or 10 minutes or trail running, you can be away from it all. My very first trail run, just a few months after I started running, was here and is on my top 10 nearby trails for working on techniques for proper climbing and descents. At the top of the Rancho PG&E Trail, you get spectacular views of the bay area, though the trail itself is fairly strenuous 10-mile loop with 1,800 feet elevation gain. One downside is the weekend crowd. This place is bustling with hikers and runners as early at 6am and parking lots can get full very quickly.
Rancho PG&E Trail
I like getting to the top of the Rancho PG&E trail through Deer Hollow Farm followed by Rogue Valley Trail and then up the Upper Meadow. The climb is a little bit more gradual with great views along the way. Once you leave the Deer Hollow Farm, beware that it’s climbing the whole way until you get to the top. The first few times I ran up this trail, I ended up running for 4 minutes and walking for 1. After a few months of working on climbing techniques and pacing myself, I could finally run up this stretch without a break.
Deer Hollow Farm
Park at the main entrance (with the restrooms) and start at the trail head that welcomes you to the open preserve. Cross the bridge and start running towards Deer Hollow Farm. This is a nice and easy flat trail and you have the option of staying on paved roads or cutting across the creek and run on trails. Depending on when you run, this stretch is the most crowded with families and kids all heading to see the animals at the farm. This was one of my kids’ favorite places to visit when they were much younger. There are water fountains at the Farm and you’ll probably need to take a swig before the climb begins.
Rogue Valley Trail
The Rogue Valley Trail extends straight out from the Farm and has additional trail heads to Wildcat Loop, Ravensbury Trail and Chamise Trail. Chamise is especially interesting (maybe in another post) since it connects to Hidden Villa, Black Mountain and other trails further north. Continue to run past these trail heads and you’ll notice that the trail is starting to ascend slowly. In the mornings this place is filled with bunny rabbits and evening and twilight brings out families of deer. The trail is mostly shaded and cool. This eventually ends in a sharp hairpin turn which marks the start of a steep ascent up to the High Meadow Trail.
The trail now starts ascending in earnest with spectacular views of the bay area. This part of the trail is fairly exposed, but running here in the morning while the sun is rising is mesmerizing. As you start climbing, make sure to keep your head up and soak in the views. You lose most of the crowd by now as many of them don’t go past the Farm. On weekday early mornings, it’s possible that you only encounter one, maybe two people on this trail. Every now and then you’ll encounter an entire family of deer grazing to your right.
Upper High Meadow Trail
After a seeming eternity and a series of switchbacks you’ll eventually end up at this junction. It’s a great place to take a water break and enjoy scenic vistas of the valleys. You can see the Rancho PG&E trail twisting and turning under the power lines as it makes it way to the top. Make a right to the Upper High Meadow Trail and continue the ascend. I’ve spent countless runs here where I’ve only encountered a few hikers and runners. It’s beautiful solitude here, but be aware that you are fully exposed. As you start on the ascent, you can see the power-lines up ahead across the valley. That’s where we are headed.
Top of the Rancho PG&E Trail
The last half mile of the Upper Meadow Trail is grueling. I mostly end up power walking this part, sticking to the runner’s saying “if your heels ain’t touching, you better start hiking“. It usually takes me a little less than an hour to get from the park entrance to the top of the Rancho PG&E Trail, but man is it rewarding. Check out where my trusty Luna Shoes got me to! When I summit, it’s usually a snack break for me (love the Fig Bars from Sprouts), a minute of rest before chop stepping the descent down the PG&E Trail. On the way down, you have two choices. You can take a left to Wildcat Loop Trail (shorter) or continue on PG&E Trail all the way down (the 10-mile loop). Definitely an awesome run!
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