Joseph D. Grant Santa Clara County Park  AA - D **** 10+ miles; Rainy Weather No     Info        Map

The largest county park in Santa Clara, Joseph D. Grant, covers 9,553 acres on the slopes of Mount Hamilton east of San Jose. On a mild weekday in July, we hiked for hours without meeting any people at all, on trails that are challenging but entirely useable with assistance and/or a good power chair.

From the ranger station, a half-mile long paved and level whole-access trail winds through the main picnic area, affording views of San Felipe Creek.But the prettiest easy walk here is the part of Yerba Buena Trail that skirts Grant Lake (trailhead is on the left just past the main park entrance). This fairly smooth level 0.3-mile gravel path has views of the lake and its resident waterfowl, as well as the swallows, bicolored blackbirds, dragonflies and butterflies flying around it. Both of the above trails should be fine in wet weather. Unfortunately, the Grant Lake picnic area shown on the park map is gone, and there are no benches along the first part of the trail.

A fairly ambitious longer hike is the three-mile valley loop south on Lower Hotel Trail and then back via Corral and San Felipe Trails. It is impeded in places by minor erosion and shallow drainage trenches, with some steep spots and places where large gravel makes a rough ride.

The payoff is ancient oak trees that bend writhing limbs alive with acorn woodpeckers over the trail. Tall gold grasses shimmer on the hillsides, while quail, ground squirrels and small rabbits retreat into the coyote brush. East across a green-grey meadow rises the white dome of Lick Observatory atop Mount Hamilton. Though unimpressive close-up compared to Diablo and Tamalpais, at 4209 feet it's the tallest of the three by 360 feet.

If you like solitude, this little-used park is an inviting destination for day trips and overnights.

Details: To get there take Alum Rock Road east from Highway 101 and turn right on Highway 130 (aka Mount Hamilton Road). The next eight miles to the park are tough: though the road is well maintained. it's narrow, with lots of hairpin curves. The $5 parking fee is waived (and the camping fee halved) if you have a DMV disabled placard. Restrooms near the ranger station and at the campground are accessible except for heavy doors; there are even roll-in showers. Not shown on the map is an accessible vault toilet near Grant Lake. Last visit Summer 2006.