The Wrong Way to Horseshoe Lake

March 2019 Hiking


The tale

A lack of planning doesn’t always mean aimless wandering. But failing to read a map at a crossroads almost always means I’ll take the wrong turn.

In the past, a “figure it out when I get boots on the ground” approach has turned into dead ends and other obstacles. But on my first hike to Skyline Ridge OSP, it introduced me to a horse.

Let’s back up.

Skyline Boulevard ambles through the hills south of the valley, from Los Gatos almost to Half Moon Bay. On the way it touches many hiking destinations including Sanborn County Park, Castle Rock State Park, Windy Hill, Russian Ridge Preserve, Wunderlich Park, El Corte de Madera Preserve, and Purisima Preserve.

Normally my car’s navigation, plus planning my route with Google Maps, works out well. But this time, when the car’s modulated voice announced “you have arrived,” there was only more road.

Driving on, I stumbled upon a wide parking area with only one other car, so the nav was a half-mile off. No big deal. But the wide-open lot was suspicious.

A map at the trailhead put me at the easternmost of three entrances. The westernmost entered Russian Ridge OSP, so I decided to go for the middle entrance. Somehow I missed that turn, and ended up at Russian Ridge anyway. Which was fine, because the main trail from eastern Russian Ridge lead southeast into Skyline Ridge towards Horseshoe Lake in the east past Alpine Pond in the west.

Are you following?

Tunnel into Skyline Drive Preserve
The path to Alpine Pond lead through a tunnel.

Luckily the trailhead had enough signage to guide me to the popular Ipiwa Trail. I paused at Alpine Pond and its (closed) nature center before setting off towards Horseshoe Lake.

David Daniels Nature Center at Alpine Pond
David Daniels Nature Center at Alpine Pond (complete with ducks).

Skyline Ridge was well-named. The trail’s view didn’t disappoint. Ipiwa Trail ducks in and out of trees to reveal far-reaching southern vistas. While the trail didn’t climb much, it did get increasingly-steep inclines on either side.

Ipiwa trail along a steep hillside
Ipiwa Trail, heading east on hazy day. Probably in Skyline Ridge Preserve.

The views ended a few minutes before a marked crossroads.

Now, I won’t blame the signage for my wrong turn, but I will say that one sign had different information — on the back. That’s why I turned left, which was the exact wrong direction to Horseshoe Lake.

In an open stretch of trail, I met a man leading a horse the other way. Carlos was an Arabian stallion. He and his owner (either Tim or Tom, I think?) had walked 15 miles that day. Tim/Tom told me he preferred to walk his horse down hills instead of riding him, because it was easier on horses’ knees.

Carlos the Arabian Stallion
I wasn’t the only one out for a hike.

Horses in this area aren’t uncommon, but this was the closest I’d been to one who wasn’t in a hurry. It was that kind of day.

I reached another side trail, which made me suspicious. Checking the paper map and my compass, I guessed at my mistake, and headed back after Carlos. Aha, I read the back of the sign, compared it to the map, and continued downhill.

It worked. After only 15 minutes I found Horseshoe Lake. Not much to say, really. It’s a curved body of water, usually frequented by newts — but this day was too soon in the season. I didn’t see any snakes either.

Rattlesnake warning sign on the trail
Watch out for snakes.

Unfortunately the lake’s loop trail was partially closed for restoration. But I did find the eastern parking area I’d stumbled upon while driving to the park in the first place.

The whole trail system was fairly compact, and the western entrance was only a mile and a half away … assuming, of course, it wasn’t the elusive middle entrance, which meant my car was another two miles further west.

Luckily, it was the right lot. At Russian Ridge OSP. I think.

For next time

  • Get a better map, and plan the route in advance.
  • Bring plenty of water. The scenic Ipiwa trail is exposed to the south, which means warm weather will have plenty of sun.
  • Watch out for snakes.
  • There are more trails south and west, and the whole system connects to the Bay Area Ridge Trail. Might be worth exploring.