Saratoga’s best hiking spots are the perfect way to get outdoors

November 27, 2020 — by Neeti Badve and Shama Gupta

With everyone trying to find their next outdoor activity right now, we decided to hike some nearby trails to find the best hiking spots. Here are three recommendations.

 

Villa Montalvo (Distance: 3 miles round trip; difficulty: moderate) 

Villa Montalvo is famous for housing Saratoga’s local fine arts center, but many aren’t aware of the various hiking trails that rest behind the famed amphitheatre. Its five trails all loop around the 1,175-foot mountain, and the tall redwood trees accompanying them provide a canopy of shade perfect for shielding hikers from the sun. 

Although the awe-inspiring foliage blocks the view on the way to the peak, the view at the top makes it worth it. It gives a panoramic glimpse of the entire valley and is perfect for a workout photoshoot for all your Instagram followers. 

The trails themselves are a bit on the narrow side, so make sure you follow proper COVID-19 hiking etiquette by waiting for others to pass instead of just walking by. Still, this could also be a good thing because people are forced to walk in front of each other, rather than next to each other, further encouraging social distancing. 

While there are a few steep areas, this short and sweet 1.5-mile climb to the top is great for beginner hikers. If you’re an advanced nature enthusiast, you could instead choose to combine a couple trails in order to add some extra loops and distance to your hike. It is a great option for everyone. 

 

Fremont Older Preserve (Distance: 4 to 5 miles round trip; difficulty: beginner-moderate; very adjustable)

Fremont Older is a gem we found after society shut down. With limited ways to hang out while maintaining social distancing norms, our friends decided sunsets and camping chairs were the best way to spend quality time together. 

To be honest, the first time we went there, we didn’t hike. Instead, we parked at the top of Vista Arroyo Court and walked through a small opening to get to the best sunset-watching spot: the little tree at the top of the hill. 

But upon returning to the trail to actually exercise, we were pleasantly surprised. We parked on Parker Ranch Road and walked down the street to the start of the hike. Here, we were met by a wide trail between beautiful green plant creepers and a perfect consistency of mud: moist enough to not force us to squint through dust particles and dry enough that no muck was left on our hiking boots. 

After a half-mile walk, we reached the base of the same hill at which we had watched the sunset earlier, facing  the 200 or so stairs that would lead us to the summit. It was a suspiciously perfect hill —  it looked like it was from a 10-year-old’s drawing of a landscape. Beyond this hill, you can choose which roads to walk depending on how strenuous of a hike you would like. The shape of the hill was pretty representative of the experience — overall, magical. 

 

Sanborn County Park (Distance: 6.1 miles round trip; difficulty: moderate-strenuous) 

Sanborn was the hardest hike of the three. Located up Highway 9 past Castle Rock, it was also the most secluded and nature-centric one we found. Since it is a full-on county park, it is nicely maintained, with dog poop bag dispensers, picnic tables and shade everywhere. 

The park has nine trails, but we recommend the Sanborn trail. After walking through the picnic areas, there is a small opening to the Sanborn trail that leads to a 6-mile hike. 

Right off the bat, this trail has a moderate to strenuous incline. After about 10 minutes of walking, we felt like we were in a different world — no picnic tables, not many people (we went on a Wednesday), such dense trees that barely any sunlight falls through, a mellow waterfall that was perfect for our labrador retrievers to play in and an overall serene feeling. About two to three miles in, we were rewarded by an opening to a beautiful, wide view of the Santa Cruz mountains.

Past this opening, the toughest and most rewarding part of the hike began. For the next three miles, the trail became really narrow — about 5 feet in width — and was riddled with a few fallen rocks and branches. The thickness of the forest in this trail was unbeatable. 

Bottom line: If you live in Saratoga, hiking nearby trails is something that you have to try. Based on our experience, we recommend starting with Fremont Older and working your way up to Villa Montalvo and Sanborn Park. All three will leave you feeling refreshed and more appreciative of the nature that surrounds us. 

 

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