Located 3 miles south of Los Gatos, Bear Creek Redwoods Open Space Preserve has six miles of hiking and equestrian trails that meander along cool perennial creeks and through 1,430 acres of a second-growth redwood forest, extensive areas of Douglas fir and oak woodland. Higher elevations offer expansive views of the Sierra Azul Range. Near the parking lot is a short easy-access, self-guided interpretive trail that circumnavigates Upper Lake. The preserve's beautiful and biologically rich ecosystem provides habitat for a diversity of wildlife, including mountain lions, bobcats, western pond turtles, a few species of bats, Santa Cruz black salamanders and California giant salamanders, belted kingfishers, northern red-shafted flickers, and many other birds - both year-round residents and migratory species. It is not uncommon to catch sight of a bald eagle overhead!
Midpen partnered with Peninsula Open Space Trust to purchase and protect the property that would become Bear Creek Redwood Preserve in the late 1990s, acquiring the land, which includes the Bear Creek Stables, in 1999. Prevented from becoming a golf course and country club with luxury residences by a coalition of environmental activists, the land was far from pristine. It was extensively logged in the mid-1800s and briefly became a fish farm before being developed into a massive self-sufficient estate that passed between a couple of California's wealthiest families. The Catholic order of the Society of Jesus later repurposed the estate buildings to open Alma College, a theologate to train Jesuit priests. Midpen is in the long process of ecologically sensitive vegetation management to restore the native landscape and promote biodiversity, while still preserving aspects of the cultural landscape that tell this land’s stories.
Thanks to District voters' support of Measure AA, Midpen completed the first of several phased public access projects in 2019. The Alma College site and an additional 15 miles of trail, including a new multi-use regional trail connection, will be phased in over the next fifteen years.
The Alma (the Spanish word for soul) Trail is a 2.5-mile trail located west of Bear Creek Road and is accessible using the new pedestrian crossing. This trail traverses into densely wooded fir and redwood forests, through bay and oak woodlands, eventually linking to the Madrone Knoll Trail. Be prepared: These trails climb from the parking area located at 1,000 feet in elevation to Madrone Knoll, the highest point, at 2,400 feet.
Beginning at the parking lot, the 0.2-mile easy-access Upper Lake Loop Trail features habitat restoration sites and historical artifacts such as Ohlone mortars. The trail is an accessible pathway and can easily accommodate mobility devices, strollers, and users of all ages and abilities.
Preserve Highlights & Features
Bear Creek Redwoods Open Space Preserve was named, in part, for the lush redwood groves that cover the slopes. It is one of Santa Clara County’s best preserved, second-growth redwood forests - most of the trees you'll see are less than 150 years old. Between 1850 and 1900, the rapid growth of San Francisco and San Jose fueled a high demand for lumber, and most of the old-growth trees in the region were felled. A few old-growth redwoods remain, likely passed over by loggers because of their unusual shapes, and are accessible from the trails.
Upper Lake Interpretive Walk
The easy-access Upper Lake Loop Trail features habitat restoration sites and historical artifacts such as Ohlone mortars. Information for a self-guided interpretive tour is included in the linked brochure map below. The trail is an accessible pathway adjacent to the parking lot and can accommodate mobility devices, strollers and users of all ages and abilities.
Bear Creek Redwoods Preserve is home to Townsend’s big-eared bats (pictured), California myotis bats and Mexican free-tailed bats. When Midpen acquired the property, many roosted in unstable, abandoned buildings that were once part of Alma College. To provide the bats with a safe home, Midpen renovated an old carport and converted it into a "bat cave” with narrow, adjustable gates that allow bats to fly in and out while also regulating airflow and the interior temperature.
Layers of History: The Cultural Landscape at Bear Creek Redwoods
Formed by earthquakes and forest streams, and inhabited by Native Americans, loggers, wealthy estate owners and even a religious institution (pictured), the open space lands of Bear Creek Redwoods Preserve has been shaped by many forces and many hands throughout its history.
Bear Creek Stables
Located within Bear Creek Redwoods Preserve, Bear Creek Stables is a boarding and training facility for over 70 horses that has been in operation since the 1930s. Dr. Harry L. Tevis first developed the site in 1916 to accommodate Tennessee walking horses on his extensive estate. Following Midpen’s acquisition of the site, the century-old stables have continued to operate under lease with a tenant. Midpen is currently pursuing capital maintenance and repairs that will allow existing uses and public programs to continue.
Stories from the Preserves
Here are some of the plants and animals that other visitors have observed at this preserve and recorded in iNaturalist. Protected species may be excluded and some species may not yet have been observed. Help improve iNaturalist by adding your observations to the Midpen Biodiversity Index project
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Know Before You Go
Preserve regulations help provide a safe, enjoyable visit while protecting sensitive areas and wildlife.
Share the Trail
Use designated trails to avoid damage to natural resources and prevent injury.
Avoid blocking the trail. Step aside to allow others to pass .
If you’re walking, always yield to equestrians.
Leave no trace. Pack out what you pack in. Most preserves do not have trash cans. Littering is prohibited.
Abuses of trail etiquette should be brought to the attention of a ranger or call the Midpen main office at 650-691-1200.
- Construction activities related to the Alma Cultural Landscape Rehabilitation Project are underway at Bear Creek Redwoods Preserve and expected to continue through Summer 2022. This work should not impact public access to the preserve, but there may be temporary detours near the parking lot and Upper Lake. Drive with caution in the parking lot as some construction is planned to take place in and around that area. Temporary reductions in parking capacity may limit available space, so have a backup plan in case the lot is full.
Main parking lot at Upper Lake (53 spaces): Take Hwy. 17 to Bear Creek Road, opposite Lexington Reservoir. When going south (toward the ocean), go under the overpass, the road curves right onto Bear Creek Road. Turn left at the stop sign. When going north (toward Los Gatos), take the overpass. From the stop sign, drive 1 mile. The parking lot is on the left.
- Equestrians: Horses are allowed on designated trails (marked on map). Helmets are recommended for all equestrians. For more information visit the Equestrian Access page.
- Bicyclists: Bikes are NOT allowed in this Preserve. For information on preserves open to bikes visit the Bicycle Access page.
- Dogs: Dogs are not allowed in this Preserve. For information on dog-friendly preserves visit the Dog Access page. In accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, Midpen accommodates service dogs in preserves wherever we allow public access.
- Fires are prohibited in preserves.
- Plants & Wildlife: Please leave undisturbed. If you encounter wildlife during a visit, do not approach, startle or feed it. Although wild animals are generally fearful of humans and will run away, some wildlife can be dangerous.
- Smoking is prohibited in preserves.
- Water Areas: Swimming, wading or engaging in any water-contact activity is prohibited.
- Weapons are prohibited in preserves.
A general access permit is required for any activity or event that:
- may be attended by twenty (20) or more people; OR
- would restrict the use of any part of Midpen lands by members of the public; OR
- requests or requires a fee be paid or a donation made for participation. This includes events where the fee is in the form of a mandatory purchase, such as a t-shirt.
Permits are available for limited equestrian parking at Bear Creek Stables.
Midpen trails and facilities are generally very safe. However, you are entering an environment where there are some naturally occurring hazards. Reasonable caution and common sense should be utilized when venturing into any outdoor environment.
- Do not leave valuables in your vehicle! Lock your vehicle and store valuables out of sight or take them with you on the trail.
- Travel in groups of two or more. Two of more people can assist each other in the event of an accident or emergency.
- Dress for the environment. Temperature changes can be occur and you should dress in layers appropriate for the location, time of year and planned activities.
- Carry water with you. Drinking water is not available at most Midpen preserves so you should bring your own. Two quarts per person per two hour hike is recommended.
- Apply sunscreen and drink plenty of water prior to and during your outdoor activities.
- Be aware that cell service is very sporadic on the preserves.
Be Prepared and Aware
Plan ahead before you leave. Check regulations and weather, download a map, pack water and first aid.
Know your limits and take safety precautions.
Rattlesnakes are native to this area and are especially active in warm weather.
Poison oak grows on most preserves: Learn to identify and avoid it in all seasons.
Ticks are present in this area and may carry diseases.
Mountain lions are a natural part of this region’s environment and are occasionally seen.
In Case of Emergency
If you experience an emergency (fire, accident or other immediate threat to life or property), call 911. For nonemergencies, call 650-691-1200.
Activities & Events
At one time, the slopes of the Santa Cruz Mountains were covered with old-growth redwood forests with trees several hundred years old. Between 1850 and 1900, the rapid growth of San Francisco and San Jose fueled a high demand for lumber, and most of the old-growth trees in the region were felled. When the timber industry was replaced by a private estate, a number of orchards and vineyards were established throughout the property. However, Timber harvest continued on some areas well into the mid 1900s. In 1934, the majority of what is now Bear Creek Redwoods Preserve was sold to the Jesuits, who established a theological college, the first of its kind on the west coast.
The college closed in 1969, and the property was slated to be developed into a golf course and luxury estates. Instead of expansive homes and putting greens, local conservationists saw room to breathe, for plants, wildlife and people. With support from the Committee for Green Foothills, advocates sent letters, made phone calls and spoke at public meetings, voicing their concerns about environmental damage from the proposed development. Meanwhile, Midpen and POST worked together to buy the property so it could be protected in perpetuity. In 1999, thanks to state grants and generous private donations, Bear Creek Redwoods Open Space Preserve was created at last.
Learn more about Bear Creek Redwood’s fascinating history through our interactive online experience, including blast-from-the-past photos.