Looking for the least crowded parks and preserves in our area?

You’re not alone. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to upend daily life, visiting our local open spaces has become more popular than ever. Which is understandable when you consider all the mental and physical health benefits of being in nature — we need these places to ground ourselves.

To help you find the least crowded parks in our region, we reached out to some of our partner organizations who manage the land like San Mateo County Parks and Midpeninsula Regional Open Space Trust (Midpen) to get a sense of which preserves have been least impacted by the recent uptick in visitors.

Here’s where they recommend going and what to know before you go:


The ravine of the Alum Rock Park watershed.

Sierra Vista Open Space Preserve

Looking for fewer crowds but more challenging terrain? Then consider heading to the Sierra Vista and Calaveras Fault Trails during the week — weekends can still get pretty packed. Located just 25 minutes from downtown San Jose, the more challenging terrain typically makes this part of the preserve much less crowded. Know that it can get hot here so plan to hit the trail as early as you can!

Depending on how much time you have, you can hike your way to Vista Point from the Sierra Vista Trail for absolutely stunning views. If you’re not up for a full day of hiking, consider the Aquila Loop Trail, a less strenuous hike that is perfect for families with young kids. Before heading out, check Google for live updates on crowd levels.

Preserve Map  —  Directions


El Corte de Madera OSP trail into the trees.

El Corte de Madera Open Space Preserve

This preserve is a great alternative to Purisima Creek Redwoods, which is located nearby and has been crowded in recent months. It offers over 34 miles of multi-use trails, many of them over six feet wide, making it easier to maintain your distance from other hikers.

The El Corte de Madera Creek Loop is a good option if you’re looking for a longer hike — it features a massive sandstone formation and a view overlooking the Santa Cruz Mountains. For a less strenuous option, the preserve rangers also suggested trying the Lawrence Creek Trail toward the bottom of the preserve, which is also over six feet wide.

Preserve Map  —  Directions


Horseshoe Lake at Skyline Ridge OSP.

Skyline Ridge Preserve

This preserve is a nice option because it has a large equestrian parking area that can take some overflow, so finding a parking space should not be a problem. And at over 2,000 acres, there is plenty of space to find some solitude. It’s also a great option for kids, with easy to moderate hikes and trails designed for wheelchair and stroller access around both Alpine Pond and Horseshoe Lake.

The preserve rangers also shared that there are a few options for trails that are six feet wide, like the Sunny Jim Trail and the Old Page Mill Trail. Full of biodiversity, you can experience a mixed evergreen forest, grasslands, chaparral and even wetland environments.

Preserve Map  —  Directions

A few tips on timing and location:

After speaking with our partners, it was clear that they’re all feeling the impact of increased visitation. To lend you a hand, they shared a few insights about finding the least crowded times to visit these parks and preserves, as well as a few other things to keep in mind. So, before you hit the trails, here are a few things to consider:

Know before you go:
If you do a quick search, Google has listed the most “popular times” for some parks and preserves (but not all). You’ll see this information in the search results. Some parks (like Sierra Vista) even include live updates on how busy a park is at any given time. It’s worth a look before you leave home.

Most popular times at Sierra Vista OSP.

Know when to expect crowds:
Weekends will always be more crowded than the rest of the week. Add to that a holiday and you can pretty much guarantee there will be more people on the trail than usual. So, if you’re visiting parks and preserves on the weekends, try to go at the leasts busiest times of day, which are usually early mornings and late evenings. Popular times usually bell curve, with the busiest window being 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Know which parks are the most popular:
Before planning your trip, it helps to have an idea of which parks and preserves are usually busy. Some open space preserves that have been especially busy lately include Purisima Creek Redwoods, Fremont Older Preserve, Rancho San Antonio Preserve and Windy Hill Open Space Preserve.

Going the distance may reduce the foot traffic:
This might seem obvious, but parks and preserves that are closest to urban areas tend to get hit the hardest. That means if you’re willing to drive a bit farther than usual you will likely get rewarded with a less busy trail.

And remember…

  • Bring a face covering and use it when you cannot maintain your distance!
  • Stay at least six feet away from anyone not in your household.
  • No gatherings are allowed.
  • Check with managing agencies (visit official preserve websites and/or call) for the most up to date trail conditions.

Happy trails!

About Post

Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST) protects open space on the Peninsula and in the South Bay for the benefit of all. Since its founding in 1977, POST has been responsible for saving more than 87,000 acres as permanently protected land in San Mateo, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties. Learn more

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