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Ed Levin County Park

It's hard to imagine when one is sitting in bumper to bumper traffic on Bay Area freeways or creeping along at speeds slower than a snail's pace that just beyond freeway sound walls and backyard fences, there are located some of the most beautiful and accessible equestrian trails in the Nation!! Around the San Francisco Bay there are over 1200 miles of trails that horsemen can ride and outside the SF Bay Area, trails are tucked into city, county and onto state parks and federal lands.

Beginning with this column, "Trails" will be a feature of the Bay Area Equestrian Network. Each article will highlight a trail or a park with trails open to horseowners along with trail head locations, maps of trails, trail users, hours and if overnight camping is allowed too! Directions to reach a trail location will be included and of course, any fees to use and contact information.

If one has a specific area or knows of a trail they've used and liked, please share it with our readers. It is important that horseowners ride trails and we share our trails where-about knowledge because if we don't show support and continued use of trails, they will be closed to us and our horses.

It seems only appropriate that the first "Trails" article should cover trails in a park that many of the BAEN Message Board faithful meet at a few weeks back for a Saturday picnic and trail ride -- the Ed R. Levin County Park located in Santa Clara County in the hills above Milpitas.

Come summer, resident grazing cows take the grasses down to carpet velvet 
and by summer's end the grasses turn the hills to golden brown.

Levin County Park was first dedicated in 1969. It was named after County Supervisor Ed R. Levin who led a campaign to buy the property from the State. It had been purchased by the State of California with the hopes of building a reservoir but after studies the land was determined to be 'unsuitable' so the reservoir idea was abandoned. As time went on various other pieces of property such as the Minnis Ranch were added to the overall Park boundary bringing the total acreage to over 1,500 acres. Today the closest thing to a reservoir is the Sandy Wool Lake located in the northern portion of the park off Downing Road (which is stocked regularily for fishing!).

Spring Valley Trail Head at the equestrian staging area offers picnic tables,
barbeques, and a sand arena.

Levin himself raised Hack Ponies and the house just beyond the main park entrance Ranger Station was once his home. A small track used to circle the Spring Valley area but today is covered by the Spring Valley Pond and other grass, picnic and building areas. The red barn located over in the maintenance yard used to sit next to where the equestrian arena and picnic area are now located and in fact, the cement parking lot on the same side used to serve as parking when a rent string ran out of the red barn and rental horses used to trek around the park trails.

There's plenty of room for rigs. A water trough is located a couple hundred feet
from the trailer parking.

Today there are no rental horses but the equestrian arena, picnic and staging areas are ideal locations for the first time rider who wants a first haul to an easy park or the dedicated endurance rider looking for some challenging trails to the top of the hills spread along the east side of the Bay Area. The staging area has easy access and lots of parking room plus the arena has a sand base which provides an excellent area to turn horses into for a roll after a ride while owners enjoy lunch at one of the picnic tables located along the side of the arena.

A lot of the equestrian facilities in the park were built and are maintained by local horsemen and clubs such as the Ohlone Riders Unit of the Backcountry Horsemen of California, Friends of Ed Levin Park and Calaveras Trail Blazers. The newest trail in the park along Old Calaveras Road was built about five years ago by horseowners providing a vital link to an existing trail section and opened a part of the Park which previously had been closed to trail users.

Ideally located, the picnic area affords "eye contact" with towing rigs and horses
in the staging area from salad through desserts.

Trails in Levin range from wide and flat, to steep and medium. From the staging area at Spring Valley one can ride up to the Los Conches Ridge Trail where on a clear day, one can see the skyscrapers in San Francisco. Or take an easy route from Spring Valley along the Spring Valley Trail, cross Calaveras to the Airpoint Trail, cross Downing and then up the Calaveras Ridge Trail loop.

If one doesn't want to climb the Calaveras Ridge Trail, follow the stream along Downing and head over to Sandy Wool Lake. Meander along the trail around the lake onto Tularcitos trail, through the private property of Chaparral Ranch and along the frontage trail around Spring Valley Golf Course. (The trail along the frontage road is dirt so one does not have to ride on pavement.) Around the Golf Course one will enter back into the Spring Valley Staging Area again along the Airpoint Trail and along the edge of the Luguna Cemetery with its graves dating back to 1860.

For those that want a full day of riding and climbing, from Sandy Wool Lake one can take the Agua Caliente Trail off Tularcitos. This trail climbs up switchbacks, across ridges and higher elevations to its intersection with the Calera Creek Trail. Here one can come back down into the main Park or continue up Agua Calente to the Alameda/Santa Clara County line and enter into East Bay Regional Parks.

In the spring, wild grasses and flowers along trails
hide the trail treads.

During summer months the Park can get hot. Especially in the equestrian area as the trees are still growing! So early mornings or late evenings are the best times to hit the trails. If riding over to Mission Peak through East Bay Regional Parks, bring water. Plus remember sunscreen and a breast collar and shoes for your trail partner. And in the winter time or when the rains begin to fall, trails are often closed to users (hikers and horsemen with a couple trails open to mountain bikes) so always call ahead if it rains. Park information can be obtained at the website View park map (pdf file).

Along the trails one may encounter many types of wildlife. Even though there are 'beware of rattlesnake' signs at the staging area, I've only seen one or two and they wanted to get away from me as much as I wanted to leave them alone! Hawks, quail, songbirds, birds of many species and even eagles will soar over head. One may see fox, bobcat, coyotes, opossum, herds of deer off in the grasses or dozing under trees plus the occasional whisp of a skunk in some areas. And a couple years ago, old momma cougar trotted along the hill side above one trail returning to her den over on San Francisco Water District Property.

In the late evening at certain times of the year, tarantulas will be wandering down the trails looking for a mate but like snakes, they are scared of you to. So just ride on by or wait until they get off the trail and then go on your way. And when back at the trailer, check for ticks because they're always looking for a free ride and a healthy meal!

To get to the trails of Levin Park take the Calaveras Road exit off 680 or 880 in Milpitas. Follow Calaveras Road east up into the foothills. The road is paved but watch the speed limit. Milpitas police department is often out there writing tickets for speeders.

Keep to the left on Calaveras Road at the Downing Road intersection. Up Calaveras Road one will see the main Ranger Station on the right. (There's a dedicated right turn lane to use.) Go into the Park, pay fee of $4 and then turn left. Follow park frontage road around to equestrian arena. Unload, saddle up and then ride the many trails of Ed R. Levin Park.....


Bonnie Davis is a Bay Area resident, free lance writer and equestrian trails advocate with over 30 years experience. Her stories, articles, and columns have been published in national and international publications such as Western Horseman, Paint Horse Journal, Horse & Horseman, Quarter Horse Journal, Western Side (Italy), Cascade Horseman, California Horse Review, Performance Horse Review, and San Jose Mercury News.  Bonnie has also been a featured speaker at Horsexpo. Visit her on-line at Two Horse Enterprises.

Story and photos copyright 2003 by Bonnie Davis and the Bay Area Equestrian Network. All rights reserved. The above article is the property of the Author and may not be duplicated or redistributed in any way without permission.

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