San Jose doesn’t conjure up images of vast open space.
The city of a million souls built on the high tech platform of firms such as Cisco Systems, Adobe Systems, EBay, PayPal, and Fairchild Semiconductor to name a few is the last place you would think of heading to commune with nature.
But high above San Jose where the Calaveras Fault shaped the Diablo Range sits imposing Mt. Hamilton with its workhorse Lick Observatory at 4,216 feet.
Below it on either side of the mountain crest are two natural treasures — the sprawling 9,560-acre Joseph D. Grant Park with sweeping views of San Jose and the South Bay and the virtually undeveloped San Antonio Valley nestled between ridges in the Diablo Range.
Grant Park is a destination suitable for virtually everyone — walkers, warm water fishing, mountain bikers, picnic enthusiasts, horsemen dog lovers, bird watchers and serious hikers.
Its main access points straddle Highway 130. To the south are campgrounds — including one specifically for the equestrian crowd, a youth camp, amphitheater and more. And while there is a good share of the 52 miles of park trails south of Highway 130, the trails that offer sweeping views of the Santa Clara Valley are to the north. It is here where you will find the large Grant Lake with an abundance of water fowl from herons to ducks virtually a short easy stroll from a parking lot, other ponds and trails that — once you’ve gone enough — will give you views of Lick Observatory or the Santa Clara Valley from Antler’s Point at 2,999 feet as you make your way up Halls Valley.
The first wildflowers are about to set blooms. Given the warmer weather of recent days, locals say you can expect to see much of Grant Park to be ablaze soon with spring wildflowers — they say it is the biggest display in the South Bay — from mid-February well into April. What my most recent visit lacked in wildflowers, it more than made up with lush hills of green grassland that are at least a month away from turning to a golden hue as well as majestic oak trees.
The nice thing about the hike to Antler’s Point if you include to get in a little over nine miles is the fact there is a loop trail system that takes you through distinctively different areas including Deer Valley where President Hoover once vacationed and hunted what else — deer. It took me just under five hours to do the loop with several off-trail trips included.
You will encounter cattle as well as cattle gates. Neither poses a problem.
The trail had perhaps 16 people on it during a recent Saturday — older couples, young couples, solo hikers and several mountain bikers.
The park is open 8 a.m. to sunset. There is a $6 vehicle entrance fee payable at the station on the south side of the road. Although you can park on the lot on the north side and not pay a fee, taking a minute or two to drive out of your way to pay the $6 is a small price to pay for the day.
You could access Grant Park by taking Interstate 580 to Interstate 680 and driving through east San Jose and windy Highway 130. That will take about an hour and 45 minutes if you hit the traffic right. Or you can chuck the hustle and bustle and take a drive through some of the most pristine scenery accessible by car in the Diablo Range and take two hours and 15 minutes to reach Joseph Grant Park. This route takes you out of the San Joaquin Valley catching Del Puerto Canyon Road after reaching Patterson via Interstate 5.
After cresting the first ridge, it is a left turn to head south past the largely uninhabited San Antonio Valley save a few working cattle ranches as well as a 3,282-acre Tule elk reserve.
Visiting Grant Park is a low-key way to not only enjoy the Diablo Range of the Coastal Range that catches your eye as you gaze to the west but to also soak in nature in a low-key fashion.