Oh how I love thee.
It is hard not to love Mt. Madonna County Park. It is the perfect place to run away from home to recharge, or spend a day exploring. Part of the Santa Clara County Parks system, Mt. Madonna has something to offer everyone.
The 4,605-acre park has 14 miles of trails, 118 drive or walk-in campsites located across 4 campgrounds, 17 partial RV hookup sites, dump station, yurts to rent, group sites, an archery range, and stables where you pay to take a trail ride.
Day use facilities include areas for picnics, a visitor’s center, historic walk, and an amphitheater for rent during the warmer months. Really, there is something for everyone. And did I mention location? Location, location, location.
A STORIED HISTORY
The Ohlone Indian was the indigenous population of The Santa Cruz Mountains prior to European migration. During the 1800’s Mt. Madonna was popularized by Henry Miller, a German-American cattle baron commonly referred to as the “Cattle King of California.”
The Miller Family had a palatial summer home built high on the hills looking back down into the Santa Clara Valley and over land Henry Miller owned. You can take the mile long self-guided tour of the house ruins, gardens, orchard, and notable focal points.
WHO DOESN’T LOVE A REDWOOD FOREST?
The park is predominantly redwood forest. The trails dip and climb and weave. The redwood trails are soft underfoot and the canopy protects from the sun. Perhaps the most well-known redwoods in the park are the “giant twins,” huge old growth trees that have been in place since at least 1776. Majestic and awe-inspiring.
Losing elevation the terrain changes to oak woodland, chaparral, and meadows. The myriad of trails are interspersed with old logging roads, and power line maintenance roads. There are some quite challenging climbs in places. But the view is worth it.
Near the visitor center is an enclosure with the last remaining White Fallow deer in the park. William Randall Hearst gifted a pair to Henry Miller in 1914. A conservation breeding program is in effect to remain connected to history. They are not a native species, so must be contained.
TO CAMP, TO GLAMP, TO RV, HOW SHALL YOU STAY?
Mt. Madonna has 118 walk-in/drive-in campsites across 4 campgrounds. Those close to the ranger’s station have nearby flushies, showers, and an RV dump station. Further out are 3 additional campgrounds with flushie and dumpsters, but no showers. These are called “primitive” sites…. I can’t figure this one out… they have running water and flushies… to us Scout parents that essentially glamping!
The closest campground to the park entrance is where the RV hookups are. This is also home to the yurts that are for rent. Yurts come with bunks and/or futons inside, a surrounding deck, a bbq/fire pit, and pull in parking. For a family who is new to camping, this is the perfect solution to test staying in the great outdoors.
If you like melting ooey gooey marshmallows over an open fire, the County parks usually allow a campfire within the rings, even when State and private parks ban all burning over summer. Forgot the firewood? Trot down to the rangers check-in booth, put your credit card or cash into the machine, and buy a box (of very expensive at $13 box) firewood. Take your receipt to the camp host and you’ll be cooking.
Always check with the ranger whether burning is allowed. There will be some years where the extreme fire danger prevents anything but camp stoves.
IF YOU HAVE A LARGE FAMILY
There are several group sites available. If you are a youth group with a mission statement and a tax id, you get a 50% discount on the nightly rates. It is soooo worth it. But, the past couple of years it’s been a bear to get bookings. We have to book 12 months ahead of time, otherwise, it is nearly impossible to get in.
We have an overnight coming up next month, which I am looking forward to. It may be a bit cold (ok a lot cold). I have a secret weapon, a hot water bottle, scout motto, “be prepared!” And I am not afraid to use it! (yeah, I get laughed outta town until it gets really cold and I don’t turn into an icicle overnight!).
AGAIN, LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION!
Mt. Madonna County Park sits along the Santa Cruz Mountains. On one side is Morgan Hill, on the other is Watsonville. It takes a good half hour to get from 101 up to the park. Southbound 101 leads to Gilroy Gardens and the Gilroy Outlet Stores (if you’re into that sort of thing). Over the Hill is Watsonville, gateway to Monterey and Santa Cruz.
Hidden among the mountain is the Sankat Mochan Hanuman Temple. According to the website, the Temple “is also a home to a retreat and conference center hosting programs in yoga, spiritual development, and wellness, as well as personal retreats and daily yoga classes.”
And for those of you who like a tipple or two… There’s a bunch of vineyards along the way. Tucked between 101 and 152 (which you will traverse), are at least 7 wineries. And a good deal more in the local area.
Mt. Madonna is a little off the beaten path, but well worth the visit. This little part of the world has a lot to offer. Mt. Madonna is part of the colorful history of the SF Bay Area, and as such shines. See you on trail!
Check out terrific tents for your next camping gear purchase.
Where is your favorite place to get away from it all? What park would you most like to explore? Comment below or drop me a line.
- The Park web site, part of the Santa Clara County Parks district: https://www.sccgov.org/sites/parks/parkfinder/Pages/Mt.Madonna.aspx
- To make reservations at any Santa Clara County Park: https://gooutsideandplay.org/
- To read about Henry Miller, this is an excellent article about Santa Clara Valley Pioneers: http://mariposaresearch.net/santaclararesearch/SCBIOS/hmiller.html/
- Winery map, download the pdf.
- Temple website: https://www.mountmadonna.org/