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Weekly Walker: The Phleger Estate, Land of Deep Forest and Rushing Water

Local hiking enthusiast Tom Davids writes this weekly column for Patch. This week's hike is to the Phleger Estate near Huddart Park.

Phleger Estate hike (Photo: Tom Davids)
Phleger Estate hike (Photo: Tom Davids)

“REST AND BE FILLED WITH THE GRACE OF THE FOREST”—Inscription on a bench next to Lonely Trail

Directions: The Phleger Estate is located adjacent to and north of Huddart Park and east of Skyline Boulevard. Trailheads are located on Skyline Boulevard, adjacent to the Kings Mountain Fire Department (site of the annual Kings Mountain Fair during Labor Day weekend) and at an intersection with Richards Road Trail in Huddart County Park. Parking is available in Huddart Park and limited roadside parking on Skyline Boulevard, near Kings Mountain Fire Station. Huddart Park is located on Kings Mountain Road 3.2 miles from the Woodside commercial district.

Trail Map:  Go to Golden Gate National Recreation area and search for Phleger Estate.

Grade: Strenuous, with a 1,400-foot elevation gain from Richards Road to Skyline Boulevard. 

Distance: Approximately nine miles round trip, returning on the Crystal Springs Trail in Huddart Park.

Time: Five hours.

Special Conditions: Watch for poison oak at trailside. Trails are open to hikers and equestrians. The Phleger Estate is part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area; Huddart Park is part of the San Mateo County Park System.

The Phleger Estate includes some 1,200 acres of beautiful redwood, oak, and madrone forest with active streams and woodland wildflowers. The park is located north of and adjacent to Huddart Park, between Skyline Boulevard on the west and the San Francisco watershed on the east. It offers four major hiking trails—the Miramontes Trail, which is mostly level as it meanders along West Union Creek; Mount Redondo Trail, which climbs away from West Union Creek along a seasonal creek to Lonely Trail; Raymundo Trail, which continues along West Union Creek as it tumbles down a canyon from its origins near Skyline Boulevard; and Lonely Trail, which picks up both the Raymundo and Mount Redondo trails and leads to Skyline Boulevard. Those excellent trails let you meander at streamside or challenge your body on a 1,900-foot elevation gain.

But first, the name Phleger Estate implies a family name Phleger, and so it is. This was once the private estate of Herman and Mary Elena Phleger, who purchased the land in 1935.

In earlier times, the Ohlone Indians called the area home, and loggers did their work along West Union Creek. Mrs. Phleger died in 1990, and her trustees worked out a deal with a coalition of the Peninsula Open Space Trust, Save-The-Redwoods League, Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District, and the federal government (GGNRA). What resulted is the largest public-private acquisition in National Park history, with $25 million raised to purchase the property. If for no other reason, you should visit this park to see what $25 million will buy. But first you need to find it.

Finding the Phleger Estate is your first challenge. It's not marked on Skyline Boulevard in order to discourage excessive roadside parking. The recommended access is through Huddart Park, which is located on Kings Mountain Road, 1.5 miles past the intersection with Woodside Road. After passing through the entry station and paying the day use fee, turn left at the first intersection, then bear right to the base of the large Meadow Picnic Area. At the restrooms, turn right and park.

On the east side of the lot are two trailheads. The Zwierlein Trail makes a quick quarter-mile descent to Richards Road, where you turn left to reach the Phleger Estate in about a mile. We recommend the Crystal Springs Trail (also marked for the Phleger Estate), which follows a gradual downhill slope for 0.7 mile to the junction with Richards Road. Then turn left and follow the road around a sharp hairpin curve, walk uphill for a short distance, and watch for the Miramonte Trail and the entrance to the Phleger Estate on your right.

The Miramonte Trail (note the unique trail sign with an Indian on horseback on top of the sign pole) quickly joins West Union Creek and runs parallel to it for about a mile. The creek, which runs high during heavy winter storms, beckons you farther into a canyon as the trees thicken and provide a shade canopy from the warm afternoon sun. A half-hour of steady hiking brings you to a fence and a switchback leading up the hill and away from West Union Creek. You may wish to stop here and retrace your steps if your time is limited or enjoy reflective time in this serene forest setting.

Your hike continues past the curve and uphill for 10 minutes to a three-way trail junction. Raymundo Trail continues to the right, rejoins West Union Creek, and continues up a gulch toward Skyline Boulevard. Mount Redondo Trail goes left along a tributary to West Union Creek through a beautiful stand of second growth redwoods. After 30 minutes of hiking (0.8 mile), Mount Redondo Trail meets Lonely Trail and the west end of Raymundo Trail. Continue on Lonely Trail 1.5 miles to a point a few hundred feet below the Kings Mountain Fire Department (site of the King's Mountain Fair) and Skyline Boulevard. Midway on this trail are two benches, on one of which is carved our quote for this walk: “Rest and be filled with the grace of the forest.”

The trail continues east of and downhill from the fire station to an intersection with the Richards Road Trail. Take Richards Road past the Skyline Trail for 0.4 mile to a junction with Skyline Trail. Turn right for a few hundred feet, then left on Crystal Springs Trail. The trail gradually descends for two miles through remarkably different plant communities. At the higher elevation, oak, madrone, and California laurel trees share space with shrubs such as manzanita, chaparral, and chamise, forming a thick, almost impenetrable mass of brush.

Watch for the first trail intersection, and turn right on Dean Trail. This is a pleasant segment restricted to hikers only (no horses) that traverses the hillside until crossing McGarvey Gulch, then meanders through the forest--crossing several trail intersections, so watch the signs--until you hear the traffic on Kings Mountain Road.

Soon the trail skirts the picnic areas and eventually intersects with Crystal Springs Trail. Turn right, and in less than one-half mile you're back at the parking lot.


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