Looking for some new ideas for family fun in the South Bay? Check out an off-the-beaten path local trail for a day of adventure and a change of scenery while playing it safe and staying close to home. Over the past few months, the outdoors has become our family’s refuge, consuming the kids’ attentions, giving my restless nature a break, and providing a way for each of us to burn off some energy all at the same time. The following is our story about visiting Anderson Lake County Park in Morgan Hill, CA for the first time. Though there is still much to explore in this 4,275 acre park, the Lake View and Rancho Laguna Seca trails offered a good introduction for those of us exploring this multi-faceted park by trail.
- Main Entrance: 19245 Malaguerra Ave Morgan Hill, CA 95037 (note: we parked at the trailhead on Holiday Drive)
- Parking: $6 per vehicle, temporarily waived
- Hours: 8am – Sunset
- Trail Map
- Dog Friendly: Yes
- Stroller Friendly: the trails we visited were all stroller friendly.
- Park Features: Boating, Fishing, Hiking
- Trails We Visited: Rancho Laguna Seca and Lakeview, beginning at the trailhead lot at 17870 Holiday Drive.
- Our Visit Elevation: 295 feet.
- Our Time: Approximately 2 hours with plenty of stops.
- Remember to check Santa Clara County Park Site for updates related to Covid-19 safety guidance.
I grew up in San Jose, my parents and my grandparents grew up in San Jose, and until recently I had never visited the Uvas Canyon falls or the redwoods behind Villa Montalvo. After falling in love with both places, and then mapping out our county parks, I was shocked to discover that we had only visited three of the 28 parks listed on the Santa Clara County Parks Website. Given that we are always looking for fun things to do with the family that are budget-friendly and safe in this age of Covid-19, plus the fact that I’m super restless and am always in need of a change of scenery, we decided to make a little challenge for ourselves and check out our local parks one by one.
The map below shows the parks we’ve visited so far (green) and all of the parks in the Santa Clara County Parks System (blue). Anderson Lake County Park is in red. Over the next few months we’ll be reviewing each one, hoping to find some unexpected discoveries along the way and making it a little easier for families to find a new trail of their own to explore.
Let the adventures begin!
Our Hike at Anderson Lake County Park: Rancho Laguna Seca and Lakeview Trails
We’d been meaning to check out Anderson for the past year, so it was an easy first pick. We’d driven the foothills of Morgan Hill once before when we put an offer on a little townhouse near the Holiday Lakes neighborhood. We didn’t get the house, but remained intrigued by the area and curious to know more about Anderson Lake itself.
One important thing to note about our Anderson hike is that we did not start at the main entrance as originally planned. Plan A was to go to the Boat Launch Parking Lot and then choose either the Serpentine Trail or the Lakeview Trail which begin on opposite sides of the dam. However, thanks to our reliably unreliable phone service, I somehow plugged in GPS coordinates for a different entrance to the Lakeview Trail which happened to be open on my AllTrails app. Having never been to the park, we didn’t really notice that anything was off until we reached our destination at the little dirt lot off of Holiday Drive. Honestly, I make little mistakes like this a lot, but I’ve learned to just roll with it, as part of the adventure. As it turned out, arriving at the “wrong” entrance proved to be a happy accident that day.
With our boys and pup, Brody, in tow, we reoriented ourselves thanks to the posted trail map, and started off on the Rancho Laguna Seca trail. Now that the boys are 3 and 5, we often have our double Bob with us and are always questioning whether or not we need it. We took a look at the wide well-maintained trail, and decided to chance it. It was a good call. Despite one rocky stretch, we had no problem with the stroller throughout the loop and it came in handy after our lunch break, when the boys lost steam on the way back to the car.
A few yards in we approached some gorgeous oak trees with moss dripping from their branches. A memorial bench for Lisa Wilson sat in a particularly beautiful shaded spot as we approached the first fork in the trail. The quote chosen for the bench offered a meaningful reminder:
“Allow yourself to be in the moment. There are often multiple paths to peace and enjoyment.”
I took this message to heart, and felt grateful for a morning spent with the family in a beautiful outdoor setting.
A little further ahead, we stopped to investigate a small grassy pond that was a dream come true for my tadpole-obsessed kiddos. We try to take plenty of pauses while we walk so that they learn to slow down along the trails and tune into the wild around them. Sure enough, they spotted a young frog and spent quite a bit of time watching it swim closer and closer to them on the shore.
From the pond we turned right onto the Lakeview Trail, where our attention turned to looking out for wildlife and peeks of the lake. We spent some quality time watching a turkey vulture watch us and used our PictureThis app to finally learn to recognize a manzanita tree. About midway to the dam we found an observation point perfect for our obligatory family photo. There was a rocky downhill desire path near this point that seemed to lead to the lake. Bug and I were tempted to explore it, but cooler heads and visions of snakes prevailed.
The Lunch Dilemma
We followed the rest of the trail to the parking lot near the dam, and then looked for a spot to pause so the kids could have some lunch. The incline down to the parking lot was the steepest we’d come across, and as we continued down the boat ramp I held my tongue. I was eyeing the “beach” area at the base of the ramp, mistaking some boating equipment near the shore for a picnic-friendly spot. As we descended further, I knew it was going to be an effort on the way back up, but I’m always willing to go the extra mile, so to speak, for a memorable break spot.
John, not so much.
Sure enough, mid-way down the ramp he suggested that we pull over near a pile of rocks and some tall reeds and weeds. I won that particular argument and we pushed ahead, but I knew that it would be my turn to push the stroller back up on the way out. A little extra arm workout seemed worth it at the time, and though I was completely wrong about what we would find at the bottom of the boat ramp, we were rewarded by some deer sightings while the kids munched on their sandwiches.
The Trail Back Home
By the time we made it back up the ramp and the incline back up to the Rancho Laguna Seca trailhead, the kids (and John) were pretty tired. I was both grateful and impressed by 5 year old JJ for hiking up on his own rather than choosing to sit back in the Bob, even if the temptation was real. He waited to hop in until we made it all the way up the hill (phew!).
If it were up to me, we would have completed the loop via the Cochrane Trail, but the family wasn’t in the mood to follow me the long way around this time. It was a relatively short walk back to the car on the Rancho Laguna Seca trail, and the kids waived back to their new froggy friend and some baby ducks as we passed the pond again.
All in all, it was a lovely morning and a great introduction to Anderson Lake County Park for our family. We’ll be back to explore many of the other trails, parks, and sites the park has to offer, maybe even by horseback or boat one day!
Anderson Lake County Park Features
- Boating on the 7-mile long, 953 surface acre lake, is now open. There is access for power and non-power boating, fishing, float tube fishing, and jet-skis. Call for boating reservations: (408) 355-2201.
- The Coyote Creek Parkway is a paved path for walkers, runners, cyclists, and skaters that runs north for 15 miles before connecting with Coyote Hellyer County Park. You can access the trail via the Anderson Lake Visitor Center at 19245 Malaguerra Ave.
- An equestrian staging area is available with trailer parking and rest areas at 1181 Burnett Avenue. A water trough is not available at this site.
- Due to Covid-19 restrictions, park facilities other than boating and trail access are currently closed. When access resumes, The Live Oak and Toyon group picnic areas on the northwest side of the dam are available for reservation. There is also a shoreline picnic and barbecue area at the Woodchopper’s Flat, accessible by boat or car, at the south end of the lake.
Next Up on Our Anderson Lake County Park List:
Our family loves a nature trail, so I’m curious to check out Coyote Creek Nature Trail loop that circles the Walnut Rest Area. You can find more information about the nature trail and its historic landmarks on this document from Santa Clara County Parks. This section of the park also is a part of the Bay Area Ridge Trail.
As always, check the official park website before heading over. Not only will there be the latest Covid-19 updates, but there are also plans for the dam to close in phases due to an upcoming seismic retrofit project.
What Was Here before the Dam?
Last but not least, I thought I’d share a snippet of recent history in case you were curious about what this land looked like before the dam was built. Named for Leroy Anderson, a key founder and first president of the Santa Clara Valley water district, Anderson is the largest of the Valley’s 10 linked reservoirs. Construction of the dam was approved by voters in 1949. According to Santa Clara County Parks, the land beneath the reservoir was farmland owned by John Cochrane when he purchased a part of the Ojo de Agua de la Coche land grant in 1869. His wife, Aphelia Farmington, took over ranch operations after Cochrane’s death in 1899. She died in 1949 at the age of 103. The ranch house that Aphelia built in 1914 was moved to the lake’s southeastern shore where it remains today.
Thanks for joining us on our little Anderson Lake County Park Adventure! Please share your own thoughts, ideas, or Anderson photos in the comments. We hope you’ll join us on the next trail as we continue exploring our parks!