Thursday, February 10, 2022

Glen Eden Trail

Mount Konocti rising above Clear Lake from the Glen Eden Trail
5 miles round trip, 1700 feet elevation gain
Difficulty: Moderate
Access: Paved road to trailhead, no fee required

The hike up the sides of Little Cow Mountain on the Glen Eden Trail provide good views of Northern California’s Clear Lake region. The Glen Eden Trail is the primary access trail to the Bureau of Land Management’s Cow Mountain Recreation Area and is one of the few official hiking trails in this part of the Mayacama Mountains. There are far more spectacular trails throughout Northern California, but this is still a decent hike option in the Ukiah-Clear Lake area due to the dearth of other good hiking options in the area. The full trail extends deep into Cow Mountain Recreation Area, but here I will just describe a round trip hike along the trail’s easternmost 2.5 mile stretch. The trail passes through an easement on private land for the entirety of this hike, so be sure to stay on the trail to avoid trespassing. Like many inland hikes in this part of California, this trail can get very hot midday, especially during the summer, so start early to avoid the heat; ticks are also common in the brushier areas along the trail.

I hiked the Glen Eden Trail during a September visit to the Ukiah-Clear Lake area. The trailhead is a 2.5 hour drive from San Francisco; the fastest way to reach it from the Bay Area is to follow Highway 101 north past Ukiah and take Exit 555B for Highway 20 heading east towards Lakeport. I followed Highway 20 for 14 miles into the Mayacamas and then turned right onto Scotts Valley Road, which I followed through a pretty valley for 2.5 miles to the Glen Eden trailhead. There was a large gravel parking lot for the hike on the left (east) side of the road, but the Glen Eden Trail itself started across the road, heading west and up the steep slopes of the Mayacama Mountains.

From the parking lot, I crossed Scotts Valley Road and started up the Glen Eden Trail, which was initially a steep and narrow single-track trail that ascended through the oak forests that covered the Mayacama Mountains. As foliage was not particularly dense here, partial views started opening up soon afterwards as I worked my way through switchbacks up the mountain. Southerly switchback corners provided nice views of farms and houses below in Scott Valley with three-peaked Mount Konocti, a stratovolcano at the center of the Clear Lake region, in the distance. 

Mount Konocti rises over Scotts Valley
When the switchbacks ended and the trail began heading west and working its way up to the ridge, I was treated to nice views of farms in Scotts Valley with the forested Mayacama Mountains rising above. Having started the hike early in the morning to avoid the heat, I was lucky to see some remnant morning fog hanging onto some of the hillsides here.

Fog in the Mayacamas
The trail gained the crest of the ridge at 0.4 miles into the hike, where it joined an old road trace, which made the trail wider and the hiking a bit easier; the oak forest around the trail was replaced by brush and chaparral. The road trace continued climbing along the ridge until flattening out at 0.8 miles after about 600 feet of ascent. This flatter stretch of the ridge featured nice views of the crest of the Mayacama Mountains ahead.

Glen Eden Trail
The trail resumed its steady ascent after the flat part of the ridge until flattening out again in a wooded area where the road trace skirted some fenced-off private property. Here, the Glen Eden Trail left the road trace and temporarily became a single-track trail again, which climbed uphill through some chaparral and joined a well-maintained dirt road slightly above the private lot (be sure to watch for signs for the Glen Eden Trail on your return to avoid wandering onto someone’s property here!).

Now a thousand feet in elevation above the trailhead and 1.5 miles into the hike, I continued following the dirt road uphill and to the west, ascending through chaparral-covered slopes with increasingly impressive views. Clear Lake was now visible at the foot of distant Mount Konocti and the views along the crest of the Mayacama Mountains were improving as well. At an unsigned junction of dirt roads, I took the left fork to continue heading towards the main ridge.

Glen Eden Trail views of Clear Lake
The dirt road passed beneath the summit of Little Cow Mountain; the peak was a little over 300 feet above the road here but is inaccessible to the public. Instead, the Glen Eden Trail swung to the south, opening up lovely views of the Mayacamas and Clear Lake. Cobb Mountain- the high point of the Mayacama Mountains- rose slightly above the surrounding peaks to the southeast. Much of the landscape here was still charred and bore other scars of the 2018 River Fire, which swept through the Cow Mountain area and burned the entire Glen Eden Trail. The River Fire was the smaller portion of the larger Mendocino Complex Fire, which was the largest recorded fire in California history when it swept through in 2018 but has since been relegated to third after the conflagrations of the 2020 and 2021 fire seasons.

At 2 miles, the trail departed the road trace to the right: here, signs along the road indicated private property ahead and redirected hikers onto a single-track trail. For many hikers, this may be an appropriate turnaround point, as the best views of Clear Lake are to be had here. However, hikers who continue just another half mile further can also catch some views into the Cow Mountain Recreation Area deep in the Mayacamas.

Mayacama Mountains
The single-track entered a forest of madrones and then descended briefly into a small ravine before ascending out the other side into chaparral. As the trail climbed onto a ridge covered with low brush, nice views of Little Cow Mountain and Clear Lake opened up. 

Little Cow Mountain
At 2.4 miles, I came to a five-way junction atop a ridge crest: three private gravel roads met here, while the Glen Eden Trail crossed to the right hand side of the junction. I followed the Glen Eden Trail for another 50 meters through a stand of oaks on the grassy ridge until coming to a view to the west of Cow Ridge and the valley of Scotts Creek. While not particularly inspiring, this viewpoint was quiet and peaceful and was a good spot for a brief rest before backtracking to the trailhead.

Oaks in the grasslands
View west into Cow Mountain Recreation Area
The Glen Eden Trail continues from the point where I stopped, traveling deep into Cow Mountain Recreation Area for another 4 miles. The trail ends at a road that’s accessible from the Ukiah side, but I wasn’t terribly interested in a longer hike here under the hot sun.

This first 2.5 mile stretch of the Glen Eden Trail has some pretty views and few visitors, despite being one of the few formal publicly accessible hiking trails in its area. I saw just a single other hiker on a nice Sunday morning in September. It’s not clear to me that this hike alone would be worth a trip from the Bay Area- but if you’re a local or happen to be in the area with some free time, this is a decent Clear Lake area hike if you’ve already hiked Mount Konocti. Weakly recommended, but still an enjoyable hike; come early in the day to avoid the heat on this exposed trail.

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