Alum Rock Park, San Jose (South Rim Trail)

Hike Date: August 16, 2015

Alum Rock Park is a municipal park in east San Jose; in fact, the first one established in California! The park spans from west to east, snug within the Alum Rock Canyon, and at the foothills of the Diablo Range. One can only imagine how any hike starting from the base of a hill would be like.

The South Rim Trail runs along the southern escarpment of the Alum Rock Canyon. The north and south escarpments of the canyon are characteristically different from each other in foliage – one is almost completely devoid of tree cover (North Rim Trail) and the other provides an excellent cover from the harsh summer sun (South Rim Trail).

The South Rim Trail is tougher and steeper than the North Rim Trail; the first two miles were a killing incline. I felt as though my heart would explode; I was so out of breath. We needed long stops to gain normalcy. The hike after the Sycamore Switchback Trail/South Rim Trail fork was more flat and pleasant.

We started the hike from behind the Youth Science Institute. The incline started right from the beginning and there was no respite until the Sycamore Switchback Trail fork. We faced the elevation of almost the entire trail in the first two miles, after which it was mostly flat or a downward slope.

The Aguague-Penitencia Rest Area is one of the landmarks on the South Rim Trail. On its easternmost point, the South Rim Trail coming from the south, crosses the Penitencia Creek; this is the point where the South Rim Trail transitions into the Penitencia Creek Trail. This is also the point where the creek forks into the Upper Penitencia Creek and Arroyo Aguague.

There is a wooden-planked steel bridge to cross the Penitencia Creek. With the California drought, the creek is dry for most part. There is a nice, shaded area with a bench for resting on both ends of the bridge. One could just hike up to this point and spend some peaceful, leisure hours.

The eastern part of the Penitencia Creek Trail boasts of mineral springs, now all dry and non-existent and smelling of sulphur. The stonework surrounding the springs have turned yellow with the chemical residues. Interestingly, these mineral springs were well-known for health benefits, so much so, that people from all over the country were coming to visit this “health resort”. “Many of the springs were enclosed in stonework grottos“.

noun_64692_ccSpotted this one right at the end of the trail.

There were one or two folks on the trail but I guess there is usually less crowd on Sundays.

That’s us, after the hike!

There is an interesting story behind how the Alum Rock Park got its name.

Hike Date: August 16, 2015
(data source: Garmin Connect, with elevation corrections applied)
Trails Hiked: South Rim Trail, Penitencia Creek Trail
Distance: 4.0 miles (6.4km)
Time: 1h 36min (2h 4min)
Elevation Gain: 686ft
Max and Min Elevation: 1178 feet/553 feet

5_south rim trail_elevation profile

Trail Info
Parking Lot: The main parking lot for the Alum Rock Park is at 15156 Penitencia Creek Rd San Jose, CA 95132, at the park entrance, but it offers very limited parking space. There are five more parking lots down the Penitencia Creek Rd and Alum Rock Falls Rd.

Parking Fee: $6. Both cash (exact change required) and card are accepted. Automated pay stations exist only at the main parking lot and the first and last parking lots after that.
Restrooms: Restrooms are available close to all the picnic areas and parking lots. There is one just next to the Youth Science Institute.
Map: None available at the trailhead. You can download one from here.
Exposure to sun: Minimal.
Crowd: Sparse.


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