Great Treks: Jog among the millionaires in Woodside's Huddart County Park

03/11/2012 1:00 AM

10/01/2014 1:06 PM

WOODSIDE – This town, a study in contrasts, weaves the old and new, the wealthy and weathered, so seamlessly that you hardly notice.

Get lost in Huddart County Park, 972 acres of lush trails engulfed in stately second-growth redwoods that serves as this month's Great Trek, and you almost miss the sad stumps of the original trees felled 150 years ago for the lucrative commerce of the day, logging.

Drive the main drag, Woodside Road, and you cannot help but be charmed by the rustic, hitching-post-ready wooden storefronts that house such chic businesses as venture capital firms, boutique grocery stores and a tennis equipment shop. Most notably, it is home to Buck's, the funky deal-making diner where, Silicon Valley legend has it, PayPal, Hotmail, Netscape and other high-tech firms got their start – or, at least, their funding.

Go beyond Buck's, up the winding Kings Mountain Road headed toward the park, and you see handsome ranch houses with horse corrals next to gilt gates that lead to mansions worth tens of millions. Larry Ellison, the Oracle mogul, lives here in what is said to be a 23-acre Japanese feudal castle with a man-made lake. (We hedge because you cannot see said "castle" from public access.) Intel's Gordon Moore has a more, well, modest mansion. Late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs once was a Woodsider, where he drew fire for wanting to gut his historic property.

Yes, Woodside is the very definition of the haughty term "wealthy enclave." But it doesn't show it. Call it stealth affluence, drawing attention to yourself by fiercely not trying to draw attention.

Home to 5,287 residents (and almost as many horses) within 11.7 square miles, and with a median household income at $214,310, according to census figures, Woodside might at first come off as less than welcoming for those in smaller tax brackets and lower-tech jobs.

Not so, at least on the afternoon I visited. Of course, my purpose was not to crash high-minded Woodsidean social circles, just to briefly savor the high- altitude wonders of the trails and then take in the techie-cool atmosphere at the famous Buck's.

But even Woodside's non-billionaire residents, such as noted Bay Area ultrarunner and PayPal executive Scott Dunlap, say the place is the most accessible, unassuming wealthy enclave you'll find.

"It's primarily still a horse town, believe it or not," said Dunlap, who's lived there 12 years. "What's interesting to me about Woodside is that it's (home to) not your average Silicon Valley millionaire. The truth is, most of them are pretty approachable. It makes it fun (to spot people) when you go to the local coffee shops."

You are more likely to come across a horse than a tech mogul on Huddart Park trails, which wind through groves of redwood, oak and madrone, before connecting, farther afield, to Purisma Creek Open Space Reserve and Wunderlich County Park.

Dunlap, who runs there often, gladly provided an enticing preview into this month's Great Treks.

"My favorite part is that they're very quiet trails," he said. "It's mostly second-growth redwoods, but if you go over into Purisma Creek, you'll see some first growth. The trees are so dense that even though Highway 280 is a stone's throw from you, you really can't hear it. And because it's all redwoods, the trails are quite soft, too."

You can run for 30 miles, if you like, at Huddart and its connecting trails. But I chose a modest 11-mile route all within Huddart Park proper because I really wanted to get to Buck's for the second part of our Woodside experience.

Huddart is nothing less than nature's Valium for go-go, workaholic techies. At times, the trails are so dense and secluded that neither a GPS watch nor a cellphone can function.

The horror! What's a high-tech gadget freak to do?

Well, how about exhaling and enjoying a trail that, most of the year, offers sun-dappled sights of ferns, wildflowers and lazy, pulse-lowering creeks.

At the same time, a 1,400-foot altitude gain over the first four-mile stretch, mostly via switchbacks, sends the pulse racing. It is, to continue our theme, a trail of contrasts – challenging climbs and cruise-control downhills.

Seen on a map, the 11- mile course may look like an MRI of the small intestine, given all the squiggly zigzags. But it's almost impossible to get lost, given the excellent (almost obsessive) signage pointing the way.

After parking at Werder Shelter/Zwierlein Picnic Area, you head east beyond the sand volleyball pit to the Bay Tree Trail, which immediately plunges you down a twisty, tree-shaded path for seven-tenths of a mile. At the junction, you head left on the Richards Road Trail for 1.1 miles.

It's not your usual fire road; Richards is skinnier, almost double-track, and considerably smoother than most rock-studded roads. Twice on Richards, you will pass trail markers pointing toward the Crystal Springs Trail. Do not take those trails; it's not time yet. Instead, keep climbing to the Chaparral Trail, where you'll turn left and the route will flatten out.

After nearly a half-mile, you'll once more find a junction with the Crystal Springs Trail. This time, turn right and take Crystal Springs up its winding switchback way – "Those switchbacks never seem to end," Dunlap said. Along the way, you'll cross other trail junctions, but just keep to the marked, serpentine Crystal Springs Trail.

Finally, at about five miles into the trek, you make a brief right on the Summit Springs Trail and then an immediate left back on Richards for another climb, this time four-tenths of a mile. This will put you on the Skyline Trail for slightly less than a mile. You know you're near the top of the climb when you hear faint sounds of cars whizzing by on Skyline Boulevard.

The return trip – which begins at the intersection of Skyline and the Chinquapin Trail – will be a pleasure for those tiring of a climb – and those pining to get to Buck's. (The more ambitious can stay on Skyline for another seven miles until it leads to Wunderlich Park and the lovely Bear Gulch Trail.)

Chinquapin measures 1.8 miles, but it seems to go by in a flash, switchbacks being so much more pleasant with gravity on your side. At the end of Chinquapin comes the only spot in the course where you might make a wrong turn, so pay attention. At a three-way intersection, you want to make a hard left onto the Dean Trail, which is a rolling leaf-covered path for seven-tenths of a mile. It runs smack into the Crystal Springs Trail, where you enjoy the switchbacks for 2.6 miles back to the parking lot.

After that, Buck's awaits.

The food is filling and fulfilling, if pricey (this is Woodside, remember), and the aura of the diner's deal-making history remains strong. But the real reason to go to Buck's is to gawk at the array of oddities owner Jamis MacNiven has amassed.

Doing even a partial inventory would take up too much space, but here's a sampling of the souvenirs: statue of Vladimir Lenin; smashed John McEnroe tennis racket, Cracker Jack prizes from 1902-32; Al Gore's pass (with mug shot) from the 2008 TED Conference; life-size leather buffalo; Gary Coleman "Diff'rent Strokes" lunchbox; 8-foot "Tiger/Shark"; chads from a Dade County, Fla., 2000 presidential ballot; Pancho Villa's shotgun; photo of Mike Tyson, in underwear, wrestling a white tiger; collection of false teeth; purse belonging to actress Agnes Moorhead.

Feel free to wander and gawk; MacNiven and Buck's staff encourage it. The restaurant, after all, is accustomed to the attention. On the south wall is a wooden board marking off the number of TV crews that have shot footage at Buck's (more than 200 by the end of the 1990s, when MacNiven stopped counting).

"I've owned it 21 years and I'm still installing stuff," MacNiven said. "It's not static. I rarely take anything out. I just keep adding. We can always throw some customers out. They're less important.

"Like I was saying to my friend Paul McCartney – who told me never to drop any names – we've benefited hugely from the media. It's not me or the restaurant, it's the story of the valley that's important."

You quickly learn not to take MacNiven too seriously, because he doesn't. But Buck's does some serious business. By 8 a.m. most mornings, there's a line out the door. Even at 2 p.m. on a weekday, most booths are full.

Many are locals, who greet the waitresses with hugs and air kisses. But many more are day-trippers or tourists for whom Buck's – and Woodside – is the destination.

Indeed, they may not get to see Ellison's compound or the property on which Jobs' mansion once stood, but big trees at Huddart and a big stack of pancakes at Buck's are more than worth the trip.

HUDDART COUNTY PARK, WOODSIDE

Trail: 11 miles

DIRECTIONS TO TRAILHEAD

Address: 1100 Kings Mountain Road. Take Interstate 80 to I-880 south, then take Highway 92 across San Mateo Bridge. Go south on I-280 to the Woodside Road/Highway 84 exit. Go west for about 1.5 miles. Turn right on Kings Mountain Road and follow it two miles to the park entrance kiosk. Cost is $6 for day parking. Parking lot at Werder Shelter/Zwierlein picnic area is just below the kiosk.

FEATURED ROUTE: 11 miles

From the parking lot, follow the sign to the Bay Tree Trail. Go 0.7 miles on Bay Tree. Turn left and go 1.1 miles on the Richards Road Trail. Turn left at the Chaparral trail and go 0.5 miles. Turn right and follow the Crystal Springs Trail up long switchbacks for 2.8 miles. Go right at the Summit Springs Fire Road for 0.1 miles, then left on Richards Fire Road for 0.4 miles. Turn left and stay on the Skyline Trail for 0.8 of a mile. At junction, follow signs straight to the Chinquapin Trail. Go 1.8 miles on Chinquapin and take a sharp left onto the Dean Trail. Follow Dean Trail for 0.7 of a mile. Continue onto the Crystal Springs trail, downhill, for 2.6 miles to Werder Shelter.

EASIER ROUTE: 5.5 miles

Take the Bay Tree Trail to Richards Road Trial. Continue on Richards to the Toyon Group Campground. Turnaround and return back to Werder Shelter.

HARDER ROUTE: 30 miles

After reaching to Skyline/Chinquapin Trail intersection, turn right and go 8 miles on the Skyline Trail. (Note: Watch for cars when crossing Kings Mountain Road.) Go straight at the junction with the Alambique Trail for 0.6 miles. Turn left on Bear Gulch Trail for 1.1 miles. Turn right on the Redwood Trail for 0.7 miles. Right on Meadow Trail for 0.4 miles. Straight on Oak Trail for 0.5 miles. Right on Alambique for 2.8 miles, back to Skyline and return to Huddart and the Werder Shelter via the featured route.

Difficulty: Moderate (5.5 Richards Road Trail); strenuous (11-mile and 30-mile).

Toilets: Yes, at Werder Shelter

Dogs: Not allowed

Poison oak probability: Medium

Will there be blood? Slight. There is considerable downhill running but the trails are smooth.

Probability of getting lost: Slim. Great signage.

Make a day of it: Stop by Buck's, 3062 Woodside Road, for a sit-down meal and view of the eclectic decor, or go to the Woodside Bakery, 3052 Woodside Road, where, as Woodside resident and runner Scott Dunlap notes, "It's a place where you can walk in completely muddy and no one cares."

– Sam McManis

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Great Treks is a California Traveler feature that invites readers to enjoy the region's outdoors by bicycle and on foot. Have a suggestion for a hike or another kind of great outdoors experience? Send an email to fitness@sabee.com.

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