Santa Clara County Supervisor Ken Yeager is a bit of a fitness nut. He’s climbed Mt. Whitney, regularly takes part in obstacle course races and “mud runs” and has made getting county residents healthier one of his missions during his time in elected office.

So it’s no surprise that he would welcome the task of tackling the “Magnificent 7,” a collection of trail hikes that the Santa Clara County Parks Department is showcasing with the “#PixInParks” challenge announced in January. The surprise was when Yeager invited me to join him on the first of them, a 1.7-mile trek along the Lookout Trail at Villa Montalvo County Park above Saratoga.

Mercury News columnist Sal Pizarro, left, and Santa Clara County SupervisorKen Yeager hike along the Lookout Trail at Montalvo County Park in San Jose on March 30, 2017. (Photo courtesy Supervisor Ken Yeager's Office)
Mercury News columnist Sal Pizarro, left, and Santa Clara County Supervisor Ken Yeager hike along the Lookout Trail at Montalvo County Park in San Jose on March 30, 2017. (Photo courtesy Supervisor Ken Yeager’s Office) 

That’s because I have what you might call a “casual relationship” with nature. When I run or bike, I prefer the orderly layout of city streets and the solid footing of pavement or concrete. I also have a crippling fear of heights, so when people refer to a hike as “scenic,” what I hear is “dizzying death march.”

But I accepted the challenge for two reasons: Like many people, I need activities in my life healthier than sitting in front of a keyboard or driving on Interstate 280. And I know that we’re lucky to live in an astonishingly beautiful environment, of which I have explored astonishingly little.

While I’d been up to the Montalvo Arts Center many times for events — the historic villa and grounds were once the home of the late California Sen. James Phelan — I didn’t realize the surrounding 175 acres was a county park until I heard about the challenge. Yeager and I met there last week for our jaunt. Hikers are directed to park in Lot 4, closest to the trailheads. I brought along a water bottle, sunscreen and a hat, and he brought two staff members to record the visit for the social media part of the #PixInParks challenge (though I secretly wondered if they were also there in case at any time I required carrying).

The Lookout Trail is probably the easiest of the seven hikes in the challenge. It’s just over a 1½ miles to the Lookout Point — there’s a longer trail that loops back to the Montalvo amphitheater for the ambitious — and it’s mostly shaded by tall redwoods with a relatively easy uphill slope. We made it to the sandy top, where there are benches and a jaw-dropping view of the Santa Clara Valley, in about 25 minutes. We took pictures and made a Facebook Live video before the easy walk back down.

“I do a lot of hiking in the county parks and I also do a lot of running up the trails as well,” Yeager said after our hike. “It’s good to tell people about all the county parks that we have. People think they can just go and have lunch there, and that’s great, but if they want to do a hike there’s plenty of opportunities as well.”

There are six other trails left to conquer: the Barn Trail at Joseph D. Grant Park; Mummy Mountain Trail at Coyote Lake Harvey Bear Park; Tie Camp at Mt. Madonna Park; Bald Peaks Trail at Calero Park; the Tony Look Trail at Stevens Creek Park and the John Nicholas Trail at Sanborn Park (which is currently closed because of storm damage).

My goal is to hike them all by October — an aim that Yeager politely called “ambitious,” as I’m sure he could finish them before the calendar turns to May. Anyone who finishes the challenge and posts social media photos at each location is eligible to get a commemorative T-shirt from the Santa Clara County Parks Department (Get details online at

When we did our hike, Yeager was already wearing his T-shirt, one of the perks of being a county supervisor, I’m sure. I’ll be earning mine the hard way, one step at a time.


Favorite hike: “The top of Half Dome in Yosemite National Park, a California classic that is not only a great — and challenging — one-day hike but also one of the most amazing views on the planet.”

Dream hike: The 212-mile John Muir Trail from Yosemite to Mount Whitney.

Best hiking tip: “Be open to the adventure; don’t talk yourself out of it because you’re not ready.”

Favorite Santa Clara County Park: “Stevens Creek, a place where I hike, bike and participate in splash-and-dash runs.”

Magnificent Seven hike he’s most looking forward: “The 3.8-mile hike to the Tie Camp viewpoint at Mt. Madonna. Mt. Madonna is one of the loveliest parts of the County that remains uncrowded and serene.”

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