Duration: 2 days
Distance, elevation gain/loss:
one way, via Jim Donnelly Trail with side trip to Spike Jones Spring: 5.6 miles, +2000/-250 feet
one way, via Lyman Willson Ridge Trail: 5.7 miles, +1960/-200 feet
Trailhead: Hunting Hollow on Gilroy Hot Springs Road
Permits/fees: Backpacking permit and parking fees required; self-register for Grizzly Gulch Zone (Willson Peak)
• Camping at the the peak, near large blue oaks
• Best poppies in the park (early April)
• Gorgeous panoramic views
• Great for watching sunrise, sunset and stargazing
• Rich variety of spring wildflowers
Elevation - one way, via Jim Donnelly Trail
From the parking lot, cross/ford the creek, and in a few hundred feet turn left onto Jim Donnelly Trail Climb steadily at moderate grade through meadows and groves of bay and oak trees, adorned with lacy lichen. Coast live oaks provide deep shade, welcomed on a hot day.
After 1.3 miles, you’ll find a picnic table in a sunny open meadow.
At 3.2 miles, at the junction with Steer Ridge Road, stands an old bay tree with large rocks under its crown - a pleasant spot for a break.
Continue up Steer Ridge Road along the open grassy ridge, dotted with oaks.
At 3.6 miles, look for Spike Jones trail on the left. If you need water, take a side trip to the spring.
At 5.5 miles, at the sign ‘Willson Peak 0.1 mile’ on the left side of the road, turn left towards flat grassy top with few large oaks.
In spring time, before heading to the peak, explore a large rocky area few hundred feet down the Steer Ridge Road.
Here, on serpentine soil, poppies are spectacular, together with cream cups and and birds-eye gilias. In late summer, pungent sticky tarweed takes over the ridge crest.
Late in season, to find water on the way out, take Hunting Hollow Road (level, along the creek, with multiple crossings), Lyman Willson Ridge Trail (steep climb) and Bowl Trail (fairly level).
As you approach Willson camp, look for springs on the left side of Bowl Trail. Mistletoe and Willson Camp springs are reliable during all but driest years.
From the the Willson camp, Willson Peak is 1.7 miles north-west on Steer Ridge Road.
Camping at Willson Peak
Wilderness-style camping, without designated sites and conveniences such as outhouse or picnic table.
Camp at large flat grassy area on top of Willson Peak. Trees provide some shade. Afternoon winds are common. In winter, it can be foggy and cold.
From this high point you can see most of the park ridges and canyons - Wasno Ridge, Willow Ridge, Burra Burra, Robison Mountain, distant ridges of Orestimba Wilderness.
Seasonal Spike Jones Spring is 0.4 miles from Steer Ridge Road and 1.6 miles from the Willson Peak.
Mistletoe and Willson Camp springs near Willson Camp are reliable during all but driest years. Willson Camp is 1.7 miles from Willson Peak.
Another option is the small seasonal pond below the peak, on the north side of Steer Ridge Road. No trail leads to the pond.
Later in the season, pack water in.
When creek has high water
If Hunting Hollow Creek is impassable after heavy rain, you can scramble along the hillside from the concrete bridge on Gilroy Hot Springs road to Steer Ridge and Jim Donnelly trails.