Mount Madonna has over a hundred campsites and the ruins of a mansion built by a guy who owned nearly 2 million acres of California ranch land. It has 20 miles of trails but they’re not the main attraction. I hiked there a couple years ago and rated it merely so-so.

Yesterday I went back and could hardly believe it was the same park. It was, but this time I was walking on better trails. Which goes to show there’s always time in life for a new first impression.

Before, I hiked out of the campgrounds and stayed on the old mining and ranching roads through the park. This time I hiked into the park from the Sprig Lake Recreation Area about five miles from Gilroy on Highway 152. It has two things I like: free parking and uphill hiking at the beginning. It also had something unexpected: the Sprig Lake Trail, which marches up the hillside for a couple miles, starting out in oak woodlands and moving into thick redwood forest. It’s pretty steep, but it’s positively gorgeous. Every time I think “well, I’ve seen all the great trails around here,” I come across another like this one.

After I’d done the wake-up-the-heart-and-lungs trek up the hill, the distinctive wail of the homo erectus rug-ratus revealed campgrounds nearby. From there, Sprig Lake Trail connected to a network of trails, most of them easy and redwood-shaded, around the Henry Miller Site (Miller’s the aforementioned land baron). Old logging roads took me back down the hill to the Sprig Lake trail head.

OK, let’s check out some pictures:

Spring Lake Trail Head

A sunny day makes it pointless to imagine bringing any good pictures home from sections of trail like this — the beginning of the Sprig Lake Trail. But pictures will never capture the sensation of hiking a really nice trail like this one anyway, so maybe it’s just as well.

Twin Giants

If you do take the Sprig Lake Trail, check out the half-mile out-and-back spur to Twin Giants, two of only four old-growth redwoods remaining in the park. A bicentennial plaque placed by the trees in 1976 says they’re certified to have been alive in the time of the American Revolution. Actually they were probably there before Columbus made landfall in this hemisphere.

Scraggly trees

A bunch of scraggly trees on the Sprig Lake Trail near the Twin Giants spur. Trails here continually enter and exit distinct forest ecosystems. Botanists must wet themselves when they come here.

White fallow deer

You know how the rich robber barons of another era stuck together? Well, here’s one of their gifts: A white fallow deer, direct descendant of a pair of deer William Randolph Hearst gave to the descendants of Henry Miller in 1932 (he couldn’t have given them to Miller himself, as many accounts state, because Miller died n 1916). The deer live in a pen to keep them from becoming an invasive species.

Old wall

Miller must’ve been important: there’s ruins where he used to live, just like the Romans.

Broken stairs

Broken concrete stairs that presumably used to lead up to the mansion on the grounds here. Those concrete posts in the background appear to be the footings.

Redwoods aplenty

Redwoods abound in the trails near the Miller site.

Seed pod

Another excellent dangling buckeye pod.

I’m definitely glad I gave Mount Madonna another look. It’s tempting to write it off as someplace to take the kids camping, but the trails’ charms stand on their own.