The first and oldest municipal park in California, Alum Rock Park is nestled within Alum Rock Canyon in the western foothills of the Diablo Range, on the east side of San Jose.
Founded in 1872, it was then known as the "Reservation." The park derives its present name from a huge rock once thought to have been aluminum. Due to its natural formations, the park is also known as "Little Yosemite."
The park had a rich history before it was designated as a park by the California State Legislature. It was a part of the Spanish pueblo system in 1777, when Spain’s King Philip II established the pueblos to provision the San Francisco presidio.
From 1890 to 1932, the park was well-known as a health spa featuring mineral baths. In addition, there was an indoor swimming pool, a tea garden, restaurant, a dance pavilion, a zoo, and a railroad, which was constructed from downtown San Jose into the park.
Thousands of visitors came here during the period between World War II and the early 1960s, and the park became so overcrowded that the facilities could no longer be properly maintained. As a result, plant and animal communities were severely endangered.
Presently, the park, spread over 720 acres, is a natural, rugged getaway with superb facilities for hiking, horseback riding, bicycling, and family and group picnicking. Picnic tables, barbecue pits, water and restrooms, along with lawns and a children’s playground in the mid-canyon area, are available.
There also are trails, which connect the park to the Bay Area Ridge Trail and the Boccardo Trail. They offer superb views of Silicon Valley. Further, the park includes a visitor center, providing maps, information, and educational displays.
The east and west canyons of the park are noted for its delicate plant and animal life. A variety of grasses, poison oak, holly leaf-cherry, sage brush, and live oak trees, can be seen on the slopes of north canyon.
Black-tailed deer, brush rabbits, hawks, and turkey vultures are among the animal and bird inhabitants found here. The southern side of the canyon is unique with a large number of trees such as the California black oak, California buckeye, and madrone.
Small shrubs including toyon, wild rose, and wild blackberries, which are also abundant here.
One of the most attractive spots in the park is Penitencia Creek, which is lined with big-leaf maple, white alder, and western sycamore. Wild honey-suckle vines, arroyo, and red willow, add to the charm of the spot.