Mt. Hamilton Fire Lookout  
Mt. Hamilton Lick Observatory

Mt. Hamilton Summit:  4,360 elevation

Copernicus Peak

Staffed by Cal Fire CDF Morgan Hill ** Santa Clara Ranger Unit **


Mt. Hamilton Live Webcam


LIVE: Sausalito Cam


Photos by: Doug Kunst


About Mt. Hamilton

Mount Hamilton is a mountain in California's Diablo Range. In 1861, while working for Josiah D. Whitney on the first California Geological Survey, William H. Brewer invited local San Jose preacher (and Brewer's personal friend) Laurentine Hamilton to join his company on a trek to a nearby summit. Nearing completion of their journey, Hamilton, in good humor, bounded for the summit ahead of the rest of the men and claimed his stake. In fact, Brewer suggested the mountain be named after Hamilton only after Whitney declined to have the mountain named after him (a different mountain was later named Mount Whitney).

Mount Hamilton is the tallest mountain overlooking Silicon Valley, and is the site of Lick Observatory, the first permanently occupied mountain-top observatory.  The various summits along its mile-long summit ridge have been given astronomy-related names. The highest is 4,360-ft (1,330 m) Copernicus Peak; 4,250 ft (1,295 m) Kepler Peak and 4,213-ft (1,284 m) Observatory Peak follow. The latter was more than 30 ft (10 m) taller before it was leveled during the construction of the observatory in the 1880s. The asteroid 452 Hamiltonia, discovered in 1899, is named after the mountain. Golden Eagle nesting sites are found on the slopes of Mount Hamilton.



The twisting, curving 19-mile (30 km) Mt. Hamilton Road (part of State Route 130) is popular with bicyclists and motorcyclists. Built in 187576 in anticipation of the observatory, and the need to carry materials and equipment up the mountain in horse-drawn wagons, the grade seldom exceeds 6.5 percent. The road rises a total of 5,000 ft (1,500 m) in three long climbs from San Jose to the mountain top. In addition to its challenging ride, it is sparsely traveled over most of its length and provides spectacular views of San Jose and the rest of the Santa Clara Valley below. These views do not come without a price, as numerous accidents occur on the road each year. Whenever it snows on Mt. Hamilton, the road is closed until crews can clear the road of snow and black ice.

The 20-mile (32 km) drive from Interstate 680 to Lick Observatory takes about 45 minutes.

The bicycle ride is about 19 miles (31 km) each way, from the Alum Rock junction. The upward trek is interrupted by two descents, first into Grant Ranch county park, and again to cross Smith creek. Quimby Road offers a shorter way from San Jose to Grant Ranch, but is considerably steeper. The main observatory building has water, a few vending machines, restrooms and an opportunity to warm up on a cold day. If the time is right, there are also guided tours of the Lick telescope, and the gift shop may be open.
Mt. Hamilton Road is very popular with the local cycling clubs.
Mt. Hamilton Road is very popular with the local cycling clubs.

Mt. Hamilton Live Webcam

The road is advertised to include 365 curves, one for each day of the year. This is true, subject to definition of the term "curve." If the yellow line bends to the right, then straightens out, then bends to the right again, we regard it as one curve. If the yellow line describes an ess, on the other hand, it counts as two curves, regardless of how gentle the ess may be.

The road continues down the backside of Mt. Hamilton, through almost completely empty country, and eventually coming out at Patterson, in Stanislaus County. Shortly after the summit, one can turn to the north and proceed on Old Mines Road, which ends at Livermore. There are several cattle gates along this road and even a (paved) ford through a shallow stream. Traffic is light to nonexistent.

Geology and hydrology

Much of the foothill slopes of Mount Hamilton is underlain by Miocene age sandstone of the Briones formation: this bedrock is locally soft and weathered in the upper few feet, but grades locally to very hard at depth. Depth to groundwater on these foothill areas of Mount Hamilton is approximately 240 feet (73 m).[3] The Babb Creek drainage comprises some of the watershed draining the slopes of Mount Hamilton. The Calaveras and Hayward active earthquake faults traverse the slopes of Mount Hamilton.

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