Hiking in Pescadero Creek and Portola Redwoods parks, Bay Area

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Loop from Sam McDonald Park to Portola Redwoods Park

(First experimented in december 2006).

Directions to Sam McDonald Park: from 280 take Highway #84 west to La Honda, turn left past village center in La Honda into Pescadero Road.

This is a 26/27 km-loop that crosses most of Pescadero Creek Park and the southern part of Portola Redwoods Park.

The trailhead is at Sam McDonald Park. Initially, this Towne Rd is disappointing because it crosses the paved road and then climbs towards a horse staging area. After this area though (about 20 minutes into the hike), one reaches the junction with the western portion of Brook Trail Loop (the eastern portion of that trail loop parallels and intersects Towne Rd several times). This junction is where the views begin.

The rolling hills eventually lead (past the junction with Heritage Grove and Hikers' Hut) to an impressive overlook. Towne Rd turns into Bravo Rd, another fire road.

Turn left into the much narrower Bear Ridge trail (there may be a "caution" sign when it's wet). This trail (that soon turns into Pomponio trail) plunges into a thick forest. This is prime mushroom area in the right season. The trail winds down into a valley and eventually hits a paved road (Camp Pomponio Rd) at the same time that it joins the Tarwater Trail Loop.

Turn left into the paved road and walk up past the bridge on the Tarwater Creek. Turn right into the dirt road which is basically the eastern portion of the Pomponio trail. At the junction with the dirt road leading to the Tarwater Trail Camp, on the other side, turn left into Pomponion trail proper that leaves the dirt road.

This trail soon shrinks down to a very narrow trail in lush vegetation, coasting the Pescadero Creek. This trail turns into the Iverson trail when it enters Portola Redwoods Park and it leads straight to the park's visitor center.

A short detour from the Portola Redwoods visitor center to the Sequoia Nature Trail is recommended.

Back to the visitor center, look for the Service Rd towards Tiptoe Falls (in winter and spring you may have to wade the Pescadero Creek to get on the other side). The Service Rd eventually joins the Old Haul Rd where the Portola Trail to Big Basin begins.

A short detour (worth only in the rain season) is the trail that leaves from the right side of Service Rd to Tiptoe Falls. Then from Tiptoe Falls use the Iverson trail to reach Old Haul Rd. This detour leaves you a little bit west of the Service Rd/ Portola trail junction on Old Haul Rd.

Either way, turn right (west) into Old Haul Rd to head back to Pescadero Creek Park. This is virtually a highway by comparison with the other trails of the two (three, four) parks.

There are several ways to return to McDonald Park. The fastest is probably to turn right into the Bridge trail that leads to the Pomponio trail and walk backwards the same route.

To try something different, keep walking west on Old Haul Rd past the junction with Snag trail, the Rhododendron Creek and two more creeks (all marked). When you get to the junction with the Butano Ridge Trail Loop, turn right into the opposite trail (not very visible): Shaw Flat trail. After a few minutes you have to wade the creek and then hike uphill to the Shaw Flat Trail Camp. Turn left into the Pomponio Trail to Towne Rd. Here a series of junctions can be confusing, especially because the Brook Loop trail keeps showing up on several junctions. You want to continue on the Pomponio trail past the junction with Towne Rd and turn right into the Brook Loop trail. Unfortunately the Pomponio trail and the Brook Loop trail intersect a few times, so this can be challenging.

The Brook Loop trail heads north and eventually meets the Towne Rd 20 minutes from Sam McDonald's parking lot.

Distances (december 2006):

  • Sam McDonald Park's parking lot
  • Hikers Hut: 2 kms
  • Bear Ridge trail: 5kms, 1hr
  • Tarwater Creek bridge: 9kms, 2hr
  • Portola Redwoods Park's visitor center: 11kms, 3hr
  • Tiptoe Falls: 12.5 kms, 4hr
  • Old Haul Rd: 13 kms, 4hr 15'
  • Old Haul Rd & Shaw Flat trail: 19 kms, 5hr 15'
  • Creek crossing: 5hr 25'
  • Shaw Flat Camp: 5hr 35'
  • Towne Rd: 21 kms, 5hr 45'
  • Pomponio trail & Brook Trail Loop: 21.5 kms, 6hr
  • Brook Trail Loop & Towne Rd: 25 kms, 6hr 45'
  • Sam McDonald's parking lot: 26.5 kms, 7hr
Pictures
Sam McDonald or Memorial Park to Big Basin

There are several routes to reach Big Basin from Sam McDonald Park. All of them require that you get on Old Haul Rd. As you are heading east, you can take the following right turns:

  • Butano Ridge trail across from Shaw Flat trail: 10.5 kms
  • Butano Ridge trail after Hooker Creek (about 3 kms further east than the previous one): 9 kms
  • Portola trail south of Portola Redwoods Park (about 1 km further east than the previous one): 12 kms
Thus the fastest is the first one. But the third one is the one that allows for a combination of Pescadero Creek Park, Portola Redwoods Park and Big Basin. They all get you to the Butano Ridge trail going east that eventually turns into the Basin trail that eventually leads to the Skyline to the Sea trail into Big Basin.

Milestones (and 2009 times):

  • Sam McDonald Park's visitor center (6:07)
  • Bravo Rd (6:55, 3.75km)
  • Bear Ridge Trail (7:12, 4.69km) not easy to see
  • Pomponio Trail east (7:32, 6.11km)
  • Bridge on paved road (7:55, 7.84km)
  • Old Haul Rd (8:18, 9km) turn left for 100 meters
  • Butano Ridge trail south (8:21, 9.6km)
  • Portola Trail (8:50, 11.3km)
  • First Basin Trail junction (9:40, 13.6km) turn left
  • First Basin Trail sign (10am) no choice but to go straight
  • Fire road (Butano Rd?) and Butano trail (10:12, 15.5km) and second Basin Trail sign, go right for 50 meters and then left into trail
  • Crossing private unpaved road (10:37)
  • Big Basin's crossing of China Grade paved road (10:44)
  • (Lunch break till 11:14)
  • Hollow Tree trail (11:18)
  • Mill (11:50)
  • First Middle Ridge Rd sign (12pm, 20.1km) bear right
  • Second Middle Ridge Rd sign (12:11pm) turn right and go north 500m
  • Johansen Road (12:25)
  • Everett Bryan Memorial Grove (13:00, 23.2km)
  • Sandy Point and left on Canyon (13:18, 25.4km) turn left
  • Anderson Landing Rd (13:28, 26km)
  • Sunset Trail near Sunset camp (13:45)
  • Sunset Trail: Golden Cascade (13:50)
  • Sunset Trail: Silver Falls (14:00, 28.4km)
  • Sunset Trail: Berry Creek Falls (14:25, 31km)
  • Skyline to the sea: Junction with Howard King trail (14:35)
  • Skyline to the sea: Junction with Henry Creek trail (14:45)
  • Skyline to the sea: Junction with McCrary Ridge trail (38km)
  • Salmon bridge (15:40)
  • Abundance of Life sign (16:00)
  • Skyline to the sea: hiker's trail (16:18)
  • Skyline to the sea: Rancho del Oso (16:43)
  • Waddell Beach (17:00, 43 km)

Portola Redwoods to Butano Ridge loop

From Portola Redwoods Park take the Service Road to Old Haul Rd. Cross Old Haul Rd and take the Portola trail. This will take you to the Basin trail. Turn left on the Basin trail. When you get to a fire road, which is Butano Haul Rd, turn left (If you cross the fire road and keep going on the Basin trail, you reach Big Basin's China Grade). Keep going for about one hour until an unmarked left fire road. Take that unmarked fire road. After a gate, you will reenter the county park and this road turns into Old Haul Rd that takes you back to the junction with the Service Road.

  • Old Haul Rd 15'
  • Little waterfall 30'
  • Unmarked junction 45'
  • Basin Trail junction 1h 15' (from here it would be about 4kms to Big Basin's entrance on China Grade and about 33kms to Wadell Beach, the end of Skyline to the Sea)
  • Butano Haul Rd 1h 30'
  • Junction with unmarked fire road (Old Haul Rd) 2h 30'
  • Junction with Service Rd 3h
Pictures

Loop from Memorial Park to Pescadero Creek Park via Pomponio trail

This hike stays almost all the time into the forest.

The parking lot in Memorial Park is tricky to find. From hwy 84, take Pescadero Rd and follow it towards Pescadero. After the Sam McDonald Park entrance the road winds its way south, passing both the San Francisco YMCA and the Oakland YMCA. Right after the latter, there is a paved road on the left handside: Wurr Rd (if you get to the entrance of Memorial Park, you went about 200 meters too far). Drive almost to the end of Wurr Rd and you will see a parking lot on your left handside with a sign for the "Hoffman Creek trailhead" leading to a bridge. That is the beginning of Old Haul Rd, although it doesn't say so until you are on the bridge.

Old Haul Rd is a wide fire road. There are several trails that start from its northern side into Pescadero Creek Park (the ones on the southern side to go Butano Park and Big Basin). The first one leads to the Jones Gulch Trail and the Brook Trail Loop. The second one leads to the Pomponio Trail. Turn right and it will take you to the Shaw Flat Trail Camp. Keep following the Pomponio Trail and, after countless badly-marked junctions, it will take you to the junction with a fire road. Although not marked at all, this is the Bravo Fire Road. Turn left/north (right/south you would go to a penitentiary) and look for the Bear Ridge Trail. Turn right and then right again into the Canyon Trail. This whole section is inside a thick forest. The Canyon Trail eventually hits the Tarwater Trail Loop. Turn right and head south. This fire road dead ends at the paved road that goes to the penitentiary. Turn left and walk about 50 meters on the paved road, then turn right into the Pomponio Trail again or into the gate 20 meters ahead. This is now a wide road. Stay on this road past the Tarwater Trail Camp. Pay attention because the turnout to Snag Trail is sharp and barely visible. Turn right into Snag Trail that goes through another foresty area and reaches Old Haul Rd. From here it's a relatively easy hike back to the parking lot at Memorial Park (about 1h 15'). The whole loop takes about 5 hours.



Portola Redwoords Park to Peters Creek Grove and back via Summit trail

Park at the last parking lot of Portola Redwoods park, a few minutes after the visitor center (as far as you can go on the paved road). The trailhead for the Old Man Tree is right before the parking lot. After 2-300 meters you have to take a sharp left turn on the Slate Creek trail that starts winding up the hill. Later, you have to turn right to stay on Slate trail and not follow the sign for the campgrounds. After about one hour (past the junction with the Summit trail) you reach a five-way intersection (restrooms and a picnic table). Note the Summit trail to your right (that's the trail you will take on the way back) and proceed across the intersection turning left into the second trail (the first trail on your left is actually a fire road that is closed to hikers). It takes about one hour to reach this intersection and you are about half way. The trail goes up and then will start going down rapidly towards the grove. When you reach the grove, the trail makes a loop, bringing you back where the grove started. The loop is about 15 minutes. The return is a bit steep so it may take you slightly more than one hour to the intersection. When you get there, take the Summit trail. The trail winds its way up to the top of the mountain, then starts descending towards Portola Redwoods. After about 1h15' you reach the same paved road. Turn right and walk a few minutes back to the car. This is a popular trail for mushrooms.

Grand total: about 5 hours plus stops.



Portola Redwoords Park to Long Ridge Preserve via Peters Creek Grove

This is a one way hike that requires car shuttling.

Trailhead: Last parking lot of Portola Redwoods park.

If you are coming from Saratoga, an ideal trailend could be Gate LR-01 of Long Ridge Open Space Preserve (on the west hand-side of Skyline Boulevard, 2.5 kms north of the junction with Highway 9). If you are coming from Palo Alto, an ideal trailend is the Grizzly Flat parking lot of the Long Ridge Preserve off Hwy 35 (8 kms south of Page Mill Rd, 5 kms north of Hwy 9) or the parking lot of the Skyline Ridge Preserve (further north towards Page Mill Rd).

If you parked at the end of the paved road in Portola Redwoods Park, the trailhead for the Old Man Tree is right before the parking lot. After 2-300 meters you have to take a sharp left turn on the Slate Creek trail that starts winding up the hill. Later, you have to turn right to stay on Slate trail and not follow the sign for the campgrounds. After about one hour (past the junction with the Summit trail) you reach a five-way intersection (restrooms and a picnic table). At this junction, take the only left turn that you can take (the other one is closed). This is the Bear Creek Trail. After about one hour of shady redwood forest, and a steep descent into the canyon of the Peters Creek, you reach the grove itself. The trail makes a loop around the creek. This is a nice place to stop for lunch. The loop can take anything from 20 minutes to one hour, depending how often you stop. Then return to the Trail Camp. From the junction take the left turn, i.e. continue on Slate Creek Trail. Eventually this trail will make a sharp right turn and leave the forest and join Ward Rd. Turn left on Ward Rd, that passes through a gate and climbs gently over the hills. Now you have great views, although the trail itself is a bit boring and infested with mountain bikers, a sure sign of approaching civilization. After less than an hour you will encounter a series of junctions with roads (clearly marked with street signs). If your trailend is in the Long Ridge or the Skyline Ridge preserves, the fastest way to reach your car is to take the Long Ridge Rd and then the Portola Heights Rd, although rather uneventful. Otherwise, take the trail to Peters Creek trail, which offers a little more forest and then hike north on the Peters Creek trail itself (also a bit uneventful and coasting the highway). When you encounter the Long Ridge trail, ignore it and continue north on the trail that runs parallel to the highway. This is part of the Bay Ridge trail.

Milestones:

  • Portola Redwoods Park
  • Slate Creek trail (0.3 Km, 0')
  • Trail Camp and junction with Bear Creek trail (3km, 1h15')
  • Loop (7km, 2h30')
  • End of loop (9km, 3h30' including lunch break)
  • Trail Camp and junction with Slate Creek trail (13km, 4h'30')
  • End of Slate Creek trail and Ward Rd (16km, 5h)
  • Gate on Ward Road (18km, 5h30')
  • Junction of Ward Road with Long Ridge Rd (20km, 6h)
  • Gate of Peters Creek trail (20.5km, 6h15')
  • Junction of Peters Creek trail and Long Ridge trail (22.5, 6h45')
  • Christmas Tree farm (26km, 7h30')
  • Parking lot of the Skyline Ridge Preserve (28km, 8h)
Pictures

From Portola Redwoods Park to Big Basin to Waddell Beach

One can hike in one day from Portola Redwoods Park to Big Basin to Waddell Beach.

This is a one-way hike.

One trailhead is at Portola Redwoods Park: take Highway 84 west to Sky Honda, turn left into Hwy 35 east, turn right into the well-marked road that takes to Portola Redwoods (Alpine Rd? It's the continuation of Page Mill Rd) and drive till the dead end, which is the visitor center. Park at the last parking lot.

From Portola Redwoods Park walk along the paved Service Rd towards Tiptoe Falls (but skip the right turn to go to see the falls). The Service Rd eventually becomes an unpaved trail and joins the Old Haul Rd. Cross this fire road and you will be at the trailhead of the Portola Trail to Big Basin. After a couple of junctions (follow the signs for Big Basin, i.e. bear left), this trail eventually crosses an unnamed fire road. On the other side of the fire road, backtrack west (right) a bit to find the trail again.

The trail eventually hits the Butano Ridge trail going east that eventually turns into the Basin trail that eventually leads to the "Skyline to the Sea" trail into Big Basin.

Just follow the "Skyline to the Sea" trail to Rancho del Oso and then cross the Hwy 1 to Waddell Beach.

Milestones (and 2007 times):

  • Portola Redwoods Park's visitor center:
  • Old Haul Rd and Portola trail (2 km):
  • Fall Creek Waterfall (3.5 km):
  • Unmarked junction (bear left): 45'
  • Basin Trail junction (7 km): 1h 30'
  • Fire road (Butano Rd?) and Butano trail: 2h
  • Big Basin's China Grade (11 km): 2h 30'
  • Hollow Tree trail: 2h 35'
  • Mill: 3h 45'
  • Middle Rd (turn right and go north 500m): 4h
  • Johansen Road: 4h 15'
  • Memorial grove: 4h 39'
  • Sandy Point and left on Canyon Rd: 5h 20'
  • Anderson Landing Rd: 5h 40'
  • Sunset trail near Sunset camp: 6h
  • Sunset Trail: Golden Cascade: 6h 30'
  • Sunset Trail: Silver Falls: 7h
  • Sunset Trail: Berry Creek Falls (0.8 km from snset Camp): 8h (including break)
  • Skyline to the sea: Junction with Howard King trail: 8h 10'
  • Skyline to the sea: Junction with Henry Creek trail (8km to the beach): 8h 30'
  • Skyline to the sea: Junction with McCrary Ridge trail (6.9 km from Berry Falls):
  • Skyline to the sea: Clark Connection with Westridge Trail:
  • Skyline to the sea: Rancho del Oso (39 km): 10h 40'
  • Waddell Beach (40 km): 11h
(Organizing the 2007 trip) (Organizing the 2009 trip)

Alternative route from Hollow Tree:

  • Middle Ridge Rd: Junction with Meteor Trail:
  • Middle Ridge Rd: Junction with Dool Trail:
  • Middle Ridge Rd: Junction with Gazos Creek Rd and Sunset trail (take Sunset trail west):
  • Skyline to the Sea trail:
  • Sunset Trail: Junction with Timms Creek trail:
Pictures

Pescadero Creek Park to Butano Ridge

Trailhead: From 280 take the 84 West exit and drive to the Skyline (hwy 35). Turn left and drive to the junction with Page Mill Rd that is called Alpine in the other direction. Turn right into Alpine Rd. At the junction with the road that goes to Portola Redwoods Park, continue on Alpine Rd (left). Slow down and in about 5 minutes turn left into a narrow road that leads to the men's penitentiary. At the dead end there is a large parking lot. That's the Tarwater trailhead. Two trails originate here. Take the Upper Coyote Ridge trail. This is an easy trail that heads south. It dead ends on a paved road, that is a service road (not marked on most maps). Cross the paved road and immediately (3 meters) turn right into Iverson/Pomponio trail. Follow the Iverson trail towards the creek. As of 2010, the bridge was still out. So you have to wade the Pescadero Creek, sometimes with water up to your knees. Look for the trail on the other side. Shortcut: scramble up the ridge until you find Old Haul Rd. Official way: follow the Iverson trail as it bends east, take the Tiptoe Falls branch until it dead ends on Old Haul Rd (this is a long detour). Turn left on Old Haul Rd and pay attention to your left. Eventually you'll see the Butano Ridge trail loop. This is a steep trail that takes you to the top of the ridge. You'll first meet the junction with the Portola trail (go right) and then a junction with the overlook trail (go right). The Butano Ridge trail is a wide fire road. After about one hour you have to pay attention on your right otherwise you'll go too far. There is a narrow trail on your right, which is the continuation of the "loop". You can easily miss it if you are chatting with your hiking partners. This trail goes down steeply towards the Old Haul Rd. When you hit the Old Haul Rd look at the other side of the road: there is another narrow trail (the Shaw trail) that takes you down to the Pescadero Creek. Wade the creek again. The trail on the other side of the creek is about 20 meters upstream from where you entered the creek. If it's not a well-marked trail, you are not on the trail. The Shaw trail climbs up briefly until a gate. Beyond that gate you are in Shaw Flat, which is a nice campground. Continue in the same direction. You will see the various campsites. After campsite 2 there is a junction with the Pomponio trail. Turn right into it. After about 15 minutes you should see a sign on your right that tells you to stay out: you are near the penitentiary. Keep going straight and, after two long switchbacks, you'll hit a paved road. This is the Camp Pomponio Rd that goes to the penitentiary. Your car is parked up this road. You have a choice: you can take the trail that starts just before the pavement and heads north (the Tarwater Trail) or you can just walk the road up to where you started. If you take the trail make sure you bear right at every junction (you want to stay parallel to the paved road).

  • Tarwater parking lot/ Coyote Ridge Trail: Start
  • Iverson/Pomponio trail 4km (1.5h)
  • Wading the creek (4.5km) 2h
  • Old Haul Rd (5km) 2.5h
  • Portola trail junction (6.5km) 3h
  • Overlook junction (9km) 4h
  • Butano Ridge Rd (10km) 4.5h
  • Western branch of Butano Ridge Loop (14km) 6h
  • Old Haul Rd (18km) 7h
  • Wading the creek (19km) 7.5h
  • Shaw Flat camp and Pomponio trail (21km) 8h
  • Paved road (23.5km) 8.5h
  • Tarwater parking lot (27km): 9.5h
Pictures
The Bay Area is not camper-friendly. Campgrounds are extremely expensive, hard to book and run like concentration camps.

There is a very nice walk-in camping area about one hour east from the Hoffman Creek trailhead in Memorial Park: Shaw Flat Trail Camp. Needless to say it requires reservations.

There is also a camping area (Tarwater Trail Camp) just off Pomponio Rd near the Tarwater Creek bridge before Pomponio trail. It looks like it is legal to drive into that dirt road (is it Bridge Trail?).


Directions to Portola Redwoods Park:

Take the 84 West exit of 280. Drive up 84 to the junction with hwy 35 (about 15'). Turn left into hwy 35 towards Santa Cruz. After about 15', turn right into Alpine Rd (it's called Page Mill Rd on the left). After 5' don't miss the turn to Portola Redwoods Park. The road dead ends in the park. Pay the parking fee at the ranger station (unmanned in winter). Stick the parking receipt on your windshield. Drive almost to the end of the paved road before the sign that says only authorized vehicles beyong this point. On the left handside there is a small unpaved parking lot. This is the Service Rd that leads to Tiptoe Falls and to Old Haul Rd and eventually to Butano Park or Big Basin Park. The trailhead for the Old Man Tree is also located right by the parking lot.

If, instead, you are heading for Pescadero Creek Park or Sam McDonald Park, you are better off parking at the parking lot before the ranger station.


Directions to Sam McDonald Park and Memorial Parks:

From 280 take Highway #84 west to La Honda, turn left past village center in La Honda into Pescadero Road. The park entrance will be on your right hand-side in about five minutes.