Weekend Hike, Pescadero Creek Butano Ridge Loop

Sunday I decided I wanted to do a long hike somewhere quiet. I headed for the south coast of San Mateo county, down to Pescadero Creek County Park. I wound up doing a 17 mile hike and seeing exactly  1 person (a ranger!) for the first 12 miles and only a few other hikers for the last 5 miles. 

About the park: Pescadero Creek is a large park that gets ridiculously little use except for a few trails. Given its location adjacent to Memorial County Park, Sam MacDonald County Park, Portola State Park and near to Butano State Park you might think there’d be lots of folks stringing together long hikes in this area but that just doesn’t seem to be the case.  

Pescadero Creek County Park is located, not surprisingly, over by Pescadero. You can get to the park from Skyline Blvd by descending on Alpine Road (the west part) or by taking Woodside Road over to La Honda and turning on Pescadero Road. Follow Pescadero Road up and over the hill at Sam MacDonald Park and turn left onto Wurr Road just a half mile before the entrance to Memorial Park. Alternatively you can go to HighWay 1 and travel east on Pescadero Road to the intersection with Wurr Road right after the main entrance to Memorial Park. After turning onto Wurr Road you’ll cross a bridge and go up a small hill. Turn right into a parking area next to the gate to Old Haul Road, that’s where the hike starts.

Get a map: Before parking at Old Haul Road, stop at the main entrance to Memorial County Park and buy a map to Pescadero Creek Park. They’ll tell you that they have a $2 map that is pretty cartoonish and a $5 map that has topo lines and is more inclusive. Buy the $5 map, the park needs the money and you’ll appreciate the better map later in the hike. The $5 map can also be purchased online through this site, though I don’t know how much they’ll charge you.

About the hike: If you bought the $5 map the hike you’ll be doing is described as the Butano Ridge Loop. The hike starts out on Old Haul Road, a dirt and gravel road that goes all the way out to Portola State Park. This is a wide and gentle trail that can get busy every once in a while but is usually very quiet. It’s a great path to take someone on a first mountain bike ride, the hills are gentle but interesting enough that they’ll probably love the ride. After about 2 miles turn right onto the Butano Ridge Trail Loop and begin a long climb up through the redwoods.

The singletrack climb through the woods will pop out on the top of the ridge onto a fireroad. Bear to the left and continue in a more or less easterly direction. This portion of the trail is a dirt fireroad that wanders along the top of the ridge in a long series of pointless ups and downs. After a couple of miles you’ll come to a gate and off to your left will be a singletrack trail heading off to the left. The singletrack is the trail you want, it continues the Butano Ridge Loop and also leads to the Basin Trail that connects out to Big Basin State Park. Turn onto this trail and continue on the Butano Ridge Loop trail. In a  little under a mile you’ll come to an intersection where the Basin Trail veers off to the right, you’ll turn left onto the unmarked trail and continue downhill toward the Portola Trail. That sounds a little sketchy but trust me, it’s obvious and you’ll be fine.

If you want to extend the hike a bit you can follow the Basin Trail out to where it recrosses the road on its way out to China Grade and Big Basin State park. Here’s a hint, check your $5 map.  China Grade will also take you out to Butano State Park if you’re looking to get to the ocean in less time. It’d be a great connector for an overnight at the trail camp in Butano. Bear in mind, though, that for today this is an out and back unless you brought your camping gear. It adds distance (a couple miles) and elevation  and it’s worth it if you’re tying to figure out trail connections like I was but it’s skippable if you’re just out for exercise. 

Continuing downhill on the Butano Ridge Loop trail will take you to an intersection with the Portola Trail. Your $5 map will tell you to turn left at the unmarked intersection and head back to Old Haul Road. I turned right and descended the Portola Trail because I wanted some extra miles. This option adds an extra 1.7 miles according to the spiffy pedometer watch my wife gave me for Christmas last year. 

Whichever route you take, once you get to the bottom of the singletrack you’ll find yourself back on Old Haul Road. Turn left and follow the road back to your car. If you took the longer route down the hill you’ve got a little more than 5 miles  to go. Still, it’s a pleasant walk and you should be able to average 2.5 miles per hour over this gentle grade.

One of my favorite things to do on Old Haul is to look at all the evidence of recent logging, from the old skid roads coming down from the ridge (think bootlegs!) to the springboard cuts in the enormous old stumps. You can tell how long ago a tree was cut from looking at the top of the stump. If the top of the stump looks like a stair step with two flat areas one lower than the other, it was cut with hand saws, probably in the late 1800s or very early 1900s, before chainsaws were available. If one half of the stump slopes down away from the other, a chainsaw was used. Back to the trail, there’s even some rusty cables and such left over from logging days. Keep half an ear out for bikes approaching from the rear and give them space if they’re rolling downhill. 

When you reach the parking area when you began you’ll have done anywhere from 13.5 – 17.5 miles, depending on which options you took. You’ve earned a hearty dinner tonight. Personally I recommend Duarte’s in Pescadero. There’s not a bad pie on the menu and it’s a very relaxed sort of place that you can go into still wearing your hiking clothes.

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One Comment on “Weekend Hike, Pescadero Creek Butano Ridge Loop”

  1. […] State Park through the back door so you should print a map before you start. If you have the $5 map from Pescadero Creek County Park this will serve nicely as your Portola State Park map since […]

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