After Work Hike, Tafoni Trail, El Corte de Madera Creek

This weekend I decided it was time to start leaving my hiking boots in the truck full time again so I could restart the after work hikes. So last night when I got out of work late I headed up for a short loop in the redwoods at El Corte de Madera Creek OSP on Skyline Blvd. I’ve described ECdM previously as a fairly rugged preserve with a lot of trails with significant vertical changes so doing a short loop in this preserve can be a challenge. This particular hike is no exception, it’s only 3.5 miles total but the last mile is a big climb out from the bottom of the canyon. As before, this preserve is very popular with cyclists on the weekends but mid-week it’s nearly deserted after work.

About the Hike: This particular route hits several highlights of ECdM, including one of the most unique features, a huge rock formation showing what’s known as Tafoni. The Tafoni formation is a sandstone face with myriad lacework pockets that have been eaten away. Look at the images in Wikipedia and you’ll get a better idea but the formation itself is as big as a house. I’m planning to use this formation as part of the geology lesson for our Cub Scout troop so this was also a recon trip in prep for that hike. After a visit to the Tafoni structure the hike heads into one of my favorite parts of the park, not the least because of the old-school memories it holds for me. Back in the old days I broke several bike parts and several Galoot-parts on a now-closed trail known as Carnage out in the north-western part of the park and it’s nice to visit my old nemesis, even if it’s now almost impossible to see. After a ramble along a shrinking fireroad the hike returns on one of the nicest pieces of singletrack MROSD has built, the ECdM Trail and then concludes with a thigh burner climb out of the canyon.

Doing the Hike: Park at the  Skeggs Point Overlook on Skyline Blvd , in between Kings Mountain Road and HighWay 84. Walk northerly on Skyline Blvd (watch for cars) to the CM01 gate for ECdM. Enter the gate, grab a map from the signboard and take the dirt trail (not the paved one) following the signs that point to the Tafoni Trail. About 100 yards in you’ll notice a singletrack trail coming in from the right, that’s the El Corte de Madera Creek Trail and you’ll be returning on that trail in about 90 minutes. For now, though, stay on the Tafoni Trail, which is a patrol route so it’s wide enough for a truck and in pretty good shape. It winds through the mixed Oak and Redwood forest for a little more than a mile before you come to a 4-way intersection. Turn right following the signs to Sandstone Formation and Tafoni Trail. You’ll go about .1 miles and there’ll be a small wooden gate on your right.

Head through the gate to visit the sandstone formation, it’s a very short walk there and back and not to be missed. There’s an informational sign describing the process that created the formation and asking users to stay on the trail, read this and continue on the trail to the observation deck. At one point there’s evidence of people sliding down the hill shortcutting the switchbacks, please don’t do that. Just stay on the trail, it’s very, very short and gets you to the deck every bit as fast and doesn’t damage the hillside. Spend a few minutes checking out the Tafoni formation and then it’s time to head back to the main trail, if you’re doing this after work you don’t want to be caught out in the dark.

Back on the main trail you have the option of turning around and retracing your way. That’s the shorter and easier option, and if you’re familiar with the preserve you can build a second loop into the return. But for more exercise and better scenery, do as I did and continue for just under a mile on the Tafoni Trail all the way out until it ends. The trail narrows and gets rougher as you go along. There are multiple “Closed Not a Trail” signs on the left side of the trail, these are the old-school mountain bike trails that we used to test/wound ourselves on back in the day. Don’t hike those, if you get caught it’s a misdemeanor and you’ll never make it out before dark. At one point the trail passes under a huge tree with an equally huge limb that juts straight out over the trail. As you approach it looks like you’ll have to duck under it until you get close and realize that it’s actually far above the trail. It’s sort of creepy walking under it, the whole thing feels unstable, even though it’s been there for many years.

Tafoni continues to narrow and descend the hill, eventually turning into a singletrack trail that descends into the redwoods to join the ECdM Trail. When you come to the 3-way intersection with the ECdM trail turn right heading back to Skeggs Point and Skyline Blvd. Follow the ECdM Trail as it winds along the shoulder f the hill and eventually descends down to the trickling headwaters of El Corte de Madera Creek. You’ll notice that you’re going down quite a bit and that’s about to change as you reach the first of three bridges across the creek. This part of the trail used to be a mud-bog pretty much year-round but work in recent years has really improved things. Stay on the trail and don’t walk around the wet spots, just walk through them. That’s why you have boots on. Walking around wet spots makes the trail wider and screws up the drainage, your boots will walk themselves clean by the time you’re back to your car.

Climb the sometimes steep and always long ECdM trail all the way up to the trail you began on. You’ll hear traffic sounds long before you reach the top. Turn left on the Tafoni trail and head back about 100 yards to gate CM01. Now walk back up Skyline Blvd to Skeggs Point and you’re done. The hike as described is just about exactly 3.5 miles long and I did it walking pretty quickly in 1.5 hours. There’s lots of potential to make it longer and a few ways to make it shorter if you don’t want the long climb at the end of my described route.

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One Comment on “After Work Hike, Tafoni Trail, El Corte de Madera Creek”

  1. […] The Big Galoot’s Guide to Life Fatherhood and life on the California Coastside « After Work Hike, Tafoni Trail, El Corte de Madera Creek […]

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