Archive for the ‘hikes’ category

Wild Turkeys in Pescadero Creek/Memorial County Park

November 24, 2010

Since tomorrow is our national celebration of the great taste of turkey I thought I’d take just a moment to relate a silly turkey story.

In July of this year I took 2 of my kids on their first actual backpacking trip. The kids are 10 and 9 so they’re not really ready to carry a heavy load nor can they trek for long distances. They each carried around 6-8 lbs of gear, which included their packs. They wear sneakers when hiking because they change shoe sizes so quickly it doesn’t really make sense to buy boots. So it was important to pick the route with care.

My first inclination was to go to the trail camp in Portola Redwoods State Park. The Slate Creek Trail Camp can be accessed by a fairly easy 2.5 mile hike and it has trash cans and a pit toilet. That would have been just about perfect except that a big ole redwood tree came down and removed two of the campsites so we weren’t able to get a reservation there.

My second choice was Pescadero Creek County Park. There are two trail camps in this park, one close to Portola Redwoods State Park and one close to Memorial County Park. Reservations for both can be made at the ranger kiosk at the entrance to Memorial County Park. We hit the kiosk a couple hours before  sundown on a Saturday night and got a reservation with no problems. We drove one mile from the Memorial Park entrance to Wurr Road and parked at the end of Old Haul Road. From there it was a lovely 2.5 mile hike to the trail camp where we found 8 nice campsites under a mixture of oaks and redwoods, about half the sites occupied. The campsites all had firepits and there was a pit toilet and trash collection for the camp. Water was filtered from the creek about a half mile away.

We set up our camp, ate Subway sandwiches and freeze dried ice cream sandwiches and settled in for the night. The next day was oatmeal, Clif Bars, and dried fruit, followed by a 3 mile hike out (we took the scenic route) back to the car. It was the perfect introductory backpack trip, the only downside was the jerks in the nearby campsite smoking dope and drinking beer all night long, the place reeked of pot and they were very loud.

But here’s the turkey connection. While we were getting our gear together Saturday night we saw a group of 6-8 wild turkeys crossing Wurr Road. We saw the same or similar group the next day. In October when we were car-camping in Memorial Park we saw a group of larger turkeys come wandering through the campground despite the presence of 30-50 people nearby. So if you’re looking for wild turkeys to add to your enjoyment of Thanksgiving, you could do worse than to go for a hike along Old Haul Road this weekend, you’ve got a good chance of spotting a few.

After Work Hike, The High Roads in El Corte de Madera OSP

June 17, 2009

After last night’s walk in the cool canyons of El Corte de Madera Creek Open Space Preserve I decided I wanted to go back tonight and visit a couple other points of interest. So with just enough time for a 90 minute hike I managed to string together a 3 mile hike that covered  4 different trails and managed to avoid any serious gain/loss. This is a great little loop for an after work walk, it’s suitable for anyone, even my young kids will be comfortable with this level of difficulty.

About hike: El Corte de Madera Creek OSP (aka ECdM) is a preserve rich in history. There are sites that were used as stopovers by the Ohlone Native Americans as they traveled from the Bay to the ocean, as evidenced by shell and obsidian fragments in the hollows of ancient redwood stumps. There’s abundant history of the logging activities of the late 1800s and early 1900s and then again in the last half of the 1900s. The area abounds with stories of murders and land grabs, nefarious dealings and wild living in the logging days. Remnants of summer cabins from the 1930s can be found in the northern portion of the preserve and there are abandoned cabins from the hippie counter-culture movement still to be found if you know where to look. And then there’s the debris field of the 1953 crash of the passenger airliner The Resolution.

In October of ’53 a DC-6 from Australia/New Zealand made a navigational error and instead of descending through the fog into the San Francisco Bay Area they instead dropped into the El Corte de Madera Creek canyon. The aircraft clipped some trees with one wing and crashed into the trees, killing the 19 people on board. The debris of the crash remains in the preserve, including a 13 foot section of the wing which was sheared off and  which can still be seen today if you know where to look. The Resolution trail in ECdM goes through the crash site and is dedicated to the memory of those lost in the crash. In July of 2009, the MROSD will place a memorial plaque in the preserve at a spot where the visitor can see the trees which were topped by the aircraft as it descended into the trees. I’ve visited the crash site and wing many times and I wanted to go see where they were placing the plaque, so that was the basis of this hike.

Doing the hike: Start off at Skeggs Point Overlook on Skyline Blvd. Park here and walk a hundred yards or so northwest to Gate CM01 (you’ll need to cross Skyline Blvd so be careful). Go in CM01 and follow the Tafoni Trail (not the paved road) about one mile to the intersection with the Fir Trail. Go straight at this intersection and you’ll be going downhill on the Fir Trail, through a section of trail which is usually quite soft. After about .2 miles you’ll see a small sign on the right that reads “Vista Point” just beyond this point is a boulder that will have the Resolution memorial plaque mounted to it on July 18. The resolution trail begins another 0.1 miles down Fir but we won’t go there today, it’s too long for an after work hike. Follow the path up to the Vista Point and you’ll be rewarded with a fantastic view of the ECdM canyon and the San Mateo Coastside in the distance. There’s a little turnaround at the Vista Point, back in the 50s and 60s kids used to drive out into the woods and neck at the Vista Point, according to one MROSD Board member who reminisced about doing so.

After enjoying the view at the Vista Point return to the Fir trail and retrace your steps back to the intersection with the Tafoni Trail. Now follow the Fir Trail in the other direction. This keeps you high on the mountain rather than dropping into the canyon. After 0.2 miles you’ll come to an intersection with a sign indicating that you can turn right and go to the Methuselah trail, follow this trail down 0.1 miles to a 4-way intersection with Methuselah and Manzanita and the little no-name trail you just walked on. Manzanita is a tempting trail but it’ll add a lot of mileage to our hike so for today turn left on Methuselah, in the direction of Skyline Blvd and gate CM02.

Methuselah will descend quite a bit down to an intersection with the Timberview fireroad. Check out the big boulders at this intersection, read the sign about being kind to the streams but don’t go down Timberview. Stay on Methuselah and climb back up to Skyline Blvd. Just before you get to Skyline and Gate CM02 you’ll come to an intersection with the Sierra MorenaTrail. Turn left (northwest) onto Sierra Morena and follow this very lovely but often soft/wet trail back towards where we began. Listen carefully for cyclists on this trail, it is a heavily used connector trail for mountain bikers.

When Sierra Morena trail intersects with the Fir trail turn right and head back to Skyline. This is a little counter-intuitive, you’ll feel like you should go left. Trust me, head right and in about 200 yards you’ll see a fenced area with some antennas and water tanks. This is the Sierra Morena peak, the highest point of Kings Mountain, in this part of the Santa Cruz mountains. The trail continues past that fenced area and onto that paved road that began at CM01. Follow the trail through the gate to the paved road and then down to CM01. Now walk back along Skyline to Skeggs Point.

The map claims this hike is right at 3.0 miles, give or take a smidgeon. I did this hike at a relaxed pace,  fiddled around peeking at some old closed trails and poked my nose into some hidey holes that I probably shouldn’t and still managed to do this hike in about 90 minutes. It’s a gentle hike and well suited to an evening hike when you need to wind down but not push yourself too hard.

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

June 16, 2009

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.

After work hike, Los Trancos Open Space Preserve

July 17, 2008

Los Trancos OSP is a tiny little preserve, just 274 acres big but it’s packed with trails and is a real gem of a place to go for a short wander after work. I spent about 2 hours in the preserve and walked nearly every trail, some segments twice. From the intersection of 280 and Page Mill it’s a short 15 minute drive to the parking lot, right across form the main Montebello OSP parking lot. The preserve gets very little use during the week so it’s a great place for a little quiet time on the way home. Most people know this preserve for the educational Fault trail that imparts information about earthquakes and fault lines. The best trails in the park, however skip this segment and offer a very pleasant ramble through an old oak wood.

About the hike: Pick up a map of the preserve from the trailhead and spend a bit of time studying the preserve. You’re realize that this a trail dense environment. You’ll need to watch the turning carefully but the good news is that the park is small enough that even if you take the wrong turn you’ll figure it out quickly and likely end up back where you started with little effort. Start your hike from the sign board at the trailhead and follow the signs for the Franciscan Loop trail (Ignore the fault Trail for now). Follow Franciscan Loop down into the forest, across a bridge and bear to the left at the next two intersections, turning onto the Lost Creek Loop trail. 

Lost Creek Loop goes downhill a bit and then when it starts to climb you’ll see an intersection with the Page Mill Trail off to your left. There’ll probably be a barricade across this trail saying that it’s closed. As near as I can tell that trail hasn’t been open in 10 years, the barricade has been there every time I’ve been in the preserve, summer, winter or spring. Just past this intersection with Page Mill Trail there’s a second intersection on your right going uphill, that’s the continuation of the Lost Creek Loop, turn here and go uphill until you rejoin Franciscan Loop. Bear left on Franciscan Loop a short ways and you’ll come to an intersection that would take you back to your car if you turned right. Go straight instead towards the Page Mill Trail (this section is open) and turn left onto Page Mill Trail.

Follow the Page Mill trail along an old road cut down to a small gate at the boundary of the preserve. Just before you reach the gate you’ll see a little singletrack on your left, follow this trail downhill and you’ll end up back at an intersection you’ve been at before, where Lost Creek Loop meets Page Mill trail. Turn left and walk this portion of Lost Creek Loop again, it’s pretty and deserves a second look. Go uphill until you rejoin Franciscan Loop and bear left on Franciscan Loop again. This time when you come to the intersection that heads uphill to the parking area go right and follow the trail up to the intersection of the fault trail.

Turn right onto the Fault Trail and walk to 1.5 mile loop, stopping to look at the numbered signposts and read about them on the map that you should have picked up at the trailhead. The loop will bring you back to the trail to your car. On your way uphill there’s a small unmarked braid on your right, take that trail, it’s the very first part of the fault trail that we skipped on the way into the preserve. Admire the views from the top of this trail as it looks over the Bay. You’ll end the hike back at your car having walked a bit more than 5 miles.

Weekend/Connector Hike, Long Ridge OSP to Portola State Park

July 14, 2008

I’ve been spending time trying to figure out a good route for doing a hike with my son from Skyline Blvd over to the ocean without going through Big Basin State Park. I don’t anything against Big Basin but it can get pretty busy and going that route would take me a lot farther south than I really want to go. My son is pretty young so eliminating extra miles is a good thing. I think it’s going to be pretty doable and I’ve been hiking each of the segments to make sure the distances are not overly-long and the connections really exist before the boy and I head out for the deep nowhere. This weekend’s segment was a long (13.4 miles round trip) out and back from Skyline Blvd at Long Ridge OSP to the Slate Creek Trail Camp in Portola Redwoods State Park. It was a very isolated and lovely walk with significant descending and climbing, 1300 feet down then back up. As a connector it should be good year-round. As an out and back it’d be best to pay attention to the weather because the exposed ridgelines in Long Ridge can be pretty hot and dry on a day with temps in the 90s or above.

About the parks: Because this hike spans two different parks you should plan to bring maps of both parks with you. You can pick up a Long Ridge map from the trailhead where you begin but you’ll be coming into Portola 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 there’s significant crossover. The trails near Skyline Blvd in Long Ridge OSP are heavily traveled and popular with mountain bikers. The Peters Creek Loop is one of the nicest trails open to bikes in the south Skyline region so keep an ear out for bikes approaching as you hike. The portions of Portola State Park that you’ll be hitting on this hike are the quietest and least traveled parts of the park. On a day when Peters Creek in Long Ridge was bustling with bikers and hikers and the main camping areas of Portola State Park were full I saw no one at all once I got 2 miles from Skyline Blvd.

Doing the hike: I began this hike at the Grizzly Flats Parking area along Skyline Blvd at the border of Upper Stevens Creek County Park and Long Ridge Open Space Preserve. This parking area is on the east side of Skyline, is well-marked and can be reached by traveling south on Skyline from Page Mill Road or by traveling north on Skyline from Saratoga Gap at Highway 9. As an alternate you can start the hike at the Hickory Oaks gate of Long Ridge OSP but the parking is harder here and you’d miss out on the Peters Creek Loop, which would be a mistake, in my opinion. 

From Grizzly Flats, cross Skyline into Long Ridge OSP and pick up a regional map. Take a minute and familiarize yourself with the map because it contains the maps for several preserves and parks. Now descend on Peters Creek. Stay left at the next three intersections and follow Peters Creek Loop trail as it winds through meadowlands, oak woods and past a pond choked with algae and lilly pads. Obey the signage and don’t trespass on private property around the pond. Follow Peters Creek up a series of switchbacks and you’ll pop out on a ridegline at the intersection with Ward Road. Follow Ward Road downhill in the direction of School Road. You could also go uphill and head toward Hickory Oaks but that route is unshaded and you’ll get plenty of sun in a short while.

Stay to the left at the intersection of Ward Road and School Road and keep heading down Ward Road past the intersection with Hickory Oaks. That booming sound you likely hear off to the south is the gun range that’s a few miles away. Don’t worry, it’s perfectly safe, the rounds are caught by a berm and do not fly off into the surrounding land. You’ll come to a slightly confusing intersection with Ranch Spring Trail, stay to the left of the three trails and do NOT follow the very weathered old marker that points to what appears to be a double-track through the grass, that’s the other end of Ranch Spring Trail. Continue down Ward Road ignoring the signs that the trail might end soon, you’ll be continuing past the end (don’t worry, it’s legal).

At the preserve boundary you’ll encounter a closed gate, which can be a little intimidating. Don’t worry, you can just unchain the gate and then close it behind you. Keeping heading downhill (you’re getting worried about all this downhill, aren’t you?) and you’ll transition from open ridgeline to a mixed oak and douglas fir forest. The trail levels out here and actually rolls up and down a bit. You’ll see an old fireroad intersecting Ward Road on the left, probably with an orange traffic cone and a no trespassing sign. Stay to the right and continue downhill. In a little bit the trail will head steeply downhill and you’ll want to watch out for a small singletrack trail off to your right with a sign indicating that you are now in Portola State Park and that this is the trail to the Slate Creek Trail Camp. Turn right onto this singletrack and follow this trail 1.7 miles to the trail camp. If you miss this turn you’ll go a long way down and find yourself on Pescadero Creek in lumber company property. Don’t sweat it, turn right and follow the road to Portola State Park if you don’t want to go back up.

While following Slate Creek Trail downhill you’ll cross the creek a few times, once by walking through the creek and a couple times over wooden bridges. Just 0.4 miles before the trail camp you’ll arrive at the second site of the William Page Mill Site. Read the sign and then continue on to the trail camp. The trail camp is a good place to rest, have a snack and use the pit toilet before turning around and heading back up the hill.

If you brought your water filter fill your water containers when you cross Slate Creek on the way back up. If you didn’t bring a filter conserve your water, you’ve got a long way to go up the hill. When you reach the intersection of Hickory Oaks and Ward Road you can choose to follow a different route back to the Grizzly Flats parking area, guided by your map. Round trip this hike will be just over 13 miles and you’ll have gone through around 3000 feet of loss/gain.

After Work Hike, Purisima Creek Redwoods OSP

July 11, 2008

Last night I decided to go explore some an area of Purisima Creek that I’ve never gone to before, the Irish Ridge Trail. The hike ended up being a 6 mile hike with lots of descending and climbing and more opportunities for further exploration in the future. In retrospect I wish I had held off until a weekend because now I want to go back and explore the rest of this area but it was still a very lovely hike and well worth a try if you haven’t gone there before, even if it is an out and back. I should note, however, that if you’ve read my other hike descriptions you’ve probably figured out that I tend to hike solo. This area was one of the few areas of the San Francisco Peninsula that I actually thought that was a bad idea, the Irish Ridge area appears to get almost zero usage and it’s deep in the nowhere. If you fall or injure yourself in this part of the park you cannot rely on someone finding you and coming to your aid so take a friend on this walk.

About the park: I’ve described Purisima previously so I won’t spend more time describing the park. I parked at the PC04 gate off Tunitas Creek Road. To get here take Skyline Drive to the intersection with Kings Mountain Road and Tunitas Creek. Turn westerly onto Tunitas Creek and slow down. This is a twisty and bumpy road. Follow this road for about a mile or so and you’ll come to an intersection with Swett Road, stay to the left and continue on Tunitas Creek for another couple miles until you see the brown and yellow gate for PC04 on your right. There’s no developed parking here but there are lots of roadside pullouts you can park in. Also bear in mind that there are no bathrooms or water on this side of the park so be prepared.

About the hike: From PC04, walk down The Grabtown Gulch trail 0.3 miles and then turn left onto the Borden Hatch Mill Trail. Follow BHMT for 0.2 miles and turn onto the Bald Knob Trail. Follow the lovely Bald Knob singletrack for 1.3 miles to a 4-way intersection and take a sharp left turn onto Irish Ridge Trail. I’m not certain but I would suspect that this ridge is named for Milton Irish, who operated a sawmill over in El Corte de Madera Creek OSP back in the late 1800s and this area has a heavy logging history.

You will descend steeply on Irish Ridge Trail for the first 100 yards or so and you’ll be tempted to turn around but continue on for a bit and the trail begins to descend more gradually. You’ll hit one section which has some stunning views of the southcoast, especially if the fog should be out. Continue on this trail and you’ll note that the trail becomes rougher and shows little sign of recent use. In places there are branches of poison oak reaching out over the trail so be cautious about touching the plant life. This trail also has lots of coyote and scat and similar evidence of other critters, testifying to the scarcity of use in this part of the park.

Continue down Irish Ridge to the end of the trail or to the intersection with Lobitos Creek Trail. You’ll have descended about 500 feet in total if I’m reading this here topo map correctly.  Lobitos Creek appears to be a 2 mile long ramble through the redwoods, a welcome relief after the open ridge trail you just descended on. I’ll be coming back to check out Lobitos Creek another time when evening is not approaching rapidly. But even if you’re turning around, walk down the first 50 yards of Lobitos Creek and check out the huge redwood tree just to the left of the trail with the very funky branch arcing over the trail. I’ve never seen a redwood growing like this one, it’s quite cool and worth a look while you’re in the neighborhood.

Now, unfortunately, it’s time to turn around and head back up the hill. It’s not too steep until you hit those last 100 yards or so and it’s a pleasant ramble back the way you came on Bald Knob to Borden Hatch to Grabtown Gulch to PC04. According to the map this route was just about exactly 6 miles. If you do Lobitos Creek it would be 10 in total. I did the hike in exactly 2 hours but I was really pushing and wished I could take it slower but I had gotten a late start leaving from work and it was getting dark by the time I walked out. Plan that it’ll take you 2.5 -3 hours at a comfortable pace with time for a snack at one or more points along the trail.

Weekend Hike, Pescadero Creek Butano Ridge Loop

July 7, 2008

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.