Three Parks in One
La Honda Creek Preserve
Neil Wiley

The big red barn on Highway 84 near the village of La Honda is the symbolic center of La Honda Creek Preserve, a 6,142-acre preserve of ranch land, grass-covered valleys, and mountain vistas. Although you can’t visit the barn area yet, it should be open to public access by the fall of 2020. Located between the existing north and south sections of the park, this new development will offer visitors some trails of varying distance and difficulty. It also will provide trail connections to the north end of the park and the Allen Road entrance, and to the south end of the recently opened section at Sears Ranch.

Hiking from Allen Road
The far north end of the preserve has been open by permit-only for several years. I was looking for solitude, so I got a permit for a weekend day. I had the entire place to myself. There were no bicycles, horses, dogs, or noisy people. There were also no trail signs, restrooms, maps, or guides.

I followed a broad, shady trail on a carpet of oak leaves for about half a mile to a small clearing and the intersection of a trail off to the right. I stayed left on the trail until I saw a roughly drawn figure “8” on a narrow path that took me half a mile on a widening trail to what my map called “Big Tree.”

Seeing this magnificent 14-foot-diameter old-growth redwood was humbling. Scarred and burned, this ancient giant has survived hundreds, perhaps a thousand, years. The druids may not have worshipped trees, but they did understand their symbolic strength and dignity.

I walked back to the main trail, and then retraced my steps back to the junction and turned left. After a short walk, I emerged from the forest into grassland. I walked past an occupied residence and some old deserted farm buildings on a paved road.

After turning right, the asphalt gave way to the more appropriate dirt and grass trail. I walked up and around a small hill to a higher vista point.

The fog veiled the ocean but decorated our Santa Cruz Mountains with streams of foamy, white clouds. To the south, I could see the radar tower atop Mount Umunhum. To the west, I looked over miles of lightly forested hills, the Butano Range, and the ocean fog. It was a view well worth a three-mile walk.

Hiking from Sears Ranch
When I heard last December that Midpen was opening the lower preserve area for hiking and horseback riding, I wanted to see it, so on a sunny but cool winter day after Christmas, I drove down Highway 84 past the Red Barn to walk the out-and-back six-mile hike. The weather was perfect for hiking, and the twenty-car parking lot was almost full. I guess people were walking off their Christmas feasts.

The trail was wide enough for three or four people to walk side-by-side. This is a good thing for pairs, families, or other small groups. From what I saw, it appeared to encourage conversations. Solo hikers might prefer a single track or path rather than a gravel road.

Some hikers like a trail with easy grades. This trail takes you up and down only 200 feet, between elevations of 600 and 800 feet. Others might want more of a challenge from a steeper climb, especially if it leads to a dramatic view.

In general, the views were nice. We were walking through a large open valley where we could see nearby grass-covered mountains. A few distant farm buildings and some cows presented a bucolic scene. It was a good place to walk on a sunny winter day, but with little shade, perhaps less comfortable during summer.

While the northern Allen Road section provided much more scenic variety in under three miles, this longer hike was less about contrast, and more about walking, especially with a group. Walking the same ground twice on an out-and-back trail is usually less interesting than a loop, but that might depend on with whom you are walking.

If you are looking for a new place in open space, give this trail a walk.

To reach the Sears Ranch entrance, you can get there via 280, Skyline, or Highway 1.

If it isn’t rush hour, 280 is the fastest, shortest route. Take 17 to 85 north, and 280 north to Sand Hill Road. Go west on Sand Hill Road, turn right on Portola Road, and turn a sharp left to 84 west. Drive on curvy Highway 84 up to and across Skyline (Highway 35). Pass the red barn, and watch for a right turn to Sears Ranch Road.

If you like mountain scenery and less traffic, take Black Road up to Skyline and drive north to 84 and Sears Ranch. If ocean views are your thing, get over to Highway 1 through Santa Cruz and head north to 84. This section of 84 is straighter and shorter than coming downhill from Highway 35.

One of these alternatives can serve to make a more interesting loop. It’s a matter of time versus quality of time. Your call. If you are using a GPS, dial in 900 Sears Ranch Road as your destination.