A short trip to a remote forest
This is a forest of surprises. It is nearby, just up the road from the locally famous Corralitos Market and Sausage Company, but it offers the primitive and natural feeling of a remote, deep forest.
This forest is not a park or an open-space preserve. It is logged by the Land Trust of Santa Cruz County, so I thought I would see some scars—stumps, slash, and brush. Although there were some remnants of old staging areas and some small meadows, the forest looked healthy. I didn’t see much old growth, but the younger, thinner redwoods were tall and beautiful. It was also good to see a mixed forest that included oaks and other less marketable trees.
Other park and open-space administrators could learn something from this land trust. It has a friendly Santa Cruz-style vibe that welcomes visitors. Much of this welcoming spirit comes from the forest’s caretaker Jeff Helmer. Who else would provide notebooks, comfortable chairs, flowers, natural-history information, rock samples, and whimsical art at vista points and rest stops? Who else would leave large bottles of water for hikers and dogs at strategic locations throughout the forest?
Speaking of dogs, this is a canine-friendly place where dogs can run off-leash if they respond to your call and are not hostile to people and other dogs. I hope that this freedom is not abused, because this is a great way to share nature with man’s best friend.
Above all, this is a beautiful, cool, and shady forest. You can enjoy 10 miles of trails and dirt roads within its 402 acres. Most of the roads offer easy walking on leafy packed earth. For the more adventurous, several single-track trails provide a more challenging experience. Several comfortable and well-supplied vista points and rest stops make longer hikes more enjoyable, especially for families.
At the parking area, I walked to the left to find the gate, maps, and any notices. (If you have a map, and like single-track, you can walk up a narrow and relatively steep trail out of the parking lot to Bryne Trail.) Staying to the right, I followed the easier Bryne Trail uphill to the 3 Bears marker at about 1100 feet elevation. I stayed on the wide main trail, but you can take single-track detours on the Leonard Bartle Trail, or further on via the Leonard Bartle Cutback.
When I reached the Eagle-on-Stump marker, I met a group of hikers. Some decided to take the steep single-track Ridge Top Trail. I opted for the longer Bryne Trail up to AJ’s Point-of-View vista point at 1300 feet. The vista was blocked by heavy fog for about an hour, but I enjoyed the wait by visiting with other hikers, and reading from the provided wildlife descriptions and visitor journals.
After the fog lifted, I walked along Ridge Top Road to the Eagle-in-Tree vista at about 1600 feet. I could see the strawberry fields covered with plastic, Santa Cruz, and the fog-covered Monterey Bay. On the way back to AJ’s Point of View, I found the unsigned Milliron shortcut. When I saw that the way down the trail required the supplied rope, I opted for the Hardwood Trail instead. This trail took me back down to the western leg of the Bryne Trail and the parking lot. Next time, I’ll hike the Milliron Trail west to the 250-foot high, 1000-year-old Great White redwood tree. As with most hikes, I expect that it will be more about the journey than the destination.
I continued my exploration with a visit to Corralitos Market where, for research purposes, I enjoyed a Cheezy Bavarian (or Barbarian) smoked-sausage sandwich. Although it was good, on my next visit I plan to risk an order of Jalapeno and Cheddar.
Byrne-Milliron is a good place for hikers, dog-lovers, and families. It offers good shade in summer, several loops of varying difficulty, and climbs from easy to moderate. No bicycles are allowed.
Do not hike without a map. The trails make many turns, not all intersections and trails are identified, and the forest is thick enough to block views of the sun. Maps are available online at www.landtrustsantacruz.org/lands/ByrneTrailMap_CP2.pdf, and at the trailhead gate.
Most of the road into the park is paved, but it is rough. It is drivable in almost any vehicle, but go slowly. My little car scraped bottom several times.
Reservations or registrations are not required, but you can check trail conditions or get other information from caretaker Jeff Heimer at 831-724-5357, or email him at email@example.com. (I prefer signing in and out when I visit any large park or preserve, to let someone know where I am. I think this is a good safety idea whether you hike solo or in a group.)
Drive south on San Jose-Soquel Road or Highway 17 to Highway 1 south toward Monterey. Exit Highway 1 at Freedom Boulevard. Drive east on Freedom Boulevard for five miles to Corralitos Road. Just before your reach Corralitos Market, turn at the fork onto Browns Valley Road. At the three-mile mark, watch for a sign on the right for “Roses of Yesterday.” Turn left onto a very narrow road. If you value your car, drive slowly up the one-lane road. A sign will direct you to visitors’ parking.
After visiting Corralitos Market at Eureka Canyon Road, you can take this road as an alternative route back to Summit Road. In miles, it’s a bit shorter, but it will take twice as long. If you like scenery and driving in lower gears, it’s an interesting drive. Be sure to ask someone at the market if the road is open all the way to Summit. It is often closed. Although you won’t be driving fast, watch for even slower bicyclists. And when you get home, compare this route to your own road. You’ll appreciate the difference.