A short trip to solitude
La Honda Creek Open Space
Neil Wiley

You don’t have to travel far to find serenity. It’s a short drive up Skyline Boulevard, a few miles past Highway 84. Although most open-space areas offer relatively uncrowded nature, La Honda Creek Open Space can be your own private sanctuary. This 5,759-acre preserve features forests of redwood and Douglas fir, beautiful rolling hills of grasslands, and lovely views of wilderness and ocean. This nature’s playground is absolutely free, and on most days it is absolutely private.

The secret can be learned at www.openspace.org. Simply download a permit application, and email it back to Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District. (If you need help, you can call 650-691-1200.) Chances are you’ll have your permit in a few days. You’ll receive a map, directions, and codes that give you access through a locked gate to a secure parking area.

Once you are there, the walking is easy. The trails are relatively short with modest ups and downs through shady forest and glorious open meadows with views of rounded hills. And it’s quiet. You can feel the lightest breeze, smell the grass, and hear the occasional cries of soaring hawks. And sometimes, you hear the best sound of all, the sound of silence. Not bad for a walk in the park.

My hike
I walked through the La Honda Creek preserve on the Labor Day weekend. It lived up to its billing. I had the entire place to myself. There were no bicycles, horses, dogs, or noisy people. There were no trail signs, restrooms, maps, or guides.

I followed a broad, shady trail on a carpet of noisy 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 went past a pole on the right marked with a roughly drawn figure “8.” After walking a few hundred yards on the main trail, I doubled back to this subtle marker to find 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 understood 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.

I’m not sure if this was the “vista point” labeled on the map, but it was more than adequate. The fog veiled the ocean but decorated our Santa Cruz Mountains with streams of foamy, white clouds. To the south, I could see the old 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.

If you want a short and easy path to solitude, I recommend La Honda Creek Open Space.