From Highway 84 to 92
Skyline Boulevard, Part III
Driving up Skyline Boulevard on a sunny weekday is one of my favorite expeditions. It’s a great way to experience beautiful nature views, escape traffic, and explore something new. Even better is getting out of the car and deeper in nature, especially walking on a trail you haven’t seen before. Sometimes this means stretching out a little farther, for example, traveling north on Skyline past Highway 84 in Woodside toward Highway 92.
It’s not that far, and there are lots of interesting things to see. Two large Midpen open-space preserves, El Corte de Madera Creek (30 miles of trails over 2,906 acres) and Purisima Creek Redwoods (24 miles of trails over 4,711 acres) offer room to wander along short walks and long strenuous hikes or rides. My general impression is that both are darker and cooler than our more southern open-space preserves. The forest is thicker and shadier. The canyons are deeper. There are more downed trees and lots of leaf litter. This may be a better shady place to visit in the summer except when the more prevalent fog chills the air.
Before entering a preserve, you might want to park 3.3 miles north of Alice’s Restaurant at the Highway 84 intersection across the road from the CMO2 entrance of El Corte de Madera. There are no signs, but watch for the second set of fences on the right side of the road. Behind the fences is the giant redwood Methuselah. A short trail takes you down and around this circa 1800-year-old tree. (That makes me feel young.) It is about 14 feet in diameter at the base, and over 45 feet in circumference. According to a previous sign, it was once 225 feet tall, but in 1954, the top broke off, so it was shortened to 137 feet.
Although you could enter El Corte de Madera Creek Preserve across the road from Methuselah, I recommend driving north about four miles north of the Highway 84 intersection to the Caltrans Skeggs Point parking area.
I couldn’t find a view at Skeggs Point, but a short walk north and a careful walk across the road brings you to Madera’s CM01 entrance and the Tafoni Trail. This wide leaf-covered trail is an easy one-miler with a few minor ups and downs, and then a shorter and narrower 1/10-mile path that ends at a sandstone formation with unusual cave-like indentations and a lacy honeycomb in stone. An observation deck brings you close without touching the fragile tafoni.
Back on the main Tafoni Trail, you can continue another 1/10 mile via the Fir Trail to a vista site. (I can’t tell you about the vista because it was fogged in when I visited.) Rather than walk back the same trail, you can complete the loop back to your starting point on the highway for one mile via the Fir Trail. Some sections are paved. Most are covered with light gravel. The distance is the same, but a loop is usually more interesting than an out-and-back.
If you want another short hike, drive north to the Purisima Creek Redwoods Open Space Preserve’s PC03 entrance. The small roadside parking lot is rough and only big enough for eleven tightly-packed cars. The ¼-mile Redwood Trail is an easy walk past several picnic tables. (This is a nice trail for picnicking, but to see more impressive redwoods, I recommend the redwood loops of Henry Cowell or Big Basin.)
To extend your walk, continue a loop to the left via the Purisima Creek Trail. A left turn on the trail takes you back to the highway. If, instead, you turn right on Purisima Creek Trail, you can walk five miles to the Higgins Canyon Road entrance, then loop back via the trails of Harkins Ridge, Bay Area Ridge, and Craig Britton back to the upper portion of Purisima Creek Trail. Beware. Some of these trails are steep, especially on the return.
Equestrians and hikers who like shorter hikes may prefer entering the Purisima preserve at the northern entrance (PC01). The parking area accommodates thirty cars with lots of room for horse trailers. No backing up needed!
The first section of the North Ridge Trail offers a choice of a hikers-only single-track (0.5 miles) and a wide road for horses (0.3 miles). Although the hikers’ trail is a little longer, the long, easy switchbacks through forest are more interesting.
The trails join to become one wide road through a pleasant forest of madrone and oak for about a mile. At the signed junction with Whittemore Gulch Road, only hikers can continue left on this trail during rainy months. This trail is relatively easy as it switchbacks down through forest, but it opens out to nice views balanced by less shade and steeper downhills.
When you get tired, just have a snack, and walk back. Although it is all uphill back to your starting point, the climb gets easier the closer you get to the top.
Other north-of-84 preserves and parks
La Honda Creek, a Midpen open-space preserve located on Allen Road off Highway 84, is a secret treasure. You can’t visit it without a permit. The directions are not even published on the Midpen website. Yet this is a good thing. Apply for a permit, and you may get one in a few days. You’ll receive a map, directions, and codes for access through a locked gate to a secure parking area. That means you may have a 5,759-acre preserve with forests, rolling grassland hills, and lovely views of rounded hills to yourself. 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. If you like solitude, ask for a permit. Visit openspace.org for a general access permit.
Wunderlich is a small 942-acre San Mateo County Park. To reach the park, take Skyline Boulevard to Highway 84. Turn right (east). About four miles down 84, and half a mile past the fork with Portola Road, watch for the small sign on the west (left) side of the road. Another alternative is to park on Skyline, and walk into the park. You can then follow a loop of the Alambique and Skyline trails.
The lower end of the park features the Folger Ranch complex of boarding stables, riding facility, and horse ring. This complex is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The stable is no ordinary horse barn. The architectural style is French baroque. Adornments include corbels under the eaves, paneled soffits, a balcony, and an arched portico. The carriage house is used for informal community meetings.
Over twelve miles of developed trails are available to hikers. Most also serve equestrians, although some narrower trails are closed during the winter. You can walk from one end of the park to the other on the 5.1-mile Alambique Trail. It runs from the Woodside Road trailhead at 475-feet elevation to Skyline at 2200 feet.
Huddart Park is a small 900-acre park located off Skyline Boulevard on Kings Mountain Road. Although it is more of an urban park, it has some interesting trails. The Chickadee Trail begins near the handicapped area. This easy nature trail travels only ¾ mile on relatively flat ground through lightly forested redwood, oak, and chaparral. A self-guided nature tour brochure is usually available at the entry kiosk. The Miwok 4.5 mile multi-use loop climbs through forest, descends to the McGarvey Gulch Trail, then wraps around the picnic areas to the starting point.
Phleger Estate. My favorite Huddart trails take you to the Phleger Estate property of the Golden Gate National Recreational Forest. The Crystal Springs Trail follows a gradual downhill slope for 0.7 miles to the junction with Richards Road. Turn left and follow the road to the Miramonte Trail. This trail soon runs parallel to West Union Creek. On a winter day, the trees steam water vapor under narrow rays of thin sunlight. Broken redwoods litter the riparian corridor, scattered like giant pick-up sticks. You may experience the timelessness of an ancient forest.
When you reach a three-way trail junction, Raymundo Trail continues to the right, up a gulch toward Skyline Boulevard. Mount Redondo Trail goes left along a tributary to West Union Creek through redwoods. After 0.8 miles, Mount Redondo Trail meets Lonely Trail and the west end of Raymundo Trail. Continue on Lonely Trail 1.5 miles to a point near the Kings Mountain Fire Department and Skyline Boulevard. (This Skyline entrance is unmarked and lacks safe parking.)
For more details about local explorations, visit our website www.mnn.net. Click on Hikes and other explorations for links to more than 100 adventures.