A small hidden treasure
Thornewood Open Space

Neil Wiley

One of Midpenís smallest preserves, Thornewood, is easy to miss. And that would be too bad, because itís worth a visit.

Hidden behind brick walls protecting two personal residences, the Thornewood sign is invisible from busy Highway 84. The best way to find the preserve as you drive down the hill from Skyline is to watch your odometer until you reach 1.9 miles, and then turn right through the gates. Now youíll see the Thornewood sign and a narrow driveway that winds through the woods for 3/10 of a mile to a gravel parking lot for twelve carsóif they are parked just right. Across the road, youíll find the trailhead and information signboard posted with the normal warnings, precautions, large map, and brochures.

The map isnít really necessary. There is only one trail through the preserve, and itís well marked. That is what makes this hike so pleasant. Itís easy.

Itís easy to follow. No intersections. No loops. No confusing choices. Simply follow the trail.

Itís easy to hike. The trail wanders down through oak forest, slowly losing elevation of about a hundred feet. It seems an exaggeration to even call it a hill. You just move along a single-track path through trees. And one-way on the trail is only 7/10 of a mile, perfect for small children and reluctant hikers. This isnít a hike; itís a casual amble through the woods.

Itís easy to like. Rather than big and dramatic, the oaks, maples, and buckeyes are familiar and friendly. You find yourself looking more closely at the shaggy bark of a madrone, the green fur of moss, or the mellow yellow of a banana slug. The pale greens of a winter forest form a soft background for bright-colored toyon berries. Even the myriad colors of poison oak reflect a quiet if itchy beauty.

As you walk deeper into the forest, the trees get bigger. Giant firs and redwoods welcome you to a little lake, green with the foamy bloom of algae. Schilling Lake isnít swimmable, but it is a home for wood ducks and green herons. A small bench placed above the lake is a good place to have a snack or simply sit. When you are ready to face the world, retrace your steps back to your car.

Improving on a simple thing

In July 2007, the Midpen board approved a plan to establish a new trail for hiking, equestrians, and dogs on leash. The plan calls for improving the lower 1,000-foot section of an existing informal trail known as Dennis Martin Road to form an eastern end of a new Bridle Trail, and constructing a 3,200-foot new Bridle Trial to connect with the existing Schilling Lake Trail. The new trail would reroute portions of a badly eroding informal trail and re-establish a regional equestrian connection through the preserve between the town of Woodside and the Skyline area. A second entrance, via Portola Road and Old Honda Road, would provide another link with the valley. Midpen plans estimate the trail to be completed by 2009. Also, while creating the new trail, it would be good if they would improve the Dennis Martin Road to form a loop with the new trail. Most hikers prefer a loop rather than an out-and- back trail.

Although the Midpen brochure makes much of the Thornewood history, it is invisible. Quoting the brochure, "The Thornwood house, surrounded by 3.5 acres of landscaping and a breathtaking view of the valley, is an example of the gracious estate life of the 1920ís." Unfortunately, the house and grounds are off-limits, so the history is hidden. Hopefully, when the house and grounds are restored, the private party who leased the property will offer an occasional tour.


To reach Thornewood from Skyline (Highway 35), take Highway 84/La Honda Road northeast 1.9 miles and turn right at a brick wall marked 895-897. To reach Thornewood from Interstate 280, take the Highway 84/Woodside exit west through Woodside for 4.9 miles, and turn left at the brick wall marked 895-897. Once beyond the wall, follow the one-lane road 0.1 mile to the parking area.

No charge for entry or parking. No facilities, but food, drink, and fuel are available in Woodside (Pioneer Hotel) or at the intersection of Highway 84 and Skyline (Aliceís Restaurant).


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