Cascade Ranch Unit, Año Nuevo State Park,
California State Parks,
San Mateo County
In brief:
2.2 mile out and back through redwoods to a manzanita-studded knoll. Can be extended to Big Basin State Park. Initial climb is very steep and can slippery in wet weather, when newts scamper about the woods.

Distance, category, and difficulty:
This 2.2 mile out and back hike is short but steep. Trailhead elevation is about 400 feet. The trail climbs sharply, to about 1400 feet, in just 1.5 miles.

Total shade until you reach the ridge, which is completely exposed.

Trail traffic:
Very light.

Trail surfaces:
Dirt trails.

Hiking time:
2 hours or less.

Nice year round.

Getting there:
From CA 1 in San Mateo County, turn east onto Whitehouse Road (about 9 miles south of Pescadero Road, and 0.1 mile south of Rossi Road), an unsigned dirt road (look for a Skylark Ranch sign that is white with a green triangle). Drive about 2.3 miles on the narrow dirt road to the broad pullout (left) and signed trailhead (right) (a small sign on the road reads "no further public access past this point").

Get driving or public transit directions from Transit and Trails:

Approximate GPS coordinates* for trailhead:
Latitude 3710'5.32"N
(* based on Google Earth data, shown as degrees, minutes, seconds)

Gas, food, and lodging:
At Costanoa, on Rossi Road, you can buy great foods to go at the deli, or use a pay phone. No camping in any of the Año Nuevo units, but you can camp at Costanoa.

Trailhead details:
Parking for a few cars in a broad pullout. No parking or entrance fees. No facilities (maps, drinking water, restrooms, or pay phone). No designated handicapped parking, and the trail is not suitable for wheelchairs.You can get more info about the park at the Año Nuevo State Reserve headquarters, about 3 miles further south (from Whitehouse Road) on CA 1.

Park is open from dawn to dusk. No dogs. There are no rules posted at the trailhead, but at the other end of the trail (at the junction with Chalks Road), signs proclaim the trail hiking only.

The Official Story:
CSP's Año Nuevo page
Park office 650-879-2025

Map Choices:
• Use AAA's San Francisco Bay Region map to get there.
CSP's park map (pdf)
• Order the Saratoga to Big Basin map from Redwood Hikes.
• Trail Map of the Santa Cruz Mountains (map 2), by the Sempervirens Fund (includes Big Basin, Butano, and Skyline-to-the Sea), is the best map available to the unit.
• Tom Taber's Santa Cruz Mountains Trail Book (order this book from has a simple map.

Whitehouse Ridge Trail in a nutshell -- a printable, text-only guide to the featured hike.

View photos from this hike

Go to Bay Area Hiker Home page

In contrast to the well-known gentle oceanside paths at Año Nuevo's main unit, Trailheadwhere elephant seals annually mate and birth, the inland portion of the state park boasts stiff climbs through redwood forests and along creeks. A handful of trails and fire roads begin off Whitehouse and Gazos Creek Roads, in the section of Año Nuevo known as Cascade Ranch.
     Perhaps it's Whitehouse Ridge Trail's viewpoints that make a veteran peninsula hiker think of (oddly enough) the Año Nuevo Trail at Butano State Park, just a few miles north. Both trails are steep (Whitehouse Trail the tougher of the two), but the luxuriant undergrowth that chokes Butano's trail is absent from Whitehouse, where a simple forest of redwood and tanoak dominates the landscape. And while Butano's vista points have become obscured by tree cover, at Whitehouse Ridge hikers can enjoy unobstructed views west to the ocean from perches on the edge of the hillside.
     Of course, for views like this, you'll pay in sweat as you climb out of a wooded canyon on a steep old-fashioned mountain goat trail. Redwood duff on Whitehouse Ridge TrailThe ascent should pose no problems for seasoned hikers, but beware the quad-busting descent, especially in the damp months of autumn, winter, and spring, when wet leaves, rocks, and exposed roots make for a slippery trail surface. Sticky-soled shoes are a must, and a trekking pole will provide increased stability.
     Start at the signed Whitehouse Ridge Trailhead on the side of Whitehouse Road. The narrow hiking-only trail sets off uphill, plunging into a dense forest of redwood and tanoak, with pockets of lush ferns and carpets of redwood sorrel in the understory. After the first autumn rains, you'll likely see fresh mushrooms poking up through a thick layer of redwood duff, along with conspicuous yellow banana slugs and shy California newts. These tiny creatures in the salamander family are perfectly camouflaged for their annual treks to ponds and streams, with orange bellies and rust colored backs that blend into downed dead redwood branches and needles. The trail rises from a canyon floor littered with fallen trees, then dips sharply down to cross a stream. Huge redwood stumps stand sentinel along the creek, and there are relatively young trees working to attain the former stature of the logged giants. Whitehouse Trail begins climbing again, sustaining a steep grade. Whitehouse Ridge TrailEven though there are occasional switchbacks, the abrupt corners seem to simply alter the course of the path, rather than soften the climb. After about 0.7 mile, you'll reach a signed junction. The path to the right visits the lower viewpoint, but unless you're ready to turn back now, you might skip the short detour, for the views further uphill are more dramatic. Turn left and continue to ascend on Whitehouse Ridge Trail.
      A relentless climb through redwoods continues. Blackened trunks, scorched only on one side, are evidence of a fire which swept downhill from the ridge, in the not too distant past. As Whitehouse Ridge Trail curves right, you'll pass from one side of the mountain to another, and the vegetation shifts. Douglas firs reach for the sky, with huckleberry and chinquapin in the understory. The trail takes a straight tack uphill, climbing along the edge of the hillside, with the canyon receding to the left. Upper viewpointAs you ascend, look on the sides of the trail for more chinquapin and a few canyon live oak, draped with pale green lacy lichen. Although you'll be drawing near to the ridgetop, Whitehouse Ridge Trail levels out and heads back into a dense stand of redwood. At about 1.2 miles, you'll reach a signed junction with the path to the Upper Vista Point. Turn right.
     A sign guides you past an initial clearing, and the narrow path squeezes through Douglas fir, madrone, yerba santa, California coffeeberry, ceanothus, and coast live oak. After a short, mostly level route, the path ends at a viewpoint. An interpretive sign indicates the location of the San Gregorio-Hosgri Fault Zone, and shows how Año Nuevo State Park connects to Big Basin State Park via Chalks Road, which starts at the end of Whitehouse Ridge Trail. WInding through a manzanita barren on the ridgetop On a clear day you'll have sweeping views west. Whitehouse Road should be visible, with the white tents of Costanoa obvious slightly to the north. Even if you're visiting on an overcast day, the murmur from the ocean should puncture any fog. When you're ready, retrace your steps back to the previous junction, at about 1.3 miles. Turn right, toward Chalks Road.
     I had wondered if there were manzanitas on the ridge, since chinquapin and manzanita are frequent neighbors. Sure enough, the trail quickly exits the woods at a level grade and emerges onto a manzanita barren. The ridgetop soil, "poor," white and chalky, supports manzanitas along with huckleberry and knobcone pine. You might also see chaparral pea, a rather plain evergreen shrub that puts forth stunning pink blossoms in late spring. View north from the ridgeThere are magnificent views to the north, including the forested hillsides of Butano State Park. A small rocky bare spot makes a good lunch location if it's not too hot. Whitehouse Ridge Trail climbs briefly uphill on a grade with some loose rock, then drops and passes through a choked tangle of chinquapin, manzanita, huckleberry, and knobcone pine. At about 1.6 miles, Whitehouse Ridge Trail ends at a signed junction with Chalks Road. From here, you can walk on the broad fire road all the way to Big Basin's Chalk Mountain (turn left; the route is unsigned). The fire road to the right descends and then ends at a gate and private property. Retrace your steps back to the trailhead.

Total mileage: about 3.0 miles
Last hiked: Friday, November 16, 2001