6 mile loop through mostly redwoods in a preserve popular with mountain
Distance, category, and difficulty:
This 6.2 mile loop hike is easy, with about 800 feet in elevation
change. Preserve elevation ranges from about 2300 to 800 feet. This hike
starts at about 2300 feet, descends to 1800 feet, then climbs back to the
Mix of sun and shade.
Dirt trails and fire roads.
Nice any time.
From CA 92 in San Mateo County, turn south onto Skyline Boulevard (CA 35).
Drive about 8.5 miles, past Skeggs Point, then find a safe place to turn
around and drive back to the Skeggs Point parking lot (heading south a left
turn into the lot is prohibited).
Get driving or public transit directions from Transit and Trails:
GPS Coordinates* for Trailhead:
(* based on Google Earth
data, shown as degrees, minutes, seconds)
Gas, food, and lodging:
Gas, pay phone, store, and restaurant about 3.5 miles south at the junction
of 84 & 35. No camping.
Medium-size paved parking lot. No entrance or parking fees. There are two
portable toilets, but no drinking water. Maps available at the information
signboard, inside the preserve. There is no direct public transportation
to the trailhead. No designated handicapped parking, and there is no wheelchair
route to the trailhead from the parking lot.
All trails but the short path to the tafoni are multi-use. Dogs are not
permitted. Preserve is open from dawn to 1/2 hour after sunset.
The Official Story:
Corte Madera page.
MROSD field office 650-691-1200
Use AAA's San Francisco Bay Region map to get there.
Map from MROSD
(download El Corte de Madera pdf)
Tales and Trails, by David Weintraub (order
this book from Amazon.com) has an overview of the preserve, descriptions
of hikes, and simple maps.
Afoot and Afield: San Francisco Bay Area, by David Weintraub
this book from Amazon.com) has a great map and descriptions of two El
Corte de Madera Creek Redwoods hikes.
101 Great Hikes of the San Francisco Bay Area, by Ann
Marie Brown (order
this book from Amazon.com) has a simple map and a good hike description.
Tom Taber's Santa Cruz Mountains Trail Book has a simple map
and preserve descriptions (order
this book from Amazon.com).
Peninsula Trails, by Jean Rusmore, has a simple map and preserve
this book from Amazon.com).
Loop in a nutshell -- a printable, text-only guide to the featured hike.
photos from this hike.
Go to Bay Area Hiker Home page
are some parks and preserves in the bay area that are so beloved
(some may even say loved to death) that it is tough to find any peace
and quiet there. People around here adore being outdoors so much that
even on Superbowl Sunday (when in many US cities even the parts department
at Sears is empty) you'll find plenty of folks on the trails. My sure-fire
tip for having any preserve to yourself is simple: go on a weekday, in
the winter, or when it is raining. This technique always pays off on visits
to El Corte de Madera Creek Open Space Preserve. In damp weather and early
weekdays I generally cross paths with a handful of cyclists and hikers.
El Corte de Madera is a lovely, large, challenging,
and contentious preserve. The beauty is evident as soon as you step onto a trail: redwoods, huge Douglas firs, creeks, sandstone
formations, pockets of chaparral, and long views to the west all can be
found here. But, along the extensive trail system, you might notice that
it's tough to throw a pine cone through El Corte de Madera without hitting
a cyclist. Although mountain biking is said to have started on Mount Tam,
it certainly seems to have moved en masse to Corte Madera. The impressive
acreage, and variety of trails (including singletracks) and terrain make El Corte de Madera a favorite for cyclists. MROSD has responded to the
popularity of the preserve by opening every trail but one (the short path
to the sandstone formation) to cyclists, a unusual move in the realm of
local park management. Many cyclists are responsible, level-headed, cooperative types.
The cycling advocacy group ROMP even worked with the MROSD to hand-build
the North Leaf Trail, and helps to maintain many other trails in the preserve.
Other cyclists seem determined to use El Corte de Madera (as well as some
other adjacent parks along Skyline) as their personal playgrounds. Despite
the MROSD's best efforts to squelch illegal trails, there are many deep
gashes made by bicycles in hillsides, and even in some places, longer
stretches of unauthorized trails.
Some hikers simply stay away from El Corte
de Madera, tired of confrontations with cyclists. It's a shame to skip
this preserve,though. There are many loop possibilities, and a few trailheads from which
to enter. Most people use the parking lot at Skeggs Point as a trailhead,
as you are most likely to find a place to park there. If you want to avoid
an upside down hike (a descent followed by an ascent), you can park at
one of the tiny pullouts along Bear Gulch or Star Hill Road; look for
the MROSD gates marked with CM08, CM06, etc., and pay attention to signage
related to parking. These roads are very narrow, so drive with caution,
and respect the privacy of local homeowners.
Start at the Skeggs Point parking lot,
and walk north along the side of Skyline Boulevard about 0.05
mile. Cross carefully and enter the preserve through gate CM01.
At the gate a paved road splits
uphill to the left, but stay to the right on Tafoni Trail. The
broad multi-use trail ascends a short distance, through a melange of Douglas
fir, tanoak, madrone, hazelnut, coast live oak, and buckeye. Forget-me-not,
a non-native wildflower, is very common along the trail, blooming from
late winter through early summer. Tafoni Trail descends to a signed
junction at about 0.12 mile. Bear right onto El Corte de Madera Creek
Multi-use El Corte de Madera Creek Trail
begins a moderate descent. Initially you may see clumps of invasive broom
along the trail, but soon more admirable woodland plants and trees take over. Big-leaf maple and California bay are dwarfed by towering Douglas
fir. Look for bluewitch nightshade, iris, foxglove, and thimbleberry blooming
in late spring. Traffic noise fades away, and the soothing sound of trickling
water accompany walks in all but the driest months. Gradually vegetation
becomes incredibly lush, and redwoods appear, along with huckleberry,
gooseberry, and wild rose. Look for hound's tongue in early spring and
starflower later, in June. At about 0.8 mile, El Corte de Madera Creek
Trail veers left and crosses a bridge (this looks like a junction, but
there is no longer a trail straight ahead).
The trail shrinks to a narrow path, but
remains multi-use. El Corte de Madera Creek Trail heads slightly uphill
into a canyon, but takes a sharp turn right and instead crosses a forested
hillside. Redwood and tanoak dominate, but you might also see California
bay, madrone, and huckleberry. Trilliums and redwood sorrel bloom close
to the ground in spring.The
trail lingers near 2000 feet, and hiking is easy on this stretch. At about
1.8 miles, you'll reach a signed junction with Tafoni Trail. You can shorten
your hike by more than a mile if you turn left onto Tafoni here. Stay
to the right, continuing on El Corte de Madera Creek Trail.
At a damp spot a grove of giant chain
ferns thrive. The trail continues through a forest of redwood, tanoak,
and madrone, at a nearly level pace. Some redwood stumps and trunks are
charred from a fire. At about 2.7 miles, you'll reach a signed junction.
In June look for wild strawberries at this split. El Corte de Madera Creek
Trail persists to the right, making its way eventually south -- you can
add 4 miles on to this loop if you continue on
El Corte de Madera Creek Trail, then North Leaf, Methuselah, and Fir Trail.
Turn left onto Resolution Trail.
After miles of easy hiking, a very short
moderate ascent is a surprise. The multi-use trail levels out again, though,
almost right away, and then winds through redwood, madrone, and tanoak.
Resolution Trail is named after a British Commonwealth Pacific Airline
DC-6 which crashed into the side of the mountain in October 1953. Eight
crew members and eleven passengers died in the accident, which left debris
strewn throughout the forest. Sharp-eyed hikers might see a few twisted
scraps of metal -- remember it's illegal (and stupid) to remove any artifacts
from the preserve. In a brief stretch of chaparral manzanita muscle their
way into the woods, but the shrubs quickly defer again to redwoods, some
of the most majestic of this hike.At
a sharp switchback left, Resolution Trail begins to ascend at a slightly
steeper grade. The trail becomes very rocky, and one area is stripped
of topsoil, leaving a sandstone surface. Manzanita, shrubby oaks, Douglas
fir, madrone, chamise, chinquapin, pitcher sage, toyon, monkeyflower,
ceanothus, and yerba santa crowd the trail as it climbs. The sloping chaparral-covered
hillside permits a rare view south, to an ocean of conifers. At about
3.8 miles, Resolution Trail ends at a T junction. Turn left onto Fir
Climbing at a moderate grade, multi-use
Fir Trail is initially lined with madrone, Douglas fir, chaparral pea,
yerba santa, ceanothus, manzanita, and toyon. Not far from the junction
if you scan the ground in June you might see yerba buena, a wild mint
and the original namesake of San Francisco. As Fir Trail ascends,
a forest of redwood, madrone, tanoak, and Douglas fir shades the route.
At about 3.9 miles two paths on the left, a few feet apart, double back
and head uphill a short distance to the vista point. If it's a cold, sunny,
and clear day, the small hilltop clearing is a good option for lunch.
Continue straight on Fir Trail.
Fir Trail presses on uphill, and at about
4.1 miles you'll reach a signed multi-trail junction at a flat. Make
the first left onto Tafoni Trail (if you want to skip the short out-and-back
to the sandstone formation, continue straight/left onto Tafoni).
The broad multi-use trail descends easily,
still in a forest of redwood, madrone, huckleberry, and tanoak. At about
4.2 miles, look on the right for an easy-to-miss junction with the path
to the tafoni. Turn right onto the hiking-only path.
The slight path winds through madrones,
descending easily. A segment of fence directs visitors away from the tafoni,
on an extension built in 2002. You'll continue to descend until the end
of the trail, at the base of the massive sandstone formation, a tafoni
pocked with honeycombed
indentations and tiny caves. A small viewing platform makes a perfect
lunch stop. When you're ready, retrace your steps back to the multiple
junction with Tafoni and Fir Trails. Turn left, remaining on Tafoni
Like most fire roads, wide Tafoni Trail
wanders up and down a bit as it travels through a mixed woodland of Douglas
fir, madrone, tanoak, and redwood. Traffic noise from Skyline Boulevard
is a hint that the hike is almost over. At about 6.1 miles you'll reach
a previously encountered junction, with El Corte de Madera Creek Trail.
Stay to the right on Tafoni Trail, and retrace your steps back to the
Total distance: about 6.2 miles
Last hiked: Thursday, June 13, 2002