3.3 mile loop to a big sandstone formation nestled among madrones and tanoaks.
Distance, category, and difficulty:
This 3.3 mile loop hike is easy, with about 400 feet in elevation
change. Preserve elevation ranges from about 2300 to 800 feet, but this
hike is one of Corte Madera's easiest.
Mix of sun and shade.
Dirt trails and fire roads.
1 1/2 hours.
Nice any time.
From CA 92 in San Mateo County, turn south onto Skyline Boulevard (CA 35).
Drive about 8.5 miles (about 0.25 mile past Skeggs Point), and park in the
pullout in front of the CM02 gate, on the right side of the road.
Get driving or public transit directions from Transit and Trails:
GPS Coordinates* for Trailhead:
(* based on Google Earth
data, shown as degrees, minutes, seconds)
Parking for about 6 cars. No toilet facilities or drinking water. Maps available
at the information signboard. No entrance or parking fees. There is no direct
public transportation to the trailhead.
Gas, food, and lodging:
Gas, pay phone, store, and restaurant about 3.5 miles south at the junction
of 84 & 35. No camping.
All trails but the short path to the tafoni are multi-use. Dogs are not
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 featured hike.
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).
View 40 photos from
the featured hike.
View some black and white photos of the preserve
(and a few other nearby preserves) after the snowstorm of 2001.
Go to Bay Area Hiker Home page
a great variety of terrain at El Corte de Madera. Lots of redwoods
and Douglas firs near Skyline, some open chaparral downslope a ways, and
damp conditions (downright wet in winter) along the trails in the western
section. If you're new to the preserve, be sure to take a map (there are
lots of junctions), and be on the lookout for the many cyclists. My favorite
loop starts at the Skeggs Point trailhead, descends to moist, deep woods
on El Corte de Madera Creek Trail, then climbs easily back uphill through
tanoak, redwood, huckleberry, and Douglas fir to Resolution Trail, a lovely
narrow trail. Hike on Resolution to Fir or Tafoni Trail, which returns
to the trailhead. This loop, almost 6 miles, is once of the nicest hikes
in the Santa Cruz Mountains.
featured hike, start at the small parking area near gate CM02. Turn
to the right and walk down Methuselah Trail. This broad trail, lined
with redwoods and Douglas firs, soon leaves the traffic noises of Skyline
behind as it heads downhill. After just a few steps, the Sierra Morena
Trail departs to the right at a signed junction. Continue straight
on the Methuselah Trail. The path continues to edge along the side
of a hill, with a forested drop off on the left side of the trail. Sprinkled among the redwoods and Douglas firs are lots of tanoak, and
an understory of ferns, some creambush, and gooseberry. After about 0.3
mile, Timberview Trail breaks off to the left at a signed junction. Continue uphill (to the right) on the
Methuselah Trail. Occasionally a bit of beige sandstone pokes
through the reddish soil of the trail. At about 0.8 mile, a four-way junction
comes into view. (If you would like to extend this hike an extra 2.3 miles,
continue straight on Methuselah, turn right onto Fir Trail, visit the
vista point, then rejoin the featured hike at the junction of the Fir
and Tafoni Trails.) Turn right onto a short connector trail. When
I was hiking in the rain once, I stopped on this trail to admire
a bright red bit of redwood decaying on the ground. Suddenly something
rolled down the hillside onto the trail a few yards from me. When it stopped
rolling, a bird jumped to its feet, shook itself off, and wobbled
across the trail and into the leaves. At 0.9 mile, turn left onto the
Fir Trail at a signed junction.
Fir Trail is another broad, mostly
level trail through madrone, tanoak, and Douglas fir. In the sunny
spots, look for manzanita and honeysuckle. When you reach another signed junction
at 1.1 miles, stay straight on the Tafoni Trail. You continue to
hike beneath the trees, but look for an abundance of huckleberry bushes,
particularly on the right side of the trail. At about 1.2 miles, the signed
hiking-only trail to the sandstone formations sets out on the right side
of the path. Turn right onto the trail. The narrow path passes
under some madrones, lovely in the winter rain with bare bark shining
like it's been varnished. The tafoni formations are about 0.1 mile off
the main trail, and in the rain they loom like an iceberg in the fog.
A sign explains how these sandstone formations came to be. (See the Castle
Rock State Park page or the Geology page
for some better photos of tafoni; the photos from El Corte de Madera didn't
come out as well.) In 2002 MROSD fenced
off the top of the formation, and built a segment of trail that winds
down to the base of the rock. There's a small viewing platform that provides
good views of the tafoni.
When you are ready to head back, retrace
your steps to the Tafoni Trail, turn left, then retrace your steps back
to the junction with Fir Trail, at about 1.5 miles. Turn right
onto Fir Trail. The trail heads downhill, with obvious traces of heavy
bike use evident on the berms to the left. At about 1.7 miles, bear right
at the signed junction with a path to the Vista Point. After a short steep
wooded stretch, you'll step out into a sunny belvedere. Douglas fir provide
shade, but short shrubby chaparral plants (chamise, coffeeberry, ceanothus, manzanita,
coyote brush, and pitcher sage) allow long views to the west. This is
a great place for a lunch break. When you're ready to continue, retrace
your steps back to the junction of Fir and Tafoni Trails, at about
2 miles. Stay straight on Fir Trail. When you reach the previously
encountered junction at about 2.2 miles, continue on Fir Trail.
As the wide path climbs back towards
Skyline Boulevard, Fir Trail crosses through a clearing, and then, at
about 2.7 miles, meets up with the Sierra Morena Trail at a signed junction.
Turn right onto the Sierra Morena Trail. This short segment is
a stunner. Barely wide enough to accommodate more than one user, it winds
along the side of a hill through the forest, passing uprooted trees and
the occasional banana slug. Tanoaks dominate, but look for wild rose and
hazelnut as well. Sierra Morena skims a fence near Skyline Boulevard,
then ducks back into the woods. Much too soon, at about 3.3 miles, the
trail ends at the signed junction with the Methuselah Trail. Continue
straight, uphill, a few steps to the trailhead.
Total distance: about 3.3 miles
Last hiked: Monday, October 2, 2000