Tafoni Loop,
El Corte de Madera Creek Open Space Preserve,
Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District,
San Mateo County
In brief:
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.

Trail traffic:

Trail surfaces:
Dirt trails and fire roads.

Hiking time:
1 1/2 hours.

Nice any time.

Getting there:
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:
Latitude 3724'21.50"N
(* based on Google Earth data, shown as degrees, minutes, seconds)

Trailhead details:
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 permitted.

The Official Story:
MROSD's Corte Madera page.
MROSD field office 650-691-1200

Map Choices:
• Use AAA's San Francisco Bay Region map to get there.
• Map from MROSD (download El Corte de Madera pdf).
Peninsula 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 (order 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 descriptions (order 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

There's a great variety of terrain at El Corte de Madera. Lots of redwoods and Douglas firs near Skyline, Trailhead 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. Methuselah Trail
     For this 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. TafoniAfter 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. View pointYou 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. Start of Sierra Morena Trail, in the rainTurn 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. Sierra Morena 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