La Honda Creek Open Space Preserve,
Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District,
San Mateo County
In brief:
This 2.9 mile loop is accessible through advance permit only. Visit a giant redwood, then drop through grassland to a lonely viewpoint looking west to the ocean.

Distance, category, and difficulty:
This 2.9 mile partial loop hike is easy, with about 400 feet in elevation change. Trailhead elevation is about 2128 feet. The preserve's lowest (trail) elevation is about 1944 feet; highest elevation is about 2190 feet. Lost elevation is regained on an ascent.

Mix of shade and sun.

Trail traffic:

Trail surfaces:
Dirt trails and fire roads.

Hiking time:
1 1/2 hours.

Nice any time.

Getting there:
From Interstate 280 in San Mateo County, exit CA 84. Drive west to the junction with CA 35 (Skyline Boulevard). Turn right and drive north to Bear Gulch Road West. Turn left. Drive carefully on this very narrow road, then turn left onto private Allen Road. Drive to the gate at the end of the road, then follow the directions from MROSD to enter the preserve.

Get driving or public transit directions from Transit and Trails:

GPS Coordinates* for Trailhead:
Latitude 3722'45.87"N
(* based on Google Earth data, shown as degrees, minutes, seconds)

Gas, food, and lodging:
Gas, pay phones, store, and restaurants back at the junction of 35 and 84. No camping.

Trailhead details:
Access to this preserve is by permit only (there is no parking on Bear Gulch Road, Allen Road, or in front of the gate). Call the district office at 650-691-1200 for permit info. With the permit you'll receive a map; bring it with you because there are no maps in the preserve, and trails are not marked. No restrooms or drinking water. No parking or entrance fees. No designated handicapped parking. This preserve is not suitable for wheelchair users. There is no direct public transportation to this preserve.

No bikes, horses, or dogs are permitted. Open from dawn until one half hour after sunset.

The Official Story:
MROSD's La Honda page.
MROSD field office 650-691-1200

Map Choices:
• Use AAA's San Francisco Bay Region map to get there.
Map from MROSD (download the pdf).
Peninsula Tales and Trails, by David Weintraub (order this book from has an overview of the preserve, a description of a hike, and a simple map.
• The Trail Center's Trail Map of the Central Peninsula is my favorite map of the park (order this map from
Peninsula Trails, by Jean Rusmore, has a simple map and trail descriptions (order this book from
The Santa Cruz Mountains Trail Book has a simple map and preserve descriptions (order this book from

View photos from this hike.

Go to Bay Area Hiker Home page

If you've ever dreamed of having a preserve all to yourself, Trailheadcall MROSD and arrange a visit to La Honda. Since access is by permit only, and limited permits are issued each day, there's a good chance that when you show up at the trailhead, you'll find it empty. Although rangers patrol the trails, and there is an occupied house in the preserve, more than any other public bay area land you will find solitude.
      There are two prominent features at La Honda, and you can easily visit them both on one hike. A rare old growth redwood is tucked away in the woods, and at the end of an out-and-back trail a grassy bluff offers one of the best views on the peninsula.
     La Honda is in an unusually raw state for an MROSD preserve. You'll find no trail signs, restrooms, information signboards, or maps, and no bicycles, horses, or dogs are permitted. Under the treesBring layers of clothing; it may be windy on the trail to the view point.
     From the trailhead, a roadside pullout, walk back toward the gate a few feet. Turn right on an unmarked wide trail. Redwood, Douglas fir, tanoak, and madrone shade the trail, and in the understory you might see hound's tongue, starflower, milkmaids, and forget-me-not in spring. Following a level grade, the trail passes through an open stretch with manzanita, poison oak, and ceanothus, then darts back into the woods. At 0.46 mile, the trail emerges into a small clearing, and meets another trail. Stay to the left.
      In spring, the left side of the trail is engulfed with the bright yellow flowers of invasive broom. At 0.53 mile, a small, easy-to-miss path begins on the right side oBroom-lined trailf the trail. Turn right. The trail is easy to follow, but may be blocked with fallen trees, and covered with leaves and branches. A large downed tree runs along the trail on the right; look left here and for the first glimpses of the huge old redwood. Keep walking on the trail, which curves left and reaches the tree at 0.64 mile. It is an awesome site. Partially blackened by a fire (from who knows how long ago), it escaped the logging saws and thrives in a location somewhat sheltered from the wind and winter storms. When you're ready, retrace your steps back to the previous junction, turn left, and retrace your steps to the next junction. Bear left.
     Under a partial canopy of tanoak, redwood, and Douglas fir, you might also see hazelnut. The trail soon leaves the trees behind and emerges into grassland, near an (occupied) house, and a few desertedTrail through grasslandbuildings. At about 1 mile, the dirt trail ends at a junction. Turn left.
      Once past the old farm buildings, the pavement fades and trail enters grassland. Perhaps it is more correct to say the trail becomes grassland. The twin ghost tracks of a vehicle drift downhill. Since this isn't an established, graded trail, the walking is lumpy (the next day my ankles were sore, which I've never experienced before). On the left side of the trail, redwood, Douglas fir, and madrone form a border to the grassland, which features long views west. You might see blue-eyed grass, California buttercups, checker-bloom, and fiddlenecks in springtime. At 1.24 miles, a trail splits off to the right. Although it isn't indicated as such on the official map, other maps show this trail connecting to another out-and-back trail. Into the woods(You could take this trail west, then hike uphill on the other trail, and you'll end up back at the trailhead.) Stay to the left on the descending trail.
     The trail passes through an old fence line, and draws close to the trees. Suddenly, the grade steepens and the trail becomes rocky. A few huckleberry shrubs grace the understory. Madrone, tanoak, and Douglas firs engulf the trail as it descends. In the shade of deep tree cover, you might see indian warrior, hound's tongue, milkmaids, and mission bells in spring. The trail steps out into grassland with great drama. It might be difficult to follow the trail, as a second path veers off to the right, but cross the grassy flat plateau to the vista point and obvious end of the trail, where the hill drops sharply south. From this spot there are unobstructed views south and west.View from the end of the trail  Hills of other MROSD preserves, including Russian Ridge and Windy Hill, are visible on a clear day, as is the Butano Range and the ocean. In spring, the grass is sprinkled with flowers. You might see popcorn flower, California poppy, blue-eyed grass, checker-bloom, bluedicks, and mule ear sunflower. If it's not too windy, this is a good place for lunch. I think this is also a spectacular setting for a marriage proposal.... When you're ready, retrace your steps back to the junction in front of the house, at 2.55 miles. Turn left.
     The paved road climbs slightly, then begins to descend. Manzanitas and ceanothus give way to redwoods. The trail emerges into grassland, and delivers you to the trailhead.

Total distance: 2.88 miles
Last hiked: Monday, April 16, 2001