Portola Redwoods State Park/Pescadero Creek County Park,
California State Parks/San Mateo County Parks,
San Mateo County
In brief:
7.4 mile loop through mixed woods in remote San Mateo County canyons.

Distance, category, and difficulty:
This 7.4 mile loop hike is moderate, beginning at about 400 feet, descending to about 350 feet, climbing gradually to just over 800 feet, then descending back to the trailhead -- total elevation change is about 600 feet.

Mostly shaded.

Trail traffic:

Trail surfaces:
Dirt trails and fire roads.

Hiking time:
3 1/2 hours.

Nice any time -- check the park during winter for storm closures.

Getting there:
From Interstate 280 in San Mateo County, exit #25 Woodside Road/CA 84. Drive west about 6 miles to the junction with CA 35 (Skyline Boulevard). Turn left and drive south about 7 miles to the junction with Alpine Road. Turn right and drive west about 3 tortuous and winding miles on this narrow road (be especially careful for bicycle and motorcycle traffic on weekends). Turn left onto Portola State Park Road, and drive on the tiny and unpredictable road the remaining 3 miles to the entrance kiosk. Continue another 0.4 mile to the parking areas near the ranger station. If possible park in the Madrone lot (to the left just before the ranger station), or in the spots past the ranger station and across the bridge, on the right side of the road. (NOTE: do not be confused or tempted by the Alpine Road exit on 280. That section of Alpine Road deadends east of Skyline Boulevard.)

Street address (for in-transit navigation):
9000 Portola State Park Road, La Honda, CA 94020

Get driving or public transit directions from Transit and Trails:

GPS Coordinates* for Trailhead:
Latitude 3714'47.54"N
(* based on Google Earth data, shown as degrees, minutes, seconds)

Gas, food, and lodging
Gas, stores, and restaurants either back at the junction of 84 and 35, or west in Pescadero. Portola has walk-in, tent, and RV campsites. Campground information (with links to reserve) from hipcamp.

Trailhead details:
$10 entrance fee (self-register at ranger station if facilities are unstaffed). Restrooms behind and to the left of the ranger station. Maps available (for $2) at the entry kiosk (when staffed), or at the ranger station. There is plenty of parking. Pay phone at ranger station. There are a few designated handicapped parking spots throughout the park, but Portola's trails are not well-suited to wheelchairs. There is no direct public transportation to this park.

Portola Redwood trails are open to hikers only. Dogs are permitted, on leash only, on two trails only -- Lower Escape Road and Upper Escape Road out of the campground. For day use, park is open fron 6 a.m. to sunset.

The Official Story:
CSP's Portola page.
Park office 650-948-9098

Map Choices:
• Download the park map pdf from CSP's website.
60 Hikes within 60 Miles: San Francisco, by Jane Huber (yup, that's me, the creator of this website) has a simple map and a featured hike. Order this book from Amazon.com.
• Dave Baselt's Pescadero Creek County Park/Portola Redwoods State Park map is an excellent guide to the trails of both parks (order from Redwood Hikes).
Afoot and Afield: San Francisco Bay Area, by David Weintraub (order this book from Amazon.com) has a great map and descriptions of a Portola hike.
• The paper map, available at the park, is current and very good. It also shows the trails in Pescadero Creek County Park's eastern quadrant.
• Sempervirens Fund's Trail Map of the Santa Cruz Mountains (Map 1) is excellent.
• Tom Taber's The Santa Cruz Mountains Trail Book has a simple map and trail descriptions (order this book from Amazon.com).
Peninsula Trails, by Jean Rusmore, has a simple map, trail descriptions, and suggested hikes (order this book from Amazon.com).

Portola in a nutshell -- a printable, text-only guide to the featured hike.

View photos from Tiptoe Falls hike (June 2002).
View photos from a shorter loop (August 2000)

Go to Bay Area Hiker Home page

With so much open space land in the south bay, it's easy to forget Parking lotabout the cluster of parks in southern San Mateo County, comprised of Sam MacDonald County Park, San Mateo County Memorial Park, Pescadero Creek County Park, and Portola Redwoods State Park. On the northern peninsula, Purisima Creek Redwoods Open Space Preserve, a short drive from San Francisco, is a popular destination for viewing Sequoia sempervirens, and Santa Cruz County's Big Basin Redwoods State Park is a well-known redwood tourist destination. Geographically in between these two parks, Portola State Park and the collection of San Mateo County Parks are relatively quiet. All feature plenty of facilities (camping in Portola, picnic areas and camping in the county parks), but away from the campgrounds and picnic tables, you're likely find desolate redwoods groves and nearly empty trails. The partnership between Pescadero Creek County Park and Portola Redwoods State Park is particularly pleasant. Trails are well-signed, San Mateo County provides maps on signboards at the bordersbetween the two parks, and Portola's map thoughtfully includes a large hunk of the county park's eastern portion (and trails). Portola, in my experience, is one of the best-staffed state parks in the bay area. The staff takes great pride in the park, and trails are meticulously maintained, which is all the more impressive when you consider how this park, nestled in a canyon, gets pounded by winter storms. Sequoia Nature Trail(Check out their display in the Visitor Center for photos showing what a bad storm season does to these parts.)
      From this trailhead, dayhikers can explore Portola State Park in conjunction with Pescadero Creek County Park, or stay within the confines of the state park. Loops are possible either way. The Sequoia Nature Trail is a short and easy self-guided nature loop through redwoods and along Pescadero Creek, perfect for families with small kids. Peters Creek Loop, a grueling 13-mile semi-loop hike, should provide a challenge for experienced hikers. For a more moderate choice, Coyote Ridge Trail, Upper Coyote Ridge Trail, Tarwater Loop Trail, and Pomponio Trail, make an over 6 mile trek through both Portola and Pescadero Creek parks.
     Portola's strategic location allows for long backpacking excursions as well as dayhikes. Hikers can start at Long Ridge Open Space Preserve, on Skyline Boulevard, hike west into Portola, camp, then hike through Pescadero Creek County Park and south into Big Basin. Incredibly, backpackers have the ability to turn this into a loop hike; from Big Basin you can hike uphill on the Skyline to the Sea Trail, camp in Castle Rock, then trek north through Saratoga Gap Open Space Preserve, Upper Stevens Creek County Park, and return to Long Ridge Open Space Preserve.Iverson Trail
     For this featured hike begin from the side of the Ranger Station, on signed Sequoia Nature Trail. The path descends slightly through redwood, tanoak, and huckleberry, then bends right and drops to the banks of Pescadero Creek. Use the bridge to cross the creek, then walk along the bank until the trail ascends a few steps and soon reaches a junction at 0.2 mile. Bear left, following the sign toward Iverson Trail. Where the other leg of Sequoia Nature Trail feeds in from the right, stay to the left. The trail rises a bit to a T-junction with Iverson Trail at 0.3 mile. Turn left onto Iverson to begin the first of the hike’s two out-and-back segments, ascending through a forest of redwood, tanoak, madrone, and huckleberry.The hillside drops sharply off to the left where the trail runs high above Pescadero Creek, so step carefully. At 0.5 mile, where a path heads off to the left and down to the creek, stay to the right. This area can be bogged down by winter rains, and somewhat overgrown in summer. Iverson Trail steps over a stream, then reaches a junction at 0.6 mile, where you’ll turn right and climb briefly and easily to Tiptoe Falls. Although the falls cascade only a few feet before spilling into a pool, Tiptoe Falls is a pretty and calm place that can relax and rejuvenate you in the way that only rushing water can.Tiptoe Falls When you’re ready, retrace your steps back to the junction with Iverson Trail and the connector to Sequoia Nature Trail at 0.9 mile. Continue straight, remaining on Iverson Trail.
     The trail descends gently to wander along the forest floor. Wildflowers that bloom here throughout spring include starflower, redwood sorrel, milkmaids, and trillium. The trail drops to the shores of Pescadero Creek and, once again, you’ll cross on a bridge. On the other side, the trail ascends a bit on some steps, then reaches a junction at 1.2 miles. Turn left onto Pomponio Trail. At a nearly flat grade, Pomponio Trail follows the general course of Pescadero Creek, although the distance precludes views of the water. The forest understory is particularly dense here, with huckleberry thickets squeezing the trail in areas. Huckleberry is an evergreen shrub common to redwood canyons. Its fruit, which somewhat resembles blueberries, ripens in some parts of the Bay Area by late summer. Along this trail, they aren’t usually edible until October—the seasons seem to arrive late at Portola.
     With a transition marked by signs facing both directions, Pomponio Trail leaves the state park and enters Pescadero Creek County Park. In summer, you might see fairy lanterns along the trail, and by autumn, honeysuckle berries dangle from vines twined through trees and shrubs. Madrone, California bay, creambush, toyon, ceanothus, and wild rose succeed huckleberry as the trail widens and passes through a slightly sunnier area. Where there are breaks in the forest, you can actually see the surrounding forest of Douglas fir and redwood towering above the trail. Bridge TrailAt 2.2 miles, Pomponio Trail ends at a junction with Bridge Trail. The path straight across leads to Tarwater Trail Camp.
     Turn left onto a broad fire road that is level until it drops a short distance to cross Pescadero Creek. Tanoak, redwood, Douglas fir, and big-leaf maple line the trail, which begins a moderate climb. At 2.5 miles, pass Snag Trail on the right and continue straight on Bridge Trail. Now nearly level again, Bridge Trail passes a damp, tree-lined meadow on the right, then ends at 2.8 miles. Continue left, now on Old Haul Road. Almost right away, Ridge Trail begins on the right. That trail climbs about 1,500 feet in a little more than 2 miles, then leaves the county park and heads toward Big Basin Redwoods State Park via an easement trail connection. For now, keep an easy pace straight ahead on Old Haul Road.On the high south bank of Pescadero Creek, Old Haul Road passes through redwood, huckleberry, creambush, Douglas fir, and tanoak.In winter months, you’ll likely hear water rushing as feeder creeks flow downhill on the way to Pescadero Creek. The largest of these streams, Fall Creek, tumbles into Tiptoe Falls a short distance off to the left but is inaccessible from the fire road. At 4.1 miles, Portola Trail and Iverson Creek drop to the fire road from the right, and a service road descends on the left. Old Haul RoadTurn left onto the service road. Now back in the state park, you’ll begin a somewhat steep descent. Iverson Trail begins on the left, but this segment of the trail has been perennially plagued with landslides. Slightly downhill from the junction with Iverson sits the remains of Iverson’s cabin. This little redwood structure was built in the 1860s and remained intact until the 1989 earthquake toppled it.
     The service road winds downhill to a junction at 4.5 miles. If you’re already tired, this is your opportunity to bail on the remaining hike. Simply follow the service road back to the trailhead. Otherwise, turn right onto Summit Trail. Initially, Summit Trail is a broad fire road, but once past a pair of water tanks, the trail shrinks to a footpath. At a moderate grade, the trail ascends through an assortment that by now should be familiar: Douglas fir, redwood, tanoak, madrone, and huckleberry. If you arrive in late winter hoping for wildflowers, you’ll probably be disappointed; instead look for a variety of colorful mushrooms. Wild rose is really the only understory plant here besides huckleberry to make a statement.
     Curve left with Summit Trail as it travels across the sloping walls of a canyon. At one point, the trail crosses over the top of a tiny ridge, then continues to contour across the hillside. A pretty wooded knoll extends off to the right. What’s marked on the map as “the summit,” the highest point on this loop, doesn’t quite live up to its name. Slate Creek TrailYou’ll know you’re there when you spot a handful of chamise and manzanita shrubs. There are no views, and this tiny hilltop has barely enough room for a group of three to sit. However, it’s a peaceful spot to pause and listen to the wind sweep through the trees. Summit Trail descends, curves left, then levels out on a ridge and ends at 5.3 miles. At this junction, bear left onto Slate Creek Trail, which leads back to the Ranger Station trailhead. An easy descent commences. In some places, redwood needles and tanoak leaves cover the trail in a cushy carpet. Many of the tree trunks here are charred from a long-ago fire. Yellow banana slugs, if you happen to encounter them, really stand out in this forest of brown and green.
a loop around the canyon, Slate Creek Trail weaves through a quiet forest where birdcalls filter through the air. Just past a memorial grove sign, look on the right for a bench nestled in the middle of a redwood fairy ring—an excellent lunch stop. Soon after, at 6.2 miles, a path to the campground departs on the right. Continue to the left on Slate Creek Trail, traverse a short, steep downhill section on some stairs, and then return to a gentle grade. Moss-covered tree stumps and evergreen plants create an incredibly lush atmosphere. Slate Creek Trail passes through a massive fallen redwood, then reaches a junction at 6.6 miles, where you’ll turn left onto Old Tree Trail for a short out-and-back. Passing a huge fallen tree lying on the right, Old Tree Trail makes its way into the heart of the canyon at an easy incline, following along a seasonal creek. Western wood anemone bloom here in late winter. At 6.9 miles, you’ll reach the end of the trail and the trail’s namesake, an old tree. Cradled in a deep canyon, this redwood has a circumference of more than 12 feet and seems to scrape the sky. When you’re ready, walk back to the junction with Slate Creek Trail, then continue straight. The wide path descends gently, then ends at 7.3 miles at the park road. Turn right and walk the remaining 0.1 mile along the road to the Ranger Station.

Note: The park is sometimes closed after heavy storms, so during winter check trail conditions with park staff before leaving home. At the start of the rainy season, bridges are removed from trails that cross Pescadero Creek. If the bridges are out and the creek is high, start your hike on Iverson Trail, across from Madrone Picnic Area parking lot, and omit the trip to Tiptoe Falls.

Total distance : about 7.4 miles
Last hiked : March 6, 2003
Previous visit: June 3, 2002