Bald Knob Trail,
Purisima Creek Redwoods Open Space Preserve,
Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District,
San Mateo County
In brief:
3.6 mile out and back in a quiet part of a preserve dominated by woodsy canyons.

Distance, category, and difficulty:
This is a fairly easy 3.6 mile out and back hike, with about 400 feet in elevation change. Trailhead elevation is about 1500 feet. The featured hike's high point is about 1900 feet. Trails are well graded.

Mix of shade and sun.

Trail traffic:

Trail surfaces:
Dirt trails and fire roads.

Hiking time:
2 hours.

Nice any time.

Getting there:
From CA 92 in San Mateo County, turn south on CA 35 (Skyline Boulevard). Drive about 6.5 miles, and turn right (west) onto Tunitas Creek Road. Drive carefully on this narrow road, about 2 miles to the open space gate on the right side of the road.

Get driving or public transit directions from Transit and Trails:

GPS Coordinates* for Trailhead
Latitude 3725'19.08"N
(* based on Google Earth data, shown as degrees, minutes, seconds)

Gas, food, and lodging
None in the immediate area. No camping.

Trailhead details
Very limited roadside parking. Room for 2 cars just before the gate, and one other vehicle across the road. More roadside parking in a pullout back toward Skyline Boulevard, about 0.3 mile from the trailhead. Do not block the gate, or obstruct entry to adjacent private property. No entrance or parking fees. No restrooms. No maps (you can stop at the main preserve trailhead on Skyline Boulevard and pick up a map). There is no direct public transportation to this preserve.

Most trails are multi-use. A few trails are open to hikers only. Dogs are not permitted in the preserve.

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

Map Choices:
Map from MROSD (download pdf).
Peninsula Tales and Trails, by David Weintraub (order this book from 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 has a great map and descriptions of a Purisima Creek hike.
Peninsula Trails, by Jean Rusmore, has a simple map and descriptions of a hike to Bald Knob (order this book from
The Santa Cruz Mountains Trail Book, by Tom Taber, has a simple map (order this book from

View 32 photos from this hike.

Go to Bay Area Hiker Home page

Purisima Creek Redwood's 481 acre Bald Knob parcel was purchased by POST in 1993, and transferred to MROSD in 1997. TrailheadBald Knob Trail, built from 1994-96, offers hiking-only access through very quiet forested hillsides, and features fantastic views southwest to the ocean. The sole drawback of the hike is the difficult parking on Tunitas Creek Road. Another option is to park at the trailhead on Higgins Canyon Road and hike uphill on Borden Hatch Mill Trail or Grabtown Gulch Trail. Those options add significant mileage to the featured hike and begin at a lower elevation (500 feet instead of 1700 feet).
     Start at the open space gate on Tunitas Creek Road. Wide Grabtown Gulch Trail, open to equestrians, hikers, and cyclists, sets out under tanoak and Douglas fir. Huckleberry, snowberry, and currant may be glimpsed along the trail. After passing private property on the left, the trail descends gently to a signed junction at about 0.3 mile. Grabtown Gulch Trail continues downhill to Purisima Creek. Turn left onto Borden Hatch Mill Trail.Borden Hatch Mill Trail
     The multi-use fire road begins a drop to Purisima Creek, but you turn left off Borden Hatch Mill Trail at about 0.5 mile, at a signed junction with Bald Knob Trail. Narrow Bald Knob Trail, open to hikers only, winds through a deep redwood forest, lush with ferns. Watch your step for banana slugs, particularly in autumn and winter. The trail edges close to Tunitas Creek Road, and traffic noise may be evident. Then Bald Knob Trail switchbacks easily uphill, through tanoak, madrone, Douglas fir, and redwood. Huckleberry shrubs are common, but you may also see the red berries of honeysuckle vines dangling from tree branches in autumn. Ignore an obvious routing of a trail that climbs straight toward the top of Bald Knob, and remain on the path, which skirts the hilltop. Bald Knob TrailAs Bald Knob Trail crosses over from the north slope of its namesake hill, madrones bask in the drier southern exposure. Somewhat abruptly, the trail levels out, passes under a beautiful coast live oak, and steps out into chaparral. Clear views downhill are somewhat blocked by Douglas fir, but through the trees on a clear day you can see foamy ocean waves. Poison oak, California coffeeberry, yerba santa, monkeyflower, and coyote brush sprawl across the hillside. A downed tree on the side of the trail makes a nice rest bench. Bald Knob Trail heads back into the woods, passing through a narrow rocky stretch, with a steep drop off on the left. Tanoaks and Douglas firs are common, but manzanitas begin to infiltrate the woods. The trail winds through a dense forest of golden chinquapin, then reaches a signed junction at about 1.8 miles. View to the oceanThis is a quiet spot. I stood for a few minutes on a chilly autumn morning hidden under the chinquapins, listening to two crows call back and forth to each other. Their aural communication displayed astonishing ranges of emotional content (at least that's how it seemed); alternately mournful, urgent, and needy. From here, you can continue to the left on Irish Ridge Trail, which heads downhill to the south. After 1.2 miles, you'll reach the junction with Lobitos Creek Trail, a logical turnaround point (although you can press on to the end of the trail at the preserve boundary, another mile or so). Retrace your steps to the trailhead.

Total distance: about 3.6 miles
Last hiked: Friday, November 10, 2000