North Ridge Trail,
Purisima Creek Redwoods Open Space Preserve,
Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District,
San Mateo County
In brief:
3.6 mile out and back through woods to an open ridge.

Distance, category, and difficulty:
This 3.6 mile out and back hike is easy. Trailhead elevation is about 2100 feet. The featured hike descends to about 1200 feet before regaining lost elevation on the way back to the trailhead.

Mix of shade and sun.

Trail traffic:

Trail surfaces:
Dirt trails and fire road.

Hiking time:
2 hours.

Nice any time.

Getting there:
From Interstate 280 in San Mateo County, exit CA 92 west. Drive to the junction with CA 35 (Skyline Boulevard), and turn south. Drive about 4.25 miles, to the signed parking lot on the right side of the road.

Get driving or public transit directions from Transit and Trails:

GPS Coordinates* for Trailhead:
Latitude 3727'0.71"N
(* based on Google Earth data, shown as degrees, minutes, seconds)

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

Trailhead details:
Large parking lot. No entrance or parking fees. Maps available at the information signboard. Wheelchair-accessible pit toilet on site. Pay phone just north of the trailhead (at the closed store). 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 Rusmore, Spangle, and Crowder, has a simple map and trail descriptions (order this book from
• Tom Taber's 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

Purisima Creek Photo of Purisima Creek Redwoods Open Space Preserve parking lotRedwoods Open Space Preserve's main trailhead on Skyline Boulevard offers the preserve's quickest and easiest starting point for me, but I realized recently that I visit this northernmost staging area less frequently than the others. What kept me from beginning there was the steep initial portion of North Ridge Trail, which makes for a heart pounding return to the trailhead after a long loop hike. Then on my last visit I discovered the hiking only path than runs along North Ridge Trail. It's slightly longer, but gently graded. This path, part of the Bay Area Ridge Trail segment through Purisima, makes a big difference if you dislike steep climbs.
     Once past the initial drop from the trailhead, there are a few choices for loop and out-and-back hikes. Photo of the hiking only trail which runs along North Ridge TrailHarkins Ridge and Whittemore Gulch make a good 7 mile circuit, but unless you're a glutton for steep ascents, descend on Harkins Ridge and ascend on Whittemore Gulch. You can also hike 5.6 miles on out-and-back North Ridge Trail. With no connecting trails, the last stretch of North Ridge can be pretty lonely. It's also quite a climb (about 1000 feet) back up to the trailhead from the turn around point at the end of the trail. The featured hike I describe on this page is somewhat of a compromise. It traverses the pretty forested and chaparral slopes of the preserve, allows you to take in the stunning views south, west, and north, but turns back before the last stretch of North Ridge Trail. It's a nice hike to take for a picnic on a sunny day.
      Begin at the north trailhead and start downhill on the North Ridge Trail. A cluster of big leaf maples shed their pretty leaves in autumn a few feet down the wide multi-use trail. Just past them,the trail splits at a signed junction. Bear right on the hiking-only path. Photo of Whittemore Gulch TrailThe trail squeezes past tall Douglas firs. Ferns flourish in the damp woods, and look for large clumps of mushrooms in autumn and winter. Switchbacks keep the descent easy. You may see pink-flowering currant, thimbleberry, huckleberry, honeysuckle, madrone, and tanoak. Through some breaks in the trees, on a clear day the view stretches north all the way to Mount Tamalpais. At about 0.5 mile, the hiking-only path ends at a signed junction with North Ridge Trail. Turn right onto North Ridge Trail.
     The wide trail, open to equestrians and cyclists as well as hikers, keeps a fairly level course as it meanders under huge old Douglas firs and tanoaks.Just before the next junction, there's a grassy spot off the trail to the left that makes a fine rest or picnic area. A few steps more and you reach a signed junction at about 1 mile. While North Ridge Trail continues to the right, Whittemore Gulch Trail is an easier grade.Photo of view to North Ridge Trail  Stay to the left on Whittemore Gulch Trail (seasonally closed to all but hikers in the rainy months).
     Soon the trail begins to leave the woods. Whittemore Gulch Trail switchbacks gently downhill through monkeyflower, coyote brush, and coffeeberry, ducks under a few last Douglas firs, and emerges into chaparral. In December on this trail I saw a few forget-me-nots in bloom, way before anything else in the bay area was even thinking of spring. The shrubby plants of the chaparral community (ceanothus, blue witch nightshade, coyote brush, California coffeeberry, and monkeyflower) permit long views west and south. You may be able to pick out Harkins Ridge Trail to the south, and North Ridge Trail to the west. Look north for glimpses of Montara Mountain.The grassy knoll visible downhill to the right off the flat stretch of North Ridge Trail is the picnic area and turnaround point of this hike. Photo of North Ridge Trail Whittemore Gulch Trail winds downhill at an easy grade. At about 1.6 miles, you reach a signed junction. Turn right to take the short connector path to North Ridge Trail.
     After just a few steps, the path ends at a signed junction with North Ridge Trail. Turn left. The wide multi-use trail descends through chaparral. Look for a grassy knoll off the trail to the right. This is a great picnic or rest area, and the turn around point for the hike. It's a quiet spot with tremendous views to the ocean. You can extend your walk on the North Ridge Trail, but as you walk a bit further you'll notice that just past the grassy spot, the trail dips and then climbs somewhat steeply. When you're ready, retrace your steps back to the trailhead.

Total distance: about 3.6 miles
Last hiked: Tuesday, December 12, 2000