I would like to introduce you all to one of my favorite hiking areas in the Bay Area, and that is Purisima Creek Redwoods Preserve. You can follow the link to the official site and official description, but I want to share with you why I keep coming back.
I was first introduced to this park one warm summer evening when traffic was too bad to head home, and I was done with being in the office. I took a drive up Skyline Blvd, and pulled into a small parking area labelled as a trail head. I soon found myself swiftly descending into a cool damp redwood forest. The cool, fragrant air was welcome relief from the Bay’s summer temperatures. The shady canopy had harvested the afternoon mist, leaving the ground damp, as if fresh from a spring rain. The fire road was dotted with banana slugs, a vivid yellow against the verdant backdrop. The swift pleasant descent was punished by a brutal climb back out. I had just experienced the upper end of Purisima Creek Trail.
My next visit was a very different experience, visiting with friends during our companies Thursday afternoon recess. We stopped at the northern most parking lot, and descended along a fire trail until we cleared the redwoods. Here the vista opened up to reveal the coastal range, replete with steep knolls, sharp ridges and deep canyons, descending to the ocean shore. Clear blue skies allowed commanding views of Half Moon Bay and El Granada, with a deep green foreground. Hawks wheeled above, while quail trotted ahead of us on the trail.
In the following year I have explored all but one trail in morning, noon and early evening hikes. From harsh 3 mile loops, half day 10 mile rambles and pleasant two mile strolls can all be found here.
Harkin’s Ridge Trail
This trail runs from the northern parking lot on Skyline down to the lower parking lot which is accessed from Hwy 1 on the coast. Approximately 3.5 miles long it offers a mix of open ridge, dense redwood and creek-side trail.
The first half mile from the top parking lot is common to Harkin’s Ridge, North Ridge and Whittemore Gulch trails. You have two choices here, a steep fire road, or a narrow switchback. Descending the fire road can be slippy either with mud or dust and grit, but has rewarding views almost immediately. The switchback is kinder on your knees, and recent repairs have taken out a corner where a trees root had become a tricky staircase.
The switchback and fire road meet at the top of North ridge, and Harkin’s Ridge continues through a narrow gateway onto a trail exclusively for foot traffic. Almost traversing the hillside, with a modest up grade, you are immediately below the trees, and above scrubby brush and bracken. The views of the ocean open up (mist pending) and whatever the weather you are treated to a commanding prospect. My short hikes normally terminate about half a mile out, where you meet a private road. At this point, you have a reasonable hike back to the parking lot. Enjoy the view into the next canyon from this junction before turning back. If you continue downhill, remember you will have to come back up.
Descending another 0.3 miles will take you to the junction of Craig Britton. Here you are 600ft and about 1.5 miles from your origin. The descent starts getting more rapid, and you will be coming back into the shade of the trees. Be warned in the next 2 miles you drop 1,000ft. The lower forest is more magnificent, I am not sure if this is because it was never logged out, or if growth was encouraged by the proximity to the creek. Before you realize it your descent is complete, you are at the creek-side, and you are looking at your return path. You will see a bridge on the left and this provides access to the parking on Higgin’s Canyon or Purisima Creek Road. There is also a restroom here. If you are fit and strong, you can loop around on Whittemore Gulch Trail, go back the way you came, or if you are ready for a break take the circuitous route, and gentler slopes back up Purisima Creek Trail, and the beautiful Craig Britton trail.
Purisima Creek Trail
Depending which end you start at this can be a stroll in the park, or a swift descent and tough climb back out. The grade is not noticeably steep heading down from the top, but once you turn around you realize what you’ve done. Purisima Creek is shallower at the bottom of the canyon, and uniformly shaded throughout. I love being in the forests, but this can get a bit samey.
I usually start Purisima Creek Trail from the bottom, since I typically hike from the top it’s a relaxing ascent, saving my energy for the final assault in the last mile or so. This is a fire road, so is easy to navigate. It is also frequented by cyclist, so be warned. Following the creek you enjoy the babbling water, and may see falls in the winter. In the first two miles you only climb about 500ft at very manageable grades. At the 2 mile mark you see a pedestrian only path, Craig Britton. If you were after a 4 mile modest hike, then I urge you to go a few hundred yards down this path before you turn around.
I’ve only done the full upper path of Purisima Creek once, and that was part of a 2 car one way Harkins, Craig Britton, Purisima Creek hike. It’s a nice trail, but only repeats the lower portion with stiffer grades. Following the creek denies any open vistas. I would say keep this for hot summer days, but on those days getting to the coast is problematic with traffic jams on 92.
This trail is a hidden treasure, locked in the middle of the park. No matter where you start, it’s two miles hike to get to this trail. Since I just talked you up Purisima to the south end of this trail, I’ll start there.
Craig Britton leaves the Purisima Creek Trail about half way up/down. A narrow gateway excludes horses and bikes, and you will soon see why. This trail starts by traversing the hillside, The flat level will be a welcome break. The trees tower above you on both sides, the slope so steep that you are lost in a sea of tree trunks. The canopy is lost in the sky above. It’s always cool and still in here. Leaving the fire road you really feel like you are in the forest, multi-stem redwoods seem at times to buttress the path, and you have to step over stumps at times. Being so far into the preserve you have shaken of much of the crowd, and midweek you can hike this hole section and might not see anyone.
After almost two miles in the heart of the forest you break clear into deciduous woodland and shrubs. The lower vegetation allows full sun, but is tall enough to screen you from any breeze, and often hides the view. On a hot day, this can seem to be a tiring unrewarding section. It is here where I’ve encountered most wildlife. Snakes, bunnies, quail, and one one occasion, a young bobcat.