Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Butano Redwoods State Park: Grand Loop

Butano Redwoods State Park is one of the least accessiable parks in the Bay Area, consequently it's also one of the most quiet parks in the Bay Area. On the Friday before memorial day we ran into precisely 2 other hikers and on an average weekday afternoon you might have the entire park to yourself (excluding the ranger at the gate). It's a perfect place to get away from civilization and spend an afternoon or a day in the company of the redwoods.

Directions

    From Santa Cruz
  • Take Mission St (Hwy 1) North towards Half Moon Bay
  • Right on Gazos Creek Rd. (keep an eye out for a brown Butano SP sign)
  • Left on Cloverdale Rd.
  • Park near entrance booth

After driving around almost endlessly trying to find a quick trail snack to pack along on a day hike my friend Hannah from High School and I finally arrived in Butano State Park, a good hour and a half after leaving the south bay. The fog was just beginning to lift a little as we parked in the lot right near the ranger booth in the entrance of the park. The Ano Nuevo Trail climbs quickly. We both struggled up the first hill. On the western edge of the park though the temperature was still rather cool in the late morning and the shade of the moss draped pine trees made the hike a treat. After plenty of breather breaks we finally made it up the steepest stretch to the ridge crest. This edge of the ridge is heavily wooded but periodically openings in the trees reveal grand landscapes which made the climbing worthwhile.

The trail continues on up the ridge with brief views through the pines. The thicker redwood forest on the left side of the ridge is dense enough not to allow even a peek through it, but offers its own, more tranquil, kind of beauty. Finally at about the 6 mile mark the trail opens up to a large sand hill area with powerful 280 degree views of the mountains around. The views from the Sand Hill are well worth the leg work it takes to get there. Unfortunately it does not last long. A Left down the Indian Trail starts into the thick of the redwood forest.


The initial descent is very quick, traversing through a dry forest, and even brief patches of open manzanita in the chaparral areas. Small creeks and waterfalls crisscross the trail especially in the rockier parts. After taking a left onto the Canyon Trail, with one final plunge the trail dives down and eventually switchbacks into the depths of one last canyon, now in the heart of the redwood forest. Towering second growth trees in all directions rise up directly, their thin trunks an indication of their relative youth.

The next two or three miles as the trail junctions with the Jackson Flats Trail the hike becomes incredible. Now the mid to late afternoon beams of light streaked in through the redwood canopy into the mossy, fern covered floor of the forest. I couldn't help but lock my head back, mouth agape as I stared out in awe at the beauty and grandeur of the old redwoods around me.

Near the end of the Jackson Flat trail and small stretch of rough trail, ducking through swampy land finally loops around to a Junction with the main road. Even the paved road which we took back for the final mile was enjoyable under the thick cover of the redwoods overhead. After finally returning to the car, we chowed down on some stockpiled snacks, took our chances with a water faucet and began the drive home, memories of the glorious redwoods, fantastic views, and good company all we took with us from the forest.

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