El Corte de Madera Creek Open Space quickly became one of my favorites here in the Bay Area. This is a large park with near continuous swaths of redwood wilderness which I love to hike and run.
Life in the Peninsula is costly but its not without perks! In the past several months, I've been exploring the lands of the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space which is a diverse collection of parks spanning the Santa Cruz Mountains. I have this crazy goal of trying to visit all 26 of their units (and maybe every open space in the Bay Area!) As I hike and run through each preserve, I keep mental notes on each park's major attractions and draws. My latest kick- El Corte de Madera Creek Open Space Preserve with several options for redwood hiking.
Overview and Characteristics
Of the 7 Midpen Reserves I've been to so far, this one feels the wildest. Though less than half an hour from Redwood City and Menlo Park, thick redwood forests obscure any sign of civilization. During my trips, I've rarely encountered people further than a half a mile from the parking lot. True solitude in the Bay Area!
With 36 miles of hiking trails, there's dozens of hiking options, from short out and back trips to all day affairs. One caution though- unlike a lot of hikes that start at a low elevation and arrive at a vista or mountain top, most trails are the opposite here. You start
on the mountain and descend so track your energy expenditure closely! Its a lot like hiking in the Grand Canyon, in that respect.
My preference is hiking and trail running but people love to bike and horseback ride on these well established trails. With that in mind, take care when rounding blind corners and steep downhills!
Though I've only been here in the winter and spring, I imagine summers here are glorious. The trails are mercifully shady and cooled by the proximity to the ocean.
Can't Miss Destinations
Every trail in the park is bound to impress, especially if this is your first foray into a Redwood forest. But there are a few sights that have to be seen on a visit:
- The Methuselah Tree: The park's most famous resident is this 1,800 year old Redwood, located just off the highway. A 5-10 minute flat walk leads to this imposing matriarch.
- Old Growth Redwood: Though unnamed, this redwood is located far off the beaten path and is appreciated by solitude seekers. Its a 3.4 miles out-and-back hike from the main parking area near the Methuselah Tree. You follow the "Timberview Trail" for the most direct route. (map available here)
- Tafoni Sandstone Formation: This is a 2 mile, most flat hike from the Skeggs Point Parking area off of Highway 35. Crossing the highway and following the signs for the Tafoni Trail leads you to this delicate sandstone formation that plays to the imagination. This is a family friendly hike!
- Vista Point: Only 1/3rd of a mile further from the Tafoni Sandstone formation is this gorgeous overlook of the forest and Pacific Ocean. Without a doubt, this is my favorite destination in the park and a trip wouldn't be complete without visiting this overlook.
There's no defined area considered "backcountry" for El Corte de Madera park but I find that once you get past the first few miles of trails, the place feels gloriously remote. Specifically, the El Corte de Madera Creek Trail, North and South Leaf and Virginia Mill Trails circle the outer reaches of the park and are almost like walking through and old growth forest. Its a level of wilderness isolation rarely encountered in an area so close to San Francisco metro.
I travel through the park on foot but many like to mountain bike. Not all parks in the Peninsula permit travel on two wheels but almost every trail here is open to mountain biking. The trails are mostly single track but are not specifically designed for technical riding. So its a cross country feel which many appreciate.
Again, with 36 miles of trails, there's plenty to explore. I'm looking forward to coming back more in the summer!