2.2 mile out and back through redwoods to a manzanita-studded knoll. Can
be extended to Big Basin State Park. Initial climb is very steep and can
slippery in wet weather, when newts scamper about the woods.
Distance, category, and difficulty:
This 2.2 mile out and back hike is short but steep. Trailhead elevation
is about 400 feet. The trail climbs sharply, to about 1400 feet, in just
Total shade until you reach the ridge, which is completely exposed.
2 hours or less.
Nice year round.
From CA 1 in San Mateo County, turn east onto Whitehouse Road (about 9 miles
south of Pescadero Road, and 0.1 mile south of Rossi Road), an unsigned
dirt road (look for a Skylark Ranch sign that is white with a green triangle).
Drive about 2.3 miles on the narrow dirt road to the broad pullout (left)
and signed trailhead (right) (a small sign on the road reads "no further
public access past this point").
Get driving or public transit directions from Transit and Trails:
Approximate GPS coordinates* for trailhead:
(* based on Google Earth
data, shown as degrees, minutes, seconds)
Gas, food, and lodging:
At Costanoa, on Rossi
Road, you can buy great foods to go at the deli, or use a pay phone. No
camping in any of the Año Nuevo units, but you can camp at Costanoa.
Parking for a few cars in a broad pullout. No parking or entrance fees.
No facilities (maps, drinking water, restrooms, or pay phone). No designated
handicapped parking, and the trail is not suitable for wheelchairs.You can
get more info about the park at the Año Nuevo State Reserve headquarters,
about 3 miles further south (from Whitehouse Road) on CA 1.
Park is open from dawn to dusk. No dogs. There are no rules posted at the
trailhead, but at the other end of the trail (at the junction with Chalks
Road), signs proclaim the trail hiking only.
The Official Story:
Año Nuevo page
Park office 650-879-2025
Use AAA's San Francisco Bay Region map to get there.
park map (pdf)
Order the Saratoga to Big Basin map from Redwood
Trail Map of the Santa Cruz Mountains (map 2), by the Sempervirens
Fund (includes Big Basin, Butano, and Skyline-to-the Sea), is the best map
available to the unit.
Tom Taber's Santa Cruz Mountains Trail Book (order
this book from Amazon.com) has a simple map.
Ridge Trail in a nutshell -- a printable, text-only guide to the featured
View photos from this
Go to Bay Area Hiker Home page
contrast to the well-known gentle oceanside paths at Año Nuevo's main unit, where elephant
seals annually mate and birth, the inland portion of the state park
boasts stiff climbs through redwood forests and along creeks. A handful
of trails and fire roads begin off Whitehouse and Gazos Creek Roads, in
the section of Año Nuevo known as Cascade Ranch.
Perhaps it's Whitehouse Ridge Trail's viewpoints
that make a veteran peninsula hiker think of (oddly enough) the Año
Nuevo Trail at Butano State Park, just a few miles north. Both trails
are steep (Whitehouse Trail the tougher of the two), but the luxuriant
undergrowth that chokes Butano's trail is absent from Whitehouse, where
a simple forest of redwood and tanoak dominates the landscape. And while
Butano's vista points have become obscured by tree cover, at Whitehouse
Ridge hikers can enjoy unobstructed views west to the ocean from perches
on the edge of the hillside.
Of course, for views like this, you'll pay
in sweat as you climb out of a wooded canyon on a steep old-fashioned
mountain goat trail. The ascent should pose no problems for seasoned hikers,
but beware the quad-busting descent, especially in the damp months of
autumn, winter, and spring, when wet leaves, rocks, and exposed roots
make for a slippery trail surface. Sticky-soled shoes are a must, and
a trekking pole will provide increased stability.
Start at the signed Whitehouse Ridge
Trailhead on the side of Whitehouse Road. The narrow hiking-only trail
sets off uphill, plunging into a dense forest of redwood and tanoak, with
pockets of lush ferns and carpets of redwood sorrel in the understory.
After the first autumn rains, you'll likely see fresh mushrooms poking
up through a thick layer of redwood duff, along with conspicuous yellow banana slugs and shy California newts. These tiny creatures in
the salamander family are perfectly camouflaged for their annual treks
to ponds and streams, with orange bellies and rust colored backs that
blend into downed dead redwood branches and needles. The trail rises from
a canyon floor littered with fallen trees, then dips sharply down to cross
a stream. Huge redwood stumps stand sentinel along the creek, and there
are relatively young trees working to attain the former stature of the
logged giants. Whitehouse Trail begins climbing again, sustaining a steep
grade. Even though there are occasional switchbacks, the abrupt corners
seem to simply alter the course of the path, rather than soften the climb.
After about 0.7 mile, you'll reach a signed junction. The path to the
right visits the lower viewpoint, but unless you're ready to turn back
now, you might skip the short detour, for the views further uphill are
more dramatic. Turn left and continue to ascend on Whitehouse Ridge
A relentless climb through redwoods continues.
scorched only on one side, are evidence of a fire which swept downhill
from the ridge, in the not too distant past. As Whitehouse Ridge Trail curves right,
you'll pass from one side of the mountain to another, and the vegetation
shifts. Douglas firs reach for the sky, with huckleberry and chinquapin
in the understory. The trail takes a straight tack uphill, climbing along
the edge of the hillside, with the canyon receding to the left. As you
ascend, look on the sides of the trail for more chinquapin and a few canyon
live oak, draped with pale green lacy lichen. Although you'll be drawing
near to the ridgetop, Whitehouse Ridge Trail levels out and heads back
into a dense stand of redwood. At about 1.2 miles, you'll reach a signed
junction with the path to the Upper Vista Point. Turn right.
A sign guides
you past an initial clearing, and the narrow path squeezes through Douglas
fir, madrone, yerba santa, California coffeeberry, ceanothus, and coast
live oak. After a short, mostly level route, the path ends at a viewpoint.
An interpretive sign indicates the location of the San Gregorio-Hosgri
Fault Zone, and shows how Año Nuevo State Park connects to Big
Basin State Park via Chalks Road, which starts at the end of Whitehouse
Ridge Trail. On a clear day you'll have sweeping views west. Whitehouse
Road should be visible, with the white tents of Costanoa obvious slightly
to the north. Even if you're visiting on an overcast day, the murmur from
the ocean should puncture any fog. When you're ready, retrace your
steps back to the previous junction, at about 1.3 miles. Turn right,
toward Chalks Road.
I had wondered if there were manzanitas
on the ridge, since chinquapin and manzanita are frequent neighbors. Sure
enough, the trail quickly exits the woods at a level grade and emerges
onto a manzanita barren. The ridgetop soil, "poor," white and chalky, supports manzanitas along with huckleberry
and knobcone pine. You might also see chaparral pea, a rather plain evergreen
shrub that puts forth stunning pink blossoms in late spring. There are
magnificent views to the north, including the forested hillsides of Butano
State Park. A small rocky bare spot makes a good lunch location if it's
not too hot. Whitehouse Ridge Trail climbs briefly uphill on a grade with
some loose rock, then drops and passes through a choked tangle of chinquapin,
manzanita, huckleberry, and knobcone pine. At about 1.6 miles, Whitehouse
Ridge Trail ends at a signed junction with Chalks Road. From here, you
can walk on the broad fire road all the way to Big Basin's Chalk Mountain
(turn left; the route is unsigned). The fire road to the right descends
and then ends at a gate and private property. Retrace your steps back
to the trailhead.
Total mileage: about 3.0
Last hiked: Friday, November 16, 2001