3.4 mile out and back through surprisingly pretty woods bordering residential
Distance, category, and difficulty:
Trails wobble up and down a bit, but overall, this 3.4 mile hike
is easy. Trailhead elevation is about 290 feet. The hike's high point is
about 600 feet.
Mix of sun and shade.
1 1/2 hours.
Nice any time.
From Interstate 280 in San Mateo County, exit Edgewood Road. Drive about
2.5 miles east on Edgewood Road, to the junction with Alameda de las Pulgas.
Turn left and drive about 0.1 mile to the stop sign at Eaton Avenue. Turn
left and follow Eaton Avenue about 0.8 mile to the end of the road (bear
left at Terrace, and right at Oak Creek).
Get driving or public transit directions from Transit and Trails:
GPS Coordinates* for Trailhead:
(* based on Google Earth
data, shown as degrees, minutes, seconds)
Gas, food, and lodging:
Gas, stores, pay phones, and restaurants in nearby San Carlos and Redwood
City. No camping.
Side of the road parking for about 6 cars on a cul de sac in a residential
neighborhood. Mind the no parking signs. No parking or entrance fees. No
facilities (drinking water, maps, or restrooms). No designated handicapped
parking, and trails are not suitable for wheelchairs.
You can also enter either park from Brittan Avenue, where there is
abundant side-of-street parking: from Highway 280 drive east about 1 mile
on Edgewood, and then turn left onto Crestview. Drive north on Crestview
to Brittan Avenue. Turn right and park on the side of the road near the
signed "entrances" to Big Canyon and Eaton Parks. SamTrans bus
#261 stops right in front of the parks on Brittan Avenue.
Parks are open from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Dogs are permitted. No other rules
are posted, but equestrians and cyclists are unlikely to use these trails.
The Official Story:
of San Carlos's Big Canyon Park page
of San Carlos's Eaton Park page
San Carlos Parks and Recreation 650-802-4286
Use AAA's San Francisco Bay Region map to get there
Trail Map of the Central Peninsula, by the Trail Center (order
this map from Amazon.com) is the best map available.
Peninsula Trails, by Jean Rusmore, (order
this book from Amazon.com) has a simple map and park descriptions.
View photos from this hike.
Carlos' Big Canyon and Eaton Parks are overshadowed by
two larger nearby preserves, Edgewood and Pulgas. The trails at Big Canyon
and Eaton seem to be mostly used by locals, and on weekdays you might
have both parks to yourself. These aren't "destination" parks,
but should you find yourself in the neighborhood, or live nearby, one
visit to Eaton and Big Canyon may hook you permanently.
Although the footing can be tricky, Eaton
and Big Canyon Parks make a fine track for a daily run or dogwalk. You'll
need to be alert, for low hanging tree branches, steep steps, and leaf
litter can make for a challenging run.
Both parks can be entered from Brittan
Avenue, which offers more parking than Eaton Road,
but I thought it was more fun to hike out and back from Eaton Road. If
your time is limited, the Eaton Road trailhead is full, or you just want
to visit one park, the Brittan trailhead may be a more logical choice.
The trails are short and easy enough to permit
explorations of both Eaton and Big Canyon in one visit. Each park offers
one trail, and although Brittan Avenue serves as the park boundary, it's
easy enough to cross the road from one to the other and continue hiking.
Vegetation is similar at Eaton and Big
Canyon, and although Big Canyon has some coast live oak and California
bay woodland, most of the park has exposed south-facing dry slopes dominated
with chamise, sagebrush, and coyote brush. Eaton Trail spends most of
length under cover of California bay, coast live oak, and buckeye, contouring
along the north side of a hill. Surrounded on all sides by houses and
streets, there are sights and sounds from civilization throughout this
hike, but perhaps that makes any nature encounter more special. Some hikers
report coyote sightings, and deer are common. Bobcat prints mark the dust
on Big Canyon Trail. On my visit a hawk flew right above Eaton Trail just
10 feet from me, before settling in a nearby oak. The woods, chaparral,
and grassland support a variety of spring wildflowers and blooming buckeyes,
and seasonal creeks morph into tiny waterfalls in late winter. Although
there are no big-leaf maples to gawk at in autumn, the buckeye trees,
with their dangling pods, are pretty and the temperatures pleasant. In
the heat of summer you'll probably want to stick to the shaded woods of
Trail, eschewing the hot slopes of Big Canyon.
Start at the Eaton Avenue Trailhead,
pass through the chain link fence, and head uphill on unsigned Eaton Trail.
This wide fire road, lined with coast live oak, toyon, and California
bay, climbs steeply, then reaches an unsigned junction at .05 mile. There's
a map on a little post, but only one trail is shown on it, and as you'll
be standing at the confluence of two trails, the map is not all that helpful.
Bear right (an orange-painted piece of pipe sticking up from the
ground on the right is a clue that you are on the correct path).
Eaton Trail dips down to a seasonal creek
graced with some buckeyes, then begins a moderate climb. Coyote brush,
poison oak, sticky monkeyflower, and sagebrush mark a transition into
chaparral, but there are still some coast live oak and a few lovely blue
oaks on the fringes
of the trail. Switchbacks snake up the hill, but they have all been shortcut,
leaving the grassland scarred with dusty and erosive paths. Eaton Trail
takes a sharp turn left and the grade stiffens. On a clear day, if you
look over your shoulder you'll have views east to the bay. Some acacias
seem out of place along the trail. At 0.30 mile, Eaton Trail reaches a
saddle and an another unsigned junction. Look for a second orange-painted
pipe, and continue straight on the trail.
Eaton Trail narrows and heads downhill under
the cover of coast live oak. Chamise, monkeyflower, and toyon line the
trail as it easily descends along the contour of a hillside. You'll meander
through small patches of chaparral, but most of Eaton Trail is well-shaded
by California bay, coast live oak, and buckeye. The trail ducks under
some low tree branches, crosses a handful of seasonal creeks on simple
planks, and skips down some steps. Watch your step for banana slugs; on
my hike I saw some on the trail and about 40 of them sprawled together
in one creekbed. A short series of switchbacks ascend through creambush,
chamise, monkeyflower, and toyon, and there are views of the surrounding
neighborhood to the north. Soon after you'll cross through a level "exotics
alley," where a host of non-natives thrive, including pine, eucalyptus,
pampas grass, and broom. Then the trail heads back into the woods, where
you might see snowberry and ferns. Deer are common through here, and
I saw a family of 5 bedded down on the hillside. Ascending to a sunny
spot where pitcher sage and mule ear sunflowers bloom in spring,
there's a bench on the right side of the trail. (If you're ready to head
back, this is a logical turn-around point.) Just a few steps later,
the trail splits
at an unsigned junction. Stay to the right and look for small switchbacks
and then steps leading down into a residential neighborhood. It looks
like you'll end up in someone's yard, but the steps stop at a path between
houses which leads you to Brittan Avenue, at 1.11 miles. Carefully
cross the street and enter Big Canyon Park.
A few landscaped trees, a park sign,
and a rickety bench are the extent of the welcome. A broad flat trail
heads into the canyon, and at 1.19 miles, the two ends of the loop split
(there was a big pile of dirt here on my visit). Turn right at the
"Start of trail" sign.
Narrow Big Canyon Trail begins switchbacking
up the hillside. A few coast live oaks are in the minority, for coyote
brush, sagebrush, poison oak, and monkeyflower dominate the landscape.
You'll pass a bench with a view across the canyon, as well as many sections
of an older trail. As you reach a level stretch at the hike's highest
point, downslope from a row of houses, sun-loving chamise, yerba santa,
and pitcher sage thrive, accompanied by a few clumps of fennel and holly-leaf
shrubs. Plank boards provide primitive creek crossings, where California
bay and buckeye shade the trail. Just past a post with an arrow that offers
no explanation and might give you pause, a path breaks off uphill toward
a water tower. Continue straight, and at a switchback, look up to the
right for a bench in a grassy spot, and a sign pointing out that the nearest
restroom is 1/4 mile away at Crestview Park. Big Canyon Trail begins to
descend in earnest, although the grade is always easy. Coast live oak
and California bay are common. The trail draws near to the canyon's main
creek, and drainage structures are visible at the canyon floor. After
one last bridge, Big Canyon Trail ends back at a previously encountered
junction with the other end of the trail, at 2.16 miles. Turn right
and walk back to Brittan Avenue, then retrace your steps back to the trailhead.
Total distance: 3.38 miles
Last hiked: Tuesday, September 18, 2001
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