5 mile loop through mixed woods, crosses Pescadero Creek several times.
Distance, category, and difficulty:
This 5 mile loop hike is one of the easiest in the parks,
where elevation ranges from about 300 feet to just under 2000 feet. This
hike begins at about 400 feet, descends to about 350 feet, climbs gradually
to about 500 feet, then descends back to the trailhead -- total elevation
change is about 500 feet.
Dirt trails and fire roads.
2 1/2 hours.
Nice any time -- check the park during winter for storm closures.
From Interstate 280 in San Mateo County, exit #25 Woodside Road/CA 84. Drive
west about 6 miles to the junction with CA 35 (Skyline Boulevard). Turn
left and drive south about 7 miles to the junction with Alpine Road. Turn
right and drive west about 3 tortuous and winding miles on this narrow road
(be especially careful for bicycle and motorcycle traffic on weekends).
Turn left onto Portola State Park Road, and drive on the tiny and unpredictable
road the remaining 3 miles to the entrance kiosk. Continue another 0.4 mile
to the parking areas near the ranger station. If possible park in the Madrone
lot (to the left just before the ranger station), or in the spots past the
ranger station and across the bridge, on the right side of the road. (NOTE:
do not be confused or tempted by the Alpine Road exit on 280. That section
of Alpine Road deadends east of Skyline Boulevard.)
Street address (for in-transit navigation):
9000 Portola State Park Road, La Honda, CA 94020
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, and restaurants either back at the junction of 84 and 35, or
west in Pescadero. Portola has walk-in, tent, and RV campsites.
$10 entrance fee (self-register at ranger station if facilities are unstaffed).
Restrooms behind and to the left of the ranger station. Maps available (for
$2) at the entry kiosk (when staffed), or at the ranger station. There is
plenty of parking. Pay phone at ranger station. There are a few designated
handicapped parking spots throughout the park, but Portola's trails are
not well-suited to wheelchairs. There is no direct public transportation
to this park.
Portola Redwood trails are open to hikers only. Dogs are permitted on two
trails only -- Lower Escape Road and Upper Escape Road out of the campground.
For day use, park is open fron 6 a.m. to sunset.
The Official Story:
Park office 650-948-9098
Download the park
map pdf from CSP's website.
within 60 Miles: San Francisco, by Jane Huber (yup, that's me, the creator
of this website) has a simple map and a featured hike. Order
this book from Amazon.com.
Dave Baselt's Pescadero Creek County Park/Portola Redwoods State
Park map is an excellent guide to the trails of both parks (order
from Redwood Hikes).
Afoot and Afield: San Francisco Bay Area, by David Weintraub
this book from Amazon.com) has a great map and descriptions of a Portola
The paper map, available at the park, is current and very good. It
also shows the trails in Pescadero Creek County Park's eastern quadrant.
Sempervirens Fund's Trail Map of the Santa Cruz Mountains (Map
1) is excellent.
Tom Taber's The Santa Cruz Mountains Trail Book has a simple
map and trail descriptions (order
this book from Amazon.com).
Peninsula Trails, by Jean Rusmore, has a simple map, trail
descriptions, and suggested hikes (order
this book from Amazon.com).
in a nutshell -- a printable, text-only guide to the featured hike.
photos from the featured hike (June 2002, including Tiptoe Falls).
View photos from the featured
hike (August 2000, excluding Tiptoe Falls)
Go to Bay Area Hiker Home page
so much open space land in the south bay, it's easy to forget about
the cluster of parks in southern San Mateo County, comprised of Sam
MacDonald County Park, San Mateo County Memorial
Park, Pescadero Creek County Park, and Portola Redwoods State Park.
On the northern peninsula, Purisima Creek Redwoods
Open Space Preserve, a short drive from San Francisco, is a popular
destination for viewing Sequoia sempervirens, and Santa Cruz County's
Big Basin Redwoods State Park is a well-known
redwood tourist destination. Geographically in between these two parks,
Portola State Park and the collection of San Mateo County Parks are relatively
quiet. All feature plenty of facilities (camping in Portola, picnic areas
and camping in the county parks), but away from the campgrounds and picnic
tables, you're likely find desolate redwoods groves and nearly empty trails.
The partnership between Pescadero Creek County Park and Portola Redwoods
State Park is particularly pleasant. Trails are well-signed, San Mateo
County provides maps on signboards at the borders between
the two parks, and Portola's map thoughtfully includes a large hunk of
the county park's eastern portion (and trails). Portola, in my experience,
is one of the best-staffed state parks in the bay area. The staff takes
great pride in the park, and trails are meticulously maintained, which
is all the more impressive when you consider how this park, nestled in
a canyon, gets pounded by winter storms. (Check out their display in the
Visitor Center for photos showing what a bad storm season does to these
From this trailhead, dayhikers can explore
Portola State Park in conjunction with Pescadero Creek County Park, or
stay within the confines of the state park. Loops are possible either
way. The Sequoia Nature Trail is a short and easy self-guided nature loop
through redwoods and along Pescadero Creek, perfect for families with
small kids. Peters Creek Loop, a grueling 13-mile semi-loop hike, should
provide a challenge for experienced hikers. Slate Creek and Summit Trails
make a 2.5 mile circuit through mixed forests and chaparral,
a popular choice for many park visitors. Longer and a little tougher is
the combination of Coyote Ridge Trail, Upper Coyote Ridge Trail, Tarwater
Loop Trail, and Pomponio Trail, an over 6 mile trek through both Portola
and Pescadero Creek parks.
Portola's strategic location allows for long
backpacking excursions as well as dayhikes. Hikers can start at Long
Ridge Open Space Preserve, on Skyline Boulevard, hike west into Portola,
camp, then hike through Pescadero Creek County Park and south into Big
Basin. Incredibly, backpackers have the ability to turn this into a loop
hike; from Big Basin you can hike uphill on the Skyline to the Sea Trail,
camp in Castle Rock, then trek north through
Saratoga Gap Open Space Preserve, Upper Stevens Creek
County Park, and return to Long Ridge Open Space Preserve.
For the featured hike, start at the ranger
station. Walk to the left of the building, following the signs
to Sequoia Nature Trail. At the edge of the employee parking area,
the dirt trail begins. If you have the official map, refer to the informative
with the hiking-only nature trail. Numbered posts help to identify redwood,
tanoak, and huckleberry, plants which thrive in the park. After about
100 yards, Sequoia Nature Trail bends rights, while a dead-end
path continues straight. Stay to the right, following the signs for
Sequoia Nature Trail.
The path descends to the shore of
Pescadero Creek via a few steps. Striking sandstone banks on the opposite
side of the creek were formed by millions of years of ocean deposits.
When the sun filters down to the creek, the water turns a milky blue.
Walk to the right and cross the creek on a pretty footbridge. (Note:
the park staff removes the bridges each October and replaces them in spring
when the creek's level drops. If you're visiting in the winter, ask at
the ranger station if the Sequoia Nature Trail is navigable. If it's not,
you can start on Iverson Trail which begins opposite the Madrone parking
area.) On the other side of the creek the trail passes some azalea shrubs,
then veers left and climbs some steps. Two signs point you to the left
(you can also continue straight and loop back around to the next junction).
At about 0.2 mile, at a signed junction under some tanoaks and redwoods,
bear left, following the signs that point to Iverson Trail.
segment of switchbacks raises the trail a few feet, but then the grade
levels out. Redwoods block much of the sun, but they do nothing to discourage
mosquitoes from their copious feeding frenzies in the summer. This is
one of the few parks in the bay area for which I recommend using
bug repellent. At about 0.3 mile, at another signed junction, you'll reach
a T junction. Turn right onto Iverson Trail.
Hiking-only Iverson Trail climbs
then descends, all the while under the shade of tanoak and redwood. For
a few steps the path winds at a nearly-flat pace along the forest floor.
This is a beautiful, quiet part of the park where you might see redwood
sorrel, trillium, milkmaids, iris, and starflower blooming during various
times in spring. The path abruptly descends to the banks of Pescadero
Creek. Walk to the right and look for the footbridge to cross the creek.
Alders cast shadows over the clear water, while hazelnut shrubs grow in
the understory. If you are visiting in winter or early spring, you may
see steelhead in the creek. On the opposite side of the creek, Iverson
Trail climbs away from the water on some stairs, and reenters the redwood
forest. A large fallen redwood has been notched to allow passage. The
trail ascends easily, then reaches a signed
junction at about 0.7 mile. Turn left on Pomponio Trail.
This narrow path is open to hikers only
(when it enters Pescadero Creek County Park, it becomes a multi-use trail,
but as it is effectively a dead-end trail for equestrians and cyclists,
you'll probably only encounter hikers). Pescadero Creek is occasionally
audible, but Pomponio Trail follows a discrete distance from the water.
Deer are common, and you may see or hear many of the birds that call these
parks home, such as bluejays, woodpeckers, and hawks. Huckleberry shrubs
choke the trail; look for ripe berries in September or October. A sign
marks passage out of the state park and into the county park, and then
a few steps later, a signboard hosts a useful map to Pescadero Creek County
Park, on the right. More signs (facing the other direction) indicate that
bicycles and horses are not allowed on the state park's section of Pomponio
Trail. The trail then opens up a bit, widening to fire road-width. There's
plenty of room to crane your neck up towards the towering redwoods. Honeysuckle
vines drip from tanoak, canyon live oak, Douglas fir, California bay,
and madrone. Toyon, huckleberry, ferns, ceanothus, creambush, and wild
rose make up the understory. You might see western heart's ease, forget-me-nots,
and fairy lanterns in late May or early June. Pomponio Trail remains nearly
level throughout, with a few brief and easy uphills, and then gently drops
to a signed junction at about 1.7 miles. Turn left onto Bridge Trail.
The broad multi-use fire road sweeps south,
descending easily to cross Pescadero Creek on a wide bridge. Bridge Trail
turns away from the creek and begins a moderate climb through redwood,
bigleaf maple, Douglas fir, and tanoak. At about 2.0 miles, Snag Trail
sets out to the right at a signed junction. Keep going straight on
Running slightly downhill along a damp-looking
meadow on the right, Bridge Trail continues through redwood and
Douglas fir, ending at a signed junction at about 2.3 miles. Turn
left on Old Haul Road.
Old Haul Road, open to hikers, equestrians,
and cyclists, is a wide dirt fire road. A steep hillside on the right
ascends to a ridgeline, at about 2000 feet, but the nearly level trail
cuts through Douglas fir, huckleberry, creambush, tanoak, and redwood,
on the high south bank of Pescadero Creek. You might see ceanothus in
bloom all the way into early June. A few steps after passing over Hooker
Creek, which runs downhill and joins Pescadero Creek, you'll reach a signed
junction with hiking-only Ridge Trail (this is a possible option to extend
this hike, with significant elevation change), which starts here and heads
south toward Big Basin. Continue straight on Old Haul Road.
The trail passes through a stretch with erosive
sandy soil. Some stunted redwoods cling to the side
of a roadcut. Other creeks and seasonal streams trickle downhill from
the right. The largest, Fall Creek, is responsible for lovely Tiptoe Falls
-- you'll likely hear the water spilling downhill on the left. Iverson
Creek is crossed just before 2 signed junctions at about 3.6 miles (Portola
Trail returns from the ridge on the right). Turn left down the service
road, reentering Portola State Park.
The dirt road (closed to horses), starts
a somewhat steep drop to the north. Before the descent gets bothersome,
to the left Iverson Trail begins at a signed junction at about 3.7 miles.
In August of 2000 this entrance was signed as closed, due to downed trees
.5 mile in. When I returned in June 2002, the trail was not blocked off,
but there was a major obstacle at that slide spot, and the trail was signed
as closed coming the other direction at that area. (Ask at the ranger
station for the current status of the trail. If this part of Iverson Trail
is closed you can reach Tiptoe Falls from the trail's other end. The route
as I found it is far below decent standards, but still manageable. Use
your best judgment if it seems dodgy to you. If
the trail is closed, return to the trailhead via the service road.) Turn
left onto Iverson Trail.
The narrow path drops on a short flight
of stairs and crosses a creek on a bridge. A familiar assortment of tanoak,
redwood, and huckleberry shade the trail as it winds through the woods
at a mostly level pace. At the slide area, several large trees sprawled
like giant pick-up-sticks, and I couldn't even tell where the trail used
to be. A path lead to the left, and straight ahead a downed redwood stretched
across the canyon, but as that tree curved slightly left I was unable
to see the end of it. After a bit of poking around, I decided that the
log was the only way to go. Its surface was flattened a bit, and some
branched had been lopped off, so I obviously wasn't the first to walk
the plank across the tree. For the most part the dropoff seemed slight,
but there was so much vegetation crowding the area that I couldn't really
tell (probably a good thing). The log broadened towards the end,
and I hopped off where a little sign (facing the other direction) proclaimed
this part of the trail closed (!). Specifics may change if the trail is
rerouted, but on my visit the trail ascended a switchback and some steps.
You'll continue to climb easily through the forest. A massive hedge of
huckleberry towers over 6 feet on the left. At about 4.2 miles you'll
reach a signed junction. Turn left, toward Tiptoe Falls -- just
a short distance at a slight incline from the junction. The canyon walls
rise steeply up on both sides, and little Tiptoe Falls drops a few feet
down from the hillside like water into a washbasin. Five-finger ferns
and a young bigleaf maple complete the tableau. Even when I visited in
June there was some water flowing, and (weather permitting) I can't think
of a nicer place for lunch. When you're ready, retrace your steps back
to the previous junction, then continue straight.
Iverson Trail crosses Fall Creek one more
time, then the trail descends easily. Redwoods are still common, but there's
quite a bit of grass, horsetail,
and ferns. The trail bisects a sloping meadow, then reaches a signed junction
at about 4.4 miles (the spur to the right is an option, but you'll have
to cross Pescadero Creek without the benefit of a bridge). Continue,
to the left, on Iverson Trail.
The trail begins to climb, weaving through
redwoods. On the right the hillside slopes sharply down to Pescadero Creek,
visible at a few places where Iverson Trail lingers near dropoffs, some
of them fenced. Watch your footing on this stretch. The trail crests,
then begins to descend at a somewhat steep pace. Abruptly, Iverson levels
out, as if the descent had never happened. At about 4.6 miles you'll reach
a familiar junction, with the path leading back to Sequioa Nature Trail
heading right. Turn right and retrace your steps back to the trailhead.
Total distance: about 4.9 miles
Last hiked: Monday, June 3,