Butano State Park
A wilderness escape
Butano State Park is one of the quietest and most remote parks in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Although it seems like the number of hikers has been increasing, it's still one of the least-visited parks on the peninsula, mostly because it's kind of hard to get there and it lacks a major attraction like Ano Nuevo's elephant seals or Big Basin's huge redwoods.
The park features a remarkably lush pocket of small- to medium-sized redwoods tucked into a sheltered coastal canyon. Parts of the canyon been logged, most notably along Little Butano Creek and the Olmo Fire Trail, both of which have been clearcut. However, unlike a lot of second-growth parks, the logging is patchy and many areas of old growth redwoods remain. There aren't any really big redwoods in the park, but that appears to be the natural condition of the area rather than the result of logging.
The Ben Ries Campground is on a sizable flat right in the middle of the redwoods. Although there are a few stumps scattered around the campground, most of the trees are old growth and the campground is quite attractive.
This satisfying backcountry loop combines the best trails of Butano State Park. Circling the rim of Little Butano Canyon, the trail has an engaging variety of scenery, with two sections of old-growth redwood uplands, two stretches of sunny chaparral with expansive views over the conifer-clad mountains, and a creekside stroll. The redwoods aren't very big, but up until Little Butano Creek there are few signs of logging and the woods have an atractive lush and open appearance. Sweeping views of three major valleys, with almost no sign of development among the miles of green hills, make the hike feel like a wilderness getaway.
Quite a bit of this hike is on exposed fire roads and on hot summer days these roads can get unpleasant. Otherwise, though, this is a hike that can be tackled year-round.
Start in the little parking lot next to the entrance kiosk and the visitor center, and take the Jackson Flats Trail. The trail immediately begins a moderate ascent through oak woodlands which give way to a small redwood grove after about a half-mile. As it ascends, the trail passes several more small groups of redwoods. Although there aren't any stumps, the redwoods have a twisted, irregular appearance that suggests that they are second growth. There's a little poison oak along this section of the trail but fortunately, once you get to Butano Fire Road there won't be any more poison oak to deal with for the rest of the hike.
Jackson Flats itself is somewhat anticlimatic — a small open area with a little bit of boardwalk. You might not even notice it if you're not looking for it.
The trail soon comes to an intersection. Straight ahead is the Canyon Trail, a rather monotonous singletrack trail that seems to wind in and out of ravines forever. To the left, the Jackson Flats Trail climbs more steeply to meet the Butano Fire Road, which is longer but a lot more scenic.
The trail emerges from the forest just before it reaches Butano Fire Road. Turn right onto the road. The climb starts out a little dull and the wide road is sunny and hot in summer. However, the scenery starts to improve as you're treated to a nice view over the Little Butano Creek basin.
Passing lichen-draped spruce trees, the road curves up to an abandoned landing field, which looks like a wide, unused dirt road (but typically for this area, the "dirt" is actually fine chips of rock). There are some partially-obstructed views of Butano Canyon from near the end of the runway.
Just after the runway, the road descends into a cool old-growth redwood grove that surrounds the peaceful Butano Trail Camp. The trees aren't especially large, but the attractive old-growth look is unmistakable. The biggest trees are right along the road; a few yards away, within the trail camp, the trees are a lot smaller.
Past the trail camp the road ascends, a little steeply, to an intersection. Turn right onto Olmo Fire Road. The old growth soon ends. There are some signs that say "No Trespassing / Ainsley Family Tree Farm", but it's OK to use the road. The road descends steeply out of the woods, offering some very nice, expansive views of two redwood-covered valleys, the Gazos Creek watershed to the left and the Little Butano Creek watershed to the right.
Just after the trail re-enters the woods and as it starts to climb a hill, look for the Doe Ridge Trail to your right. On summer days the temperature always seems to drop by 10 degrees when you step onto the trail.
The Doe Ridge Trail trail winds through a pretty stretch of old-growth redwood uplands. The redwoods aren't especially large, but a lush groundcover of ferns and redwood sorrel makes this area especially attractive. For the most part the redwoods are sparsely distributed among an understory of huckleberry and tanoak, but at one point the trail winds around a large ravine with a relatively dense stand of redwoods. This stand is large, in pristine condition, and very attractive, making it perhaps the best stand of redwoods in the park. The old growth ends just after the ravine; although the redwoods continue, they've been partially logged.
As the trail crests a small hill, the redwoods give way to a coastal pine forest with some pretty good-sized trees. At the Goat Hill Trail, turn right and descend until you reach a dirt road. At this point, you can turn right to access the Butano Creek Trail or turn left for a faster exit.
Turning right adds 1.2 miles to the hike. The uninteresting dirt road descends to the lush canyon bottom, which has been logged and can be somewhat dark, but still makes for an interesting walk and adds some more variety to the loop. The road crosses the creek and turns into the Little Butano Creek Trail.
The trail is cut into the side of a steep, narrow canyon. At first there's a lot of up-and-down and not many redwoods, but then the canyon widens and the trail descends to the flat canyon bottom. The trail, covered with a soft layer of redwood needles, runs through attractive second-growth forest with a groundcover of redwood sorrel and ferns, crossing the creek several times.
At the end of the Little Butano Creek Trail, turn right onto the main park road. The main road, which is open to cars, passes an artificial pond and runs alongside a flume that was built in the 1920s for logging. There are trails that run alongside the paved road, but they're kind of hilly and dull so I usually just take the road back to the parking lot.
© 2010, 2012, 2014 David Baselt