The Butano Ridge Loop Trail
Length 13.1 miles Climbing 2434 feet
This loop climbs to the top of the prominent ridge that looms over the Pescadero Creek watershed. The loop is entirely wooded so despite all the climbing there are no views at all.
The biggest problem with the loop is that lacking any sort of destination - a scenic viewpoint, or a big tree, or a waterfall - it's a little dull. On the other hand, there's some very nice woodland on the loop, especially near the highest point. This always strikes me as a very pure hike: it's wonderfully quiet and peaceful the whole way, there's hardly anyone else on the trail, and there aren't a lot of trail intersections or other distractions. It doesn't get too hot in the summer or too muddy in the winter.
Start at the Hoffman Creek Trailhead. Old Haul Road passes through a few fields and then runs through a Christian camp, entering the park after about a mile.
The road passes through a second-growth grove with many huge stumps that must have been quite impressive. One old-growth tree has been left standing by the side of the road.
Turn right onto the Butano Ridge Loop Trail. The trail initially climbs through a shallow canyon with a lush, dark grove of heavily-logged redwoods among ferns. The woods get progressively more arid-looking as the trail climbs, progressing through an area of very small redwoods, then a mixture of tanoak and scattered redwoods. Huckleberry bushes appear.
As the trail approaches the ridge, signs of logging become less frequent, the redwoods get a little bigger, and there are even a few small old-growth trees (the old-growth trees have a lighter color, smoother bark, and fewer branches low on the trunk).
The singletrack trail ends at a dirt logging road. Turn left. Although the woods on either side are still dense, the extra-wide road feels wonderfully open. There's a lot of up-and-down on the road that can be tiring.
The scenery is mostly unremarkable, near the road's high point (where the singletrack trail begins) the woods become more attractive; there's a greater variety of species, including some madrones and a nice fir grove.
The woods remain attractive as the singletrack trail begins. The trail passes a few rock formations.
As the trail descends, it passes through the same succession of environments encountered on the climb. The extra-attractive forest gives way to mundane redwood and tanoak uplands. The forest becomes progressively denser and more lush as the trail descends, and as the redwoods become larger and more common, stumps appear and become common. The bottom of the trail is in a heavily-logged second-growth redwood forest.
Old Haul Road is pleasant and relaxing, a peaceful, easy stroll, especially because after the first mile it's mostly downhill. The woods are second-growth but they're attractive in their own way, with dark conical trees rising up into the clear blue sky. Typically for a logging road, in some places the woods appear to have grown up after the road was built, so there's a lot of foliage along the road but not a lot above the road. This tends to give the woods a very clean, sunny look.
© 2013 David Baselt