★★

Pescadero Creek County Park

and the Pescadero Creek Complex


California >

A view of Pescadero Creek State Park from the Towne Overlook. The tall trees on the lower-right ridge are on the Canyon Trail.

Pescadero, Memorial, Sam McDonald, and Heritage Grove County Parks are all part of San Mateo County’s remote, redwood-blanketed Pescadero Creek Complex. The parks’ interconnected trail system provides some very nice hiking, mostly in second-growth forests, but with a few patches of old growth.

The complex doesn’t have any really spectacular sights, but its strikingly lush, green woodland is a lot nicer than the more popular Skyline Ridge parks. The area is also remarkably quiet, with little or no traffic noise on most trails and relatively few visitors.

Old-growth redwood hikes

★★

Heritage Grove

Length 0.5 mi · Climbing 80 ft

Although this tiny park only contains a few dozen big redwoods and a few hundred feet of trail, it’s really a very nice redwood grove.

Other redwood hikes

★★

Coyote Ridge and Shingle Mill

Length 5.8 mi · Climbing 1100 ft

A nice introduction to the area. Half the hike is in Portola and half in Pescadero, and the loop highlights the subtle differences between the two parks.

★★

Mount Ellen Loop

Length 3.8 mi · Climbing 880 ft

This hike through Memorial County Park has a mixture of shady redwoods, open scrub, and lush mixed-species forest. There's also a small old-growth grove near the beginning.

Butano Ridge

Length 13.1 mi · Climbing 2430 ft

An exceptionally quiet and remote fire road runs along the top of a large isolated ridge that looms over the park. There aren’t any views, but there are a lot of nice second-growth redwoods.

Tarwater - Pomponio - Brook - Canyon

Length 10.6 mi · Climbing 1270 ft

This very peaceful and isolated hike shows off the pleasant, bright redwood and hardwood forests of central Pescadero Creek County Park.

Heritage Grove Trail

Length 6.0 mi · Climbing 990 ft

Explores the best trails of Sam McDonald County Park, climbing to a grassy ridgetop with panoramic views, passing by the Hikers’ Hut, then descending into mostly second-growth redwoods.

Drive-in Campground

★★★

Memorial County Park Campground

$30–$40/night + $13 · Open all year

Memorial County Park is a great base to escape the summer heat, explore the coast, and munch on artichoke bread under the deep shade of the redwoods; maybe less so if you want to be one with the untrammeled wilderness.

Backpacking Campgrounds

★★★

Tarwater Trail Camp

$10 night · Apr–Oct

Tarwater is a quiet, remote backcountry campground in a bright, attractive second-growth redwood grove. Like the park as a whole, the camp is little used.

★★

Shaw Trail Camp

$10 night · Apr–Oct

A quiet, little-used campground in a mixed-species woodland about a 3-mile hike from the Hoffman Creek Trailhead. It’s not quite as attractive as Tarwater Trail Camp, but it’s more spread out.

Park headquarters at Memorial County Park

About the parks

Pescadero Creek may be the peninsula’s most underappreciated park. Despite its attractive forests and an excellent, well-maintained network of trails, hardly anyone comes here. Even on a nice summer weekend you may not meet a single hiker on the trail.

Redwoods grow in the park’s lush canyon bottoms, while higher up the hillsides are mixed forests and open grasslands. There are scattered dismal areas of logged redwooods, with lots of big stumps and a dense growth of small trees, but much of the park doesn’t show any sign of logging except, perhaps, for a lack of fallen trees. As a whole, the park is more attractive and enjoyable than some old-growth redwood parks.

Pescadero might lack visitors because it hasn’t been developed: there’s no ranger station or visitor center, only two primitive trail camps, and no facilities. Plans to develop the park — which included a proposal to generate income for the county by logging its forests — were defeated by local residents concerned about traffic. So you can’t even drive into the center of the park; you have to hike in from a neighboring park or from the Tarwater trailhead, a remote dirt lot accessed by a single-lane road.

Surrounded by a seemingly endless expanse of conifer-clad hills, the park has a wild, remote feel and is strikingly quiet and peaceful, with a complete lack of traffic noise. What’s more, the park is close to the ocean and usually has refreshingly crisp and cool air in the summer, yet rarely gets the depressing all-day fog that cloaks the immediate coastline.

Homestead Flat, Memorial County Park

Two smaller neighboring parks, Memorial Park and Sam McDonald Park, are more developed than Pescadero Creek, with extensive camping facilities and some nice trails. Memorial County Park has a large and very popular campground set in an old-growth redwood grove. Sam McDonald County Park has a series of group campgrounds located in second-growth redwoods; there’s also a horse camp and a hikers’ cabin. A fourth park, Heritage Grove, is a tiny and attractive redwood grove located on Alpine Road. Together, the four county parks are known as the Pescadero Creek Complex.

The only staffed location in the Pescadero Creek Complex is the Memorial County Park entrance kiosk.

Forest Loop Trail, Sam McDonald County Park

Links

  • A printed map of Portola and Pescadero parks is available from Redwood Hikes Press. The printed map is similar to the maps on this website, but without the greyed-out trails.
  • The official websites for Pescadero, Memorial, and Sam McDonald parks include information on camping reservations.
  • Jane Huber’s extensive Bay Area Hiker website has pages describing hikes in Memorial and Sam McDonald parks.
  • The ridiculously popular Duarte’s Tavern (pronounced “do arts” ) is the traditional post-hike hangout for Pescadero Park. The bread, artichoke soup, and pies are all outstanding, but the entrees aren’t as exciting and are somewhat pricey.

 

© 2005, 2006, 2012, 2015, 2018, 2022 David Baselt