The Peters Creek Loop
Length 11.5 miles Climbing 1820 feet
The Peters Creek canyon is home to the third-largest old-growth redwood grove in the Santa Cruz Mountains, after Big Basin and Henry Cowell. The grove is attractive and surprisingly lush, with some good-sized trees and an extensive carpet of redwood sorrel. Getting there requires a 5 mile walk each way through hilly and somewhat dull second-growth redwood uplands, but it's still a pleasant walk and the old-growth grove makes a nice destination. There are also some isolated large redwoods on the way to the old growth.
The main drawback of this hike is the lack of variety. Most of the hike passes through homogenous uplands clogged with a dense tanoak understory. This hike can also be more exhausting than the elevation profile suggests: the steep climb at the beginning combined with a second steep climb halfway through has a way of sapping your energy.
Starting from one of the parking lots near Park Headquarters, walk south along the paved service road. Walk past the Old Tree Trail and over a few small rises, then turn left at the Summit Trail. This trail starts as a dirt road but soon turns into singletrack. It climbs insistently past mid-sized redwoods, then reaches a summit and descends to an intersection with the Slate Creek Trail.
Turn right onto the Slate Creek Trail. The distant sounds of gunfire from the Los Gatos Rod and Gun Club, about 5 miles away, can be heard from a few ridgetop locations.
The trail passes through a saddle and enters a logged forest with lots of mid-sized redwood stumps. Fortunately the forest seems to be regenerating nicely, with none of the gloomy or dismal look that second-growth forests often have. There's a very dense understory of huckleberry shrubs.
At the 5-way intersection next to the Slate Creek Trail Camp, turn left onto a dirt road that climbs gently. This is one of the more intensively-logged sections of forest, but in the late afternoon the sunlight slants through the trees and makes the area really attractive.
The road, now cut into a hillside above a canyon, soon narrows to a trail. The stumps end at this point and a narrow strip of old-growth redwoods appears in the canyon, with about half a dozen big trees and many smaller ones. You have to peer through the dense screen of tanoak to see some of the redwoods.
The trail exits the redwoods and briefly climbs through thick brush before entering an attractive wood near the highest point of the hike. On occasion this part of the trail has become completely overgrown with poison oak, but it's usually clear.
Finally, the trail begins a steep descent into the Peters Creek canyon. The trail, which can be faint in this area, at first descends through a grove of light-colored fir trees. Soon after the descent begins, there's a brief and very limited southwest view through a small break in the trees. The high ridge in the distance is Butano Ridge; the highest point on that ridge is where the Basin Trail meets Pescadero Creek County Park's Butano Ridge Loop Trail. Below that is a prominent knob; the first half-mile of the Slate Creek Trail that you just hiked is cut into the left-hand side of that knob.
The woods get noticably more lush as the trail approaches the bottom of the canyon. The trail rounds a bend and passes through a small band of redwoods, then descends a little more and enters a darker, lusher redwood grove. The change in the landscape is abrupt and dramatic; it feels like a different world in the redwoods. A creek burbles below and the steep hillside is covered with an impressive carpet of redwood sorrel, the most extensive that I've seen in the Bay Area. There's a dense understory of tanoak.
The trail descends into the cool and shady Bear Creek canyon, the lushest and most impressive part of the old-growth grove. The point at which the trail crosses Bear Creek is the scenic high point of the trip. After crossing Bear Creek, the trail runs along the hillside above the creek to reach the loop trail intersection. Turn right to follow Peters Creek through some nice old growth. Just before the trail crosses the creek, there's particularly large redwood, possibly the biggest in the grove, to your left.
The creek crossing doesn't have a bridge but is normally only a few inches deep. If it seems too deep to cross, don't bother; the scenery isn't as good on the other side. The trail climbs to an old dirt road and runs high above the creek, along the edge of the old growth. This part of the grove, the southern half, isn't as lush as the northern half or the Bear Creek portion.
At the next intersection, turn right to rejoin the Bear Creek Trail and return the way you came, starting with the difficult climb out of the canyon.
For an optional side trip, on the way back turn left at the 5-way intersection near Slate Creek Camp and hike a mile down the Slate Creek Trail, turning around at the point where it crosses Slate Creek and begins to climb steeply. The trail begins as a dirt road that descends into a dark, redwood-lined ravine. The best scenery is past the Page Mill site, where the trail becomes singletrack. This area has unfortunately been heavily logged, but the unusually lush environment still makes an interesting and scenic walk.
Back on the main route, turn right at the Summit Trail intersection onto the Slate Creek Trail. The Slate Creek Trail route is a little longer than the Summit Trail but less steep, and passes a nice redwood-filled ravine.
© 2006-2012 David Baselt