The Pioneer Tree Trail
Length 2.7 mi · Climbing 190 ft
Samuel P. Taylor's only old-growth trail is a short, easy walk. It climbs a hillside, visits a lone old-growth redwood, then descends through a little canyon that contains a tiny but surprisingly nice old-growth grove. This loop is meant to be hiked counter-clockwise, and the old growth is actually more impressive in that direction, but I like to save the old growth for last.
If you're only interested in seeing the old growth, you don't need to hike the entire trail. Just take the first right onto the Pioneer Tree Trail, hike up the canyon a little past the first hairpin turn (maybe a quarter-mile), then turn around when the redwoods start to peter out. The rest of the hike doesn't have any old growth, except for the Pioneer Tree, which isn't that impressive.
There may be poison oak on this trail.
To reach the trailhead, park in the day use area just past the entrance kiosk, then walk down the main road, cross the bridge, and turn left at the T intersection. The road soon dead-ends at a gate. Next to the gate is an unmarked pullout where you can park if you want to save a few minutes of walking.
From the pullout, walk onto the paved trail that starts on the other side of the gate. Pass the intersection with the Pioneer Tree Trail.
The wide, flat Crass Marin Trail, which used to be a railroad bed, is popular with cyclists. There's a lot of traffic noise from busy Sir Francis Drake Boulevard, just across the creek, but it's an easy, pleasant, and shady walk.
Just before the footbridge over Sir Francis Drake Boulevard, look for the Pioneer Tree Trail to your right. Take this trail, which starts out level and soon begins climbing at a very gentle gradient through second-growth redwoods. The traffic noise recedes a little as you climb, and redwoods give way to a mixed hardwood forest.
The trail switchbacks a few times and soon reaches the Pioneer Tree, an odd and not very impressive cluster of several small trunks around a larger, gnarled redwood. Continuing on, the trail winds through a few small ravines and enters a lush second-growth redwood forest. The redwoods become more impressive and you'll soon notice a few good-sized old-growth redwoods just off the trail to your right.
The trail begins to descend and makes a hairpin right turn into a small ravine. The main body of old-growth redwoods is in a bowl-shaped basin, a wide part of the ravine, just after the hairpin turn. Although it's only about 100 feet long, the grove is strikingly different from the second-growth redwoods throughout the rest of the park. Perfectly straight and elegantly-fluted redwoods stand on the hillside to your left. It's clear that this area has never been logged, despite being very close to Samuel P. Taylor's logging operation. A little creek trickles down the ravine, right next to the trail. There's a dense understory of tanoak and ferns.
After just a few steps the ravine narrows. While the old-growth continues, it's not as nice, with fewer redwoods and more understory. The old-growth ends just before the trail reaches the Cross Marin Trail.
© 2007, 2012 David Baselt