Located in the dense second-growth redwoods west of Skyline Ridge, El Corte de Madera Creek is mainly a mountain biking destination. The trails tend to be rough, steep, and challenging, and pretty much every hike or ride ends with a long, difficult climb.
As a hiking destination, El Corte de Madera Creek can be a little monotonous since almost the entire park is wooded and there aren’t really any scenic destinations. Most of the park’s trails are dirt roads, which tend to be kind of dull because dense stands of understory shrubs and trees along the sides block views into the forest. Some dirt roads have either been narrowed by MROSD or have turned into singletrack over time, but they still have essentially the same scenery as the full-width dirt roads. The most enjoyable trails are purpose-built singletrack, of which there are only a few.
Compared to nearby parks, El Corte de Madera is a little better than Huddart and Wunderlich County Parks due to its remoteness and lush forest, but not as nice as Purisima Creek, which has more variety and better views, or Portola Redwoods and Pescadero Creek, which have nicer woodland.
This is a good park to visit when it’s raining, because its trails don’t get very muddy, as well in the summer when the tree cover keeps it cool.
The upper park, near Skyline Ridge, gets the most visitors. By far the most popular hiking destination is the standstone formation, an intricately pitted blob 1.2 miles from Skyline Boulevard. It’s not an especially scenic hike but the sandstone is kind of interesting. In contrast to Castle Rock State Park, where the tafoni formations are a popular climbing destination, no climbing is allowed here.
The Methuselah Tree is a huge redwood on Skyline Boulevard. It’s not actually part of El Corte de Madera Creek OSP, but it’s just across the street on Cal Water land. It’s right next to a pullout so there’s no hiking involved in getting there.
The tree stands out not only because there are so few old-growth redwoods in the area, but also because really big redwoods don’t normally grow on ridgetops. At 14 feet in diameter the Methuselah Tree is about as big as the lowland redwoods of Big Basin, which have a much more favorable growing environment.
This hike loops through the less-used lower section of the park. The best parts of the hike are three purpose-built singletrack trails, the North Leaf, South Leaf, and Resolution Trails. The other trails are current or former dirt roads and are somewhat less attractive.
Start at the intersection of Star Hill and Native Sons Roads, where there’s a large dirt pullout. From the pullout, a trail descends into the woods. Take this trail and turn left onto the narrow and somewhat hilly North Leaf Trail.
The North Leaf Trail ends at a dirt road that descends into an impressively lush, redwood-filled canyon. The trail briefly runs along the bottom of the canyon. Climbing out of the canyon and turning onto the Resolution Trail, the redwoods give way to tanoak and the woods gradually open up and become less lush. As the trail approaches the big switchback near the top end, it passes through a clump of pretty good-sized redwoods. Later, the woods briefly give way to chaparral.
The Resolution Trail is named for an airplane that crashed in the area in 1953. Supposedly, small pieces of aluminum from the plane can be seen near the trail, but I’ve never actually seen any.
Turn onto the Fir Trail, an old dirt road that descends steeply. This is my least favorite part of the hike; the trail is too steep for comfortable walking, and the scenery isn’t that great either. When the trail finally ends, turn right onto the Methuselah Trail. For a shorter, 5.3-mile hike, continue along the Methuselah Trail, which descends into a scenic redwood-filled canyon before climbing back toward the parking area. For the complete hike, turn left at the intersection with the Giant Salamander Trail.
The Giant Salamander Trail is a singletrack trail that was converted from a dirt road. It’s fairly scenic, especially at the beginning where it runs through a redwood-filled canyon, but you can clearly see the wide swath that the old dirt road cut through the trees.
If you’re up for a half-mile detour, turn left at the Timberview Trail to hike up to the “old growth redwood”, a solitary 10-foot-diameter tree. A scar suggests that someone once started to cut it down.
Otherwise turn right onto the Timberview Trail, another steep descent, although not quite as bad as the Fir Trail. From here to the end of the hike there are a lot fewer people on the trail.
The Virginia Mill Trail descends into another redwood-filled canyon, even more lush than the one near the beginning of the hike and one of the highlights of the loop. The time in the canyon bottom is brief, though, and the trail soon climbs out of the canyon between dense walls of foliage.
The South Leaf Trail, which is cut into a hillside, can be a little rough and has a lot of up and down, making for a somewhat challenging finish to the hike. It passes through tanoak woods with a dense understory of huckleberry shrubs and some redwoods. The woods are rather ordinary-looking but enjoyable. At one point the trail passes a cluster of five good-sized redwoods that appear to be old growth.
I usually cut over to Star Hill Road near the end; this shortcut saves about half a mile and some climbing. The South Leaf Trail, on the other hand, passes by a large redwood.
© 2012, 2015, 2016, 2021 David Baselt