This is not your average county park: It sprawls over 8,020 acres, encompassing the Pescadero Creek watershed, a major steelhead spawning stream that drains into Pescadero Marsh. The park–composed of the Sam McDonald, Memorial, and Heritage Grove units–has more than 26 miles of trails and sits beside Portola Redwoods State Park.
The half-mile Heritage Grove Trail climbs through a rare remaining stand of old-growth redwoods to tanoak woodlands alive with ravens, jays, and even, in spring and summer, rare purple martins.
For a more secluded hike, take the Tarwater Trail, winding through oak canyons into the valley below. This part of the park sits on a deposit of oil and natural gas, which occasionally bubble up through seams near Hoffman Creek. Crude also seeps into Jones Gulch Creek, staining the rocks. In the forest's deep humus and damp understory, mushrooms and lichens cover stumps and logs, and gray squirrels dart among redwoods and Douglas fir. The hike upward goes through maples, alder, and huckleberry alive with chestnut-backed chickadees and other forest-loving birds.
Or set out on the challenging seven-mile Butano Ridge loop, which climbs over 1,500 feet to look out past a grove of endangered Santa Cruz cypress all the way to the Pacific, a good ten miles away.
Getting there: From Highway 101 or I-280, take Highway 84 west through Woodside, past Highway 35. After La Honda, turn left at Pescadero Road. Stay right for the ranger station, or left to take Alpine Road to Heritage Grove and Tarwater Trailhead.
Hike by Irene Barnard, originally published in the July 2007 issue of Bay Nature magazine