Lizzie’s Next Redwood Adventure: Sam McDonald County Park

The redwood adventure continues!  A couple of weeks ago, I rounded up another pair of POSTies, Lindsay Dillon and Brooke Mead, to continue my quest to hike all of the redwood parks in the Santa Cruz Mountains.  We decided to check out Sam McDonald County Park, adjacent to Pescadero Creek County Park in San Mateo County.

Lizzie Thomas and fellow POST staffer Lindsay Dillion

Lizzie Thomas and fellow POST staffer Lindsay Dillon

The park is located about 45 minutes from Palo Alto.  The main parking lot is off  Pescadero Creek Road, just south of La Honda.  Parking was ample, especially for a Saturday, and the day use fee is $5, payable via an envelope system—make sure to bring exact change.

From the parking lot, we took the Heritage Grove Trail, the start of our loop hike around the entire southern portion of the park (under 5 miles, with an extra mile-long side trip). After about 1.5 miles of somewhat flat terrain along the top of a ridge, we reached the Heritage Grove, which contains spectacular old-growth redwoods.

From that point, the trail becomes a bit more steep as you climb up to the Hikers Hut, which is a Sierra Club-owned facility that can be rented overnight (holds up to 14 people).  As soon as we saw the Hut, I knew we’d be coming back at some point to stay there.  It has a huge deck overlooking rolling grassy ridgetops down to the ocean—and I love the idea of having to work to get there.

With this incredible view, we couldn’t resist stopping to relax and have something to eat.  I’m convinced this is the most ideal picnic spot I’ve ever enjoyed (see photo).  Forcing ourselves to get up and keep moving, we continued downhill on the fire road, which leads to the Towne Trail.  Continuing on the Towne Trail for a couple of miles, we reached the junction with the 1-mile Big Tree Trail loop.  With a name like that, we figured it must be good.  And we were right!  Down in the gulch, there are some massive old-growth stands that I’m glad we didn’t miss.


Lizzie Thomas, Sam McDonald State Park 2013 – (click for full image)

Just like at Portola Redwoods State Park, we barely saw any other hikers all day—maybe 10 people for the entire length of the hike.  Again, I’m amazed by the ease with which you can completely escape the hustle and bustle of Silicon Valley and be alone with nature—just a few miles from the heart of our country’s technological epicenter.

To me, the highlight of Sam McDonald is the varied mix of terrain.  The constantly changing scenery keeps it interesting, and you feel like you’ve accomplished and seen so much after only a couple hours of hiking.   Next time, I’ll extend my hike into Pescadero Creek County Park—so many possibilities!

I hope that everyone has been able to enjoy this beautiful spring weather in our region’s many parks and open space preserves!

Until my next hike,

Lizzie Thomas,
POST Grants Officer

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  Beth Charlton wrote @

Lizzie, so glad you continue your hiking adventures. I know you’ll achieve your goal of hiking all in the Santa Cruz Mountains. I always feel like I’m with you as you describe the hike and I’m sure other readers feel the same. Keep up the hikes and keep writing the blog so those of us not near these parks can enjoy the experiences through you! Beth Charlton

  Lindsay Dillon wrote @

Lizzie! I so much enjoyed reliving our hike at Sam McDonald through your vivid writing. I can’t wait until we can get reservations (always booked!) at the hikers hut and wake up to that view! Keep on hiking! :-)

  lawn maintenance wrote @

I quite like reading an article that can make people think.
Also, thank you for allowing for me to comment!

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