7 mile loop captures the best of this preserve -- redwoods, creek, chaparral,
and great views.
Distance and difficulty:
This 7 mile loop hike is moderate, due to the elevation changes.
You can create shorter out-and-back hikes that are easier. Trailhead elevation
is around 400 feet, and the highest (trail) elevation in the park is just
over 2000 feet. The featured hike climbs to about 1510 feet, then drops
sharply back to the trailhead on steep Harkins Ridge Trail -- total elevation
change is about 1400 feet. Unless you really like ascending steep grades, take the hike
in the described direction.
Mostly shaded, with some sunny stretches.
Dirt trails and fire roads.
3 1/2 hours.
Nice any time; very pretty in autumn.
From the junction of CA 1 and CA 92 in San Mateo County, drive south 1.2
miles, then turn east onto Higgins Canyon Road (formerly Higgins-Purisima
Road). Drive on this narrow road about 4.2 miles, to the trailhead on the
left side of the road (just past the tiny white bridge).
Get driving or public transit directions from Transit and Trails:
GPS Coordinates* for Trailhead:
(* based on Google Earth
data, shown as degrees, minutes, seconds)
Gas, food, and lodging:
Pay phone, stores, gas, lodging, and restaurants back in Half Moon Bay.
No camping in the preserve. Nearest camping is at Half
Moon Bay State Beach. Other camping options: Butano
State Park and Portola Redwoods State Park.
Parking for about 8 cars (there is some side-of-road parking outside the gate -- mind the no parking signs). No entrance or parking fees. One designated handicapped
parking spot. Pit toilet less than 0.1 mile up the trail. Maps available
at the information signboard, also less than 0.1 mile from the trailhead.
The preserve's main trailhead is on Skyline Boulevard, about 4.5 miles south
of CA 92. A smaller Skyline Boulevard Trailhead, across from Huddart Park,
is about 2 miles further south. There is no direct public transportation
to this trailhead.
Most trails are multi-use. A few trails are open to hikers only. Dogs are
not allowed in the preserve. Preserve is open from dawn to 1/2 hour after
The Official Story:
MROSD field office 650-691-1200
This hike is
described and mapped in 60 Hikes within 60 Miles: San Francisco,
by Jane Huber (yup, that's me, the creator of this website). Order
this book from Amazon.com.
from MROSD (download pdf).
Tales and Trails, by David Weintraub (order
this book from Amazon.com) has an overview of the preserve, descriptions
of hikes, and simple maps.
Afoot and Afield: San Francisco Bay Area, by David Weintraub
this book from Amazon.com) has a great map and descriptions of a Purisima
Trail Map of the Central Peninsula, by the Trail Center (order
this map from Amazon.com) is an excellent guide to the preserve.
Peninsula Trails, by Jean Rusmore, has a simple map and trail
this book from Amazon.com).
Tom Taber's The Santa Cruz Mountains Trail Book has a simple
map and trail descriptions (order
this book from Amazon.com).
Jean Rusmore's The Bay Area Ridge Trail (order
this book from Amazon.com) has a simple map and preserve descriptions.
View 81 photos from
the featured hike.
Go to Bay Area Hiker Home page
Creek Redwoods Open Space Preserve is the first preserve west of Skyline Boulevard as you
travel south from CA 92. It's justifiably popular with cyclists and hikers;
Purisima is a convenient distance from San Francisco (and the Santa Clara
Valley) and is a pristine showcase for the Santa Cruz Mountains' western
slope. Tall (most second-growth) redwoods, year round burbling creeks,
and chaparral-studded slopes with views to the ocean all can be found
With elevation ranging from around 400 to 2100
feet, and over 3000 acres, there are a few challenging long loop and out-and-back
hikes. Whittemore Gulch Trail, North Ridge Trail, a Bay Area Ridge Trail
segment, and Harkins Ridge Trail can be combined for a 6.3 mile trek,
the shortest of the loops. The longest circuit includes Whittemore Gulch
Trail, North Ridge Trail, and the Bay Area Ridge Trail, but then adds
Craig Britton Trail and Purisima Creek
Trail, a total of around 9 miles. The hardest hike is probably the out-and-back
trek to Bald Knob, in the most recently
acquired,southwest portion of the preserve. Starting from the Higgins
Canyon Trailhead, take Purisima Creek Trail, then climb on the
Borden Hatch Mill Trail, and turn onto Bald Knob Trail, which is open
to hikers only. If you turn back at the end of the Bald Knob Trail (you
can go even further on Irish Ridge Trail), the whole trip is over 9.5
miles long, with a gain in elevation of around 1500 feet. (You can also
hike to Bald Knob from a pullout on Tunitas Creek Road. The starting elevation
is around 1600 feet, giving you a significant jump start. Unfortunately,
there is virtually no parking on Tunitas Creek Road, and the local residents
are not very amenable to naughty parking.) The opposite end
of the endurance spectrum is the Redwood
Trail, which is a short all-access path through the redwoods, located
at the southernmost Skyline Boulevard Trailhead.
Purisima is truly a preserve for all seasons.
From late winter into late summer there are a variety of flowering
shrubs and deep woods wildflowers. Purisima Creek Trail and the forested
section of Craig Britton Trail are reliably cool when summer temperatures
soar, and coastal fog often reaches all the way into the western
slopes of the preserve's mountains. Although winter storms soak the fire
roads and trails, creating muddy conditions, cool weather encourages long
hikes that are tougher in the hot months of the year. In autumn big leaf
maples are pretty along Purisima Creek, one of several year-round streams
that murmur with the soothing sounds of cool water.
For the featured hike, start at the Higgins-Purisima Trailhead on Purisima Creek Trail. After about 200 feet, there's
an information signboard, and a few steps further, a pit toilet. Whittemore
Gulch Trail and Harkins Ridge Trail start off to the left at a
signed junction. Keep going straight on Purisima Creek Trail.
This wide, multi-use trail is initially almost
level, as it follows along the banks of the creek. Redwoods provide shade
and habitat for many banana slugs, as well as redwood sorrel, thimbleberry,
huckleberry, hazelnut, stream violet, trillium,
ferns, starflower, and forget-me-not. Alder, elderberry, and big leaf
maple occupy the middle ground, way below the redwoods but above the flowers
and shrubs. Purisima Creek Trail stays cool on a hot day, but can be very
muddy in the winter and early spring. Perhaps the peak time to hike the
trail is mid June to mid July, when the berries ripen on the prolific
thimbleberry plants. With so many bushes, it's acceptable to taste a berry
or two (of course, large scale collecting, while tempting, is against
the rules). The berries, which look a lot like raspberries, are juicy and tart, and may be the most beloved of all the
bay area wild edibles. Also look for tiny wood strawberries, which ripen
just before the thimbleberries, hiding beneath their distinctive club
shaped leaves. At about 1.05 mile, Borden Hatch Mill Trail begins on the
right side of the trail at a signed junction. Continue straight on
Purisima Creek Trail.
The grade picks up a bit, but it's still
an easy walk. Elk clover and stinging nettles are common in the dampest
areas along the trail. After crossing a bridge, you'll reach the junction
with Grabtown Gulch Trail, at about 1.42 miles. Continue straight on
Purisima Creek Trail.
The trail crosses over another bridge, and begins
to climb with more purpose. Wild rose, blue witch nightshade, and iris
brighten the shaded redwood forest in spring, while creambush can be seen
in bloom later in summer. Tanoaks make an appearance. There's one more
bridge to cross, and then Purisima Creek Trail curves left and climbs
steadily to a signed junction at about 2.30 miles. Purisima Creek Trail continues uphill another 1.8 miles, to the smaller Skyline Boulevard
trailhead. Turn left onto Craig Britton Trail (formerly Soda Gulch
Trail), which is signed as a hiking only trail (but does get bicycle traffic,
Narrow Craig Britton Trail winds along
canyon walls through a deep redwood forest. This quiet path is a segment
of the Bay Area Ridge Trail. Water flows downhill, on the way to join
Purisima Creek; the first bridge is a short distance from the junction.
Look for clintonia blooming in late spring; in summer the plant's small
blue berries are conspicuous. Craig Britton Trail rises to a grassy spot,
where views to the south reveal the ridge with the preserve's highest
elevation. The vegetation differs dramatically through this stretch, where
monkeyflower, lizardtail, scorpionweed, poison oak, ceanothus, coffeeberry,
creambush, strawberry, and honeysuckle accompany a few coast live oaks.
As you continue to climb through the forest, look for a handful of huge tanoaks, as well as some maple, blue elderberry, and hazelnut. Soon, Craig
Britton Trail dips back under the redwoods, crossing Soda Gulch Creek.
In August, look for red baneberry and helleborine, a summer orchid. A
landslide forced an irregular and steep trail rerouting just past the
bridge, and then the grade picks up some more. When you reach the next
open and grassy area, look to the west for views all the way to the ocean.
On a hike through here one day in June, the trail was overgrown with grass,
and California sister butterflies seemed to be present in plague proportions.
Cow parsnip, fringecups, rosilla, yarrow, beeplant, and blue-eyed grass
may be seen trailside. As Craig Britton Trail climbs uphill through a
series of switchbacks, the vegetation shifts to chaparral. Coyote brush,
toyon, yerba santa, California coffeeberry, ceanothus, and poison oak
are common. The bright blossoms of Indian paintbrush and monkeyflower
contrast the army green of the shrubs in spring. A patch of madrones sits
off the side of the trail, across from a
swath of thimbleberry bushes. Hazelnut is common through here as well.
Tanoak, coast live oak, and Douglas fir gain prominence as you edge closer
to the end of the trail at about 4.90 miles. From this signed junction,
Harkins Ridge Trail climbs to the right (taking the Bay Area Ridge Trail
with it), on the way to the preserve's main trailhead. (If you'd like
to extend this hike, turn right on Harkins Ridge, turn left onto North
Ridge Trail, and then take Whittemore Gulch Trail back to the trailhead.
This option adds about 2 miles, and climbs to about 1800 feet before dropping
back down to 400 feet.) Turn left onto Harkins Ridge Trail.
This wide, occasionally rocky multi-use
trail signals its intentions right away, as it begins a sharp descent
to the west. Douglas fir, redwood, and tanoak provide some shade, but
there are numerous opportunities for views to the north (which include
parts of North Ridge Trail), and to the west. In the understory
you may see huckleberry, creambush, strawberry, columbine, lupines, ceanothus,
gooseberry, hazelnut, and pinkflowering currant. There are a few chinquapins
and even a handful of manzanita. Stay alert for cyclists descending on
the trail; some sections are very steep. Harkins Ridge Trail throws a
few short ascents at you, but they are always followed with abrupt drops.
After about a mile of rolling downhill, the trail makes a broad sweeping
turn to the left and begins a final descent at a moderate grade. Broom,
lizardtail, coffeeberry, coyote brush, California sagebrush, and poison
hemlock line the trail. Redwoods begin to take over, and the trail enters
deep shade. You might see pinkflowering currant, which puts forth bright
pink blossoms in winter. At about 6.90 miles, Harkins Ridge Trail runs
out of steam and ends at a signed junction with Whittemore Gulch Trail.
Turn left, cross one final bridge, and then turn right to return to
about 7 miles
Last hiked: July 19, 2014