Spring Greets the Northern Redwoods

March 2019 Hiking Photo & Video


The tale

After months of cold, wet weather, spring finally arrived. Winter departed in 24 hours, more or less, and I drove north to enjoy my first comfortable shorts-weather hike of 2019.

Purisima Creek Redwoods Open Space Preserve is the northernmost Midpenninsula OSP, within sight of the Pacific Ocean and downtown San Francisco. I’d heard its remaining redwoods rivaled Big Basin’s in size, if not quantity. But like the man said, we must go see for ourselves.

I planned to take Harkins Ridge Trail west to the junction at Purisima Creek Trail, then follow the creek south and east to the preserve’s other Skyline Blvd. entrance. From there I’d either backtrack or walk along the road back to the start. The route would climb 1300 feet, then descend about 1500 feet, and cover ten miles depending on how I closed the loop.

The parking area was generous — and, at 9:30am Saturday, packed. I had to wedge my car onto the narrow shoulder of Skyline Blvd. about five minutes away from the preserve entrance.

On the trails

Purisima Canyon’s logging history is apparent in the western, treeless stretches. I had occasional views of the Pacific, a uniform slice of darker blue straight as a new trekking pole beyond the hills.

Pacific Ocean view from the hills
Looking towards the Pacific Ocean under a clear blue sky with horribly flat lighting.

I’d borrowed a friend’s Jopree 4K wide-angle lens, but the result was … unsatisfactory. I guess it wasn’t made for my camera.

Trees through a blurry camera lens
The wide-angle lens didn’t work out.

Walking further, I saw a banana slug. That didn’t surprise me, since shady parts of the trail were still damp from recent rains.

About three miles later, I reached the junction of Harkins and Purisima Creek trails. The latter turned south and east with a series of sunny switchbacks.

Trail switchback with clear sky
Switchback towards the western end of the Purisima Creek Trail. Here the land was open to the sun.

I saw another banana slug.

Most people start east and walk west; I was doing it backwards, and passed many hikers in twos, fives, and tens, going the other way. In some places, the trail was narrow enough to require one of us to pause while the others passed.

I saw another banana slug. Then fourth.

I encountered the first redwoods as I descended towards the creek. The sun disappeared behind increasingly-dense greenery. The stories were true: Purisima ranks with Nisene Marks and Big Basin.

Coastal Redwoods on a hillside
Redwoods hid the sun along the creek trail.
Bridge and fallen trees over a creek
Wooden bridges, both natural and artificial, over the Purisima Creek.
Purple flower against a dark forest backdrop
Spring colors along the creek.

Hiking down meant hiking up, and after the redwoods the trail widened as it climbed a hillside towards Skyline Blvd.

There I hit the largest group of people I’d seen so far. About 30 adults and kids, some in strollers, some riding piggy-back, were trudging uphill after celebrating a 3-year-old’s birthday with a banana-slug themed party. I passed them quickly.

Unsurprisingly, parts of the trail were muddy. I wondered how strollers would handle the puddles and squishy muck.

At the southern trailhead, I decided to take the shorter route back to my car. Walking two miles along the two-lane road wasn’t hard, though the shoulder narrowed to nothing in some places. I crossed to stay away from the occasional car or motorcycle.

For next time

  • Arrive early on weekends. This park is popular.
  • In some parts, Skyline Boulevard’s shoulders are too thin to walk on. Be careful walking back that way.
  • The Redwoods trail is short and child-friendly. For a quieter, more challenging walk, follow the creek trail.