The hidden forest
Portola Redwoods State Park
Neil Wiley

If you are looking for a hike through deep redwood forest canyons, but have "done" Big Basin and Henry Cowell parks, consider Portola Redwoods State Park. Although not as big as Big Basin, 18 miles of trails spread over 3,000 acres offer plenty of solitude. Not as user-friendly and accessible as Henry Cowell, Portola is quieter and richer in wilderness experience. And while the drive seems long, itís only about thirty miles from Highway 17 and Summit.

Getting there is part of the adventure. Travel Summit, Black or Saratoga Gap to Skyline (Highway 35), then turn right for one of the best driving roads anywhere. Turn left on Alpine Road, traveling west for about three miles on a little road through beautiful scenery and past several open space preserves. Turn left on Portola State Park Road, a dead-end road that takes you down into a rugged, natural basin forested with coast redwoods, giant firs, and majestic oaks. Yes, itís slow and sometimes steep, but worth it.

When I drove into the park on an early summer weekday, it was a bit spooky, dark, and cool. The fog was still lifting, and the trees were dripping water. I passed an empty entry kiosk, drove another mile to an empty and closed visitor center, then crossed a bridge to an empty parking area. No rangers, no maintenance men, no visitors. It looked like I had the park to myself.

My first hike was a short one, only three-quarters of a mile around the visitor center on the Sequoia Nature Trail. Not as impressive as the short nature trails at Big Basin or Henry Cowell, Sequoia Trail provides a self-guided tour of trees, shrubs, and Pescadero Creek. Next, I walked the Iverson Trail loop, which follows along the same creek. Some of the bridges were still closed because of the winterís high water, but fording the creek was relatively easy in waterproofed boots.

I walked along a road serving 39 campsites; the park has more than fifty. After a gourmet lunch, a peanut butter sandwich and an apple, at the Tan Oak picnic area, I hiked Slate Creek Trail to Upper Escape Road.

I was looking for a trail that would take me to the Old Tree Trail when two women and a man came around the bend. They shared their nice big map with me, and we walked together along Slate Creek Trail and Old Tree Trail to see a beautiful, old, 12-foot diameter, 297-foot high redwood. Local mountain artist Gay Kraeger has been commissioned to create new interpretative drawings for this route.

Although I enjoyed my new friendsí company, I found that I wasnít paying as much attention to the sights along the trail. I took fewer pictures. And I knew that I was missing the heightened level of awareness that comes from walking alone.

Although I enjoyed my Portola trip, I wasnít totally satisfied. Iíd like to follow the Coyote Ridge and Upper Coyote Ridge Trails to the Tarwater Loop and Pomponio Trails in Pescadero Creek County Park. The loop looks like an easily doable 7.2 miles. A more ambitious hike is to Peters Creek Grove, a rare old-growth redwood grove in a remote canyon. A 13-mile roundtrip with an elevation range of nearly 800 feet should protect solitude. An alternative route to Peters Creek Grove through Long Ridge Open Space Preserve looks interesting, too.

When it was time to go home, I was still looking for a new experience, so I didnít go back to Skyline, but turned left on Alpine, right on Pescadero, and left on Highway 84 for a fast drive to Highway 1 and the coast. As I drove down to Santa Cruz, the fog came rolling in, cooling the old Corvette and me. It was a good day to take the long way around.

A few details.

Bring $5 for the entrance fee; $4 if you are a senior. Also, be sure to fill up with gas and food before the trip. There is no gasoline or store at or near the park.

Maps are not always available. Be sure to get a map before you go. Send $1 and a self-addressed envelope to Portola Redwoods State Park, 9000 Portola State Park Road, #F, La Honda, California 94020.


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