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Purisima Creek

Purisima Creek Redwoods Open Space Preserve

Purisima Creek Links:

June 13th, 1999

10.1 miles
1750 vertical feet
Total Time: 5:44

Rating: 8/10

Directions:   View Driving Map


Jean, Jennie, Lan and I hiked in Purisima Creek Redwoods Open Space Preserve.

We started our hike in the northern parking lot. There's space here for about 30-40 cars, and it was nearly full when we started out at 11am.

The problem with hiking in Open Space Preserves is that bikes are allowed on most trails. As such, they're very popular with mountain bikers. We tried to follow the hikers-only paths where possible.

We started on the hikers-only option for the North Ridge Trail. It switchbacks its way amongst a dense forest. It didn't take long before we got some views of the coast, the typical fog covering the ocean. We continued our descent in the shade before returning to the main North Ridge Trail, a fire trail open to bikes.

A mile from the parking lot we turned left onto the Whittemore Gulch Trail. It starts off as a switchbacked descent with beautiful unobstructed views of Half Moon Bay and the coast. The only problem was the hot sun. Heat emanated from the trail. But soon enough we entered forest cover and it was immediately cooler.

Looking up at the forest canopy

The disparity between the Coast Range and the Diablo Range is clearly evident in late spring, summer, and fall. The Diablo Range has a brief spring fling with greenery, but soon browns under the scorching sun. The Coast Range, on the other hand, stays green and lush all year round. We enjoyed the cover of the redwood trees as we admired the vegetation and the beautiful piece of nature we were walking through. Ferns and clovers lined both sides of the trail. A creek flowed next to the trail. Wildflowers (including the distinctive red columbine) and banana slugs were plentiful. Even a mushroom or two.

The only downside was, of course, the bikers. That and the occasional rude hiker. We were carefully passing through a muddy area when a hiker came rushing by in the opposite direction and went SPLAT, right in the mud, nearly splashing mud all over Jean's legs. Didn't even think to stop to apologize.

When we reached the bottom of the Whittemore Gulch Trail, we stopped to use the restroom there. A ranger was giving a ticket to a couple of bikers; I'm not sure what the reason was, but they didn't look happy. There's another parking lot here, and we could see a steady trickle of hikers starting up the trail from here.

We went a bit up the Purisima Creek Trail before deciding to cross the creek and have ourselves a picnic. We had a beautiful sight -- tall redwoods in front of us, a nice flat spot, the sound of water rushing by below us. After eating and resting we re-crossed the creek and continued up the trail. It's another fire trail open to bikers.

Jean amidst the redwoods

After about a mile we reached the Borden Hatch Mill Trail. There's a sign there saying that a loop hike is not available because the bridge is out. Some bikers came by complaining that it'd been broken for 3 years and complained that someone should just fix it. Having done some volunteer trail work the previous week, my reaction was that they should fix it themselves. I bet they've never done any trail work in their lives, and they shouldn't complain about the trail when they aren't even paying for parking.

Ferns sliding off the hillside, dangling in the air

Looking up at the redwoods

Okay, enough preaching. Less than half a mile later we saw the washed-out bridge. The trail is similar to the Whittemore Gulch Trail. Just as beautiful. But uphill instead of down. 2.3 miles from the bottom we reached the Soda Gulch Trail. This trail is higher up, a bit removed from the creeks, and has a different characteristic. Redwoods dominate the scene here. We shortly came to a beautiful spot for a picnic. There's a wooden footbridge nestled among a valley of ferns and other greenery surrounded by towering redwoods. A few people were here, taking advantage of it.

Bridge among the ferns

We lingered a bit before continuing our ascent. This trail (for 2.6 miles) is bike-free. Unfortunately, in places it's very narrow. We emerged from the forest to be attacked by the hot sun again. The trail narrowed in on us and we were soon pushing grasses away from our legs. At least there aren't many thorns to speak of, and this part of the trail is the exception, rather than the rule. Mostly, we saw a lot of cow parsnip plants dotting the hillside.

After going in and out of forest, we popped out onto the Harkins Ridge Trail. This is another fire trail open to bikes. We turned right to begin our ascent back to the parking lot. This part, along with the Soda Gulch Trail is part of the Bay Area Ridge Trail, which is proposed to one day circle the entire bay (a little over half of the trail is done).

The trail is mostly unshaded, but we soon found ourselves back at the North Ridge Trail. We took the hikers-only path up as cool coastal breezes cooled us in the shade. And then we were back at the parking lot, where quite a few cars were still parked.

This is a beautiful hike which really isn't that far from "civilization". Yet, when you're under the redwood forest canopy, you feel like you're miles and miles away.


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