[Editor's note: San Carlos hiking enthusiast Tom Davids suggests weekly walks. This week's adventure is to Pescadero Creek County Park.]
By Tom Davids
The Upper Coyote Ridge Trail & Pomponio and Tarwater Trail, Pescadero Creek County Park
Directions: Go south on Skyline Boulevard to Alpine Road, then west on Alpine for three miles. Pass by the entrance to Portola State Park and continue another 0.4 mile to Camp Pomponio Road (also marked for county jail). Turn left and continue one mile on a narrow paved road to an unpaved parking lot and the trailhead.
Trail Map: www.cosanmateo.ca.us and search for Pescadero Creek County Park.
Grade: Moderate to strenuous. Loss and gain of about 650 feet.
Distance: Five miles.
Time: Three hours with lunch break.
Special Conditions: No dogs or bikes allowed. Horses not allowed on Tarwater Trail during wet season. No restroom or water. The park is managed by San Mateo County.
The trail starts at the Tarwater trailhead. Just past the signboard, turn left on the Upper Coyote Ridge Trail, which eventually joins with the Coyote Ridge Trail. The trail climbs onto the ridge under spreading oaks and then levels out with good views of the Portola watershed and the Skyline ridge to the east. Here you will likely walk through grassland that has been “rototilled” by wild pigs.
The climb into the ridge passes through large fir and redwoods with ferns and redwood sorrel brightening the landscape. Redwood sorrel is common in the mixed redwood and evergreen forest. The clover-like leaves are sensitive to the sun and fold up like umbrellas if it gets too hot. The solitary flowers grow on small stalks and trunks, turning from white to dark pink as they age.
As the trail passes over the ridge and moves to the west side, the view is down to Wally’s Creek and Tarwater Creek. The trail continues along the ridgeline, and you will see mountain iris now starting to bloom. Despite the fact that all parts of the iris are poisonous, northern Indians used young leaves as a wrap for their babies.
The trail switchbacks left and right through the heavy ridge forest and drops down to a saddle. It then leads up through redwood trees to a sign pointing to the Tarwater Loop Trail (ahead) on the Tarwater parking lot (return). In a short while the trail intersects with Coyote Ridge Trail. A left turn brings you to Portola Redwoods State Park.
Hike straight ahead, continuing the moderate descent. Along the way you will notice several large “blow-downs”—trees that gave up against strong winds from the Pacific that rake the ridge line during winter storms. As the trail approaches Pescadero Creek, it passes over an asphalt road (leading to a park employee’s residence). It then connects to Iverson Trail, which leads to the Pomponio Trail.. From there you can hike to Pescadero Creek County Park in 0.5 mile, to Sam MacDonald County Park in four miles, and to Memorial County Park in seven miles.
Hike the Pomponio Trail west along the hillside above Pescadero Creek. You can hear the creek and occasionally see it. The best way to reach it is from the junction just mentioned or from the Bridge Trail about one mile ahead.
The walk along Pomponio Trail is a pleasant, mostly level jaunt through the thick forest and into a clearing that was probably the site of a sawmill operation many years ago. Then go along a service road to the junction with Bridge Trail. Turn left there for a short walk to Pescadero Creek. You can also follow the sign to Tarwater Trail Camp that includes about six sites tucked away in the deep forest (no water, but an outhouse is at your disposal).
From this junction, turn right on Bridge Trail and right again on the Tarwater Trail Loop to climb back to the trailhead. As you hike up the Tarwater Trail loop, watch for the Old Shingle Mill on your left. Some large support timbers are still standing, and a large part of an old steam engine rests on the ground. This is a beautiful area of second-growth redwoods—an ideal place to picnic and explore.
As the trail gains elevation, it turns into an unpaved road that was used years ago to transport the newly cut shingles to market. As you walk, watch for a very large redwood perched on a steep hillside on the left side of the trail. The tree is some 15 feet in diameter, with a burned-out core and two elbow-shaped limbs high up the trunk. This classic specimen somehow survived the heavy logging activity of the early 1900s.
When you reach the ridge, the forest changes to mostly oak and madrone with scattered fir trees. Clumps of forget-me-nots in full bloom (March) brighten the trail. Good views open up to the south and west, and before long the trail passes through a broken-down, barbed wire fence. Deep in the ravine below is Wally’s Creek, and you will also see portions of Camp Pomponio Road. In a short distance, the trail loops down through a gate to the parking lot.
By the Way…
The wild pig is often obvious as you hike through the grass lands near the ridge top. When the feral pigs are active, the grassland takes on the effect of having been rototilled as the pigs look for tasty roots and bulbs. The wild pig problem is of major concern d managers to land managers through out the bay Area. The pigs are rapid breeders producing two litters of up to 10 piglets a year and public land agencies budget substantial sums to control the population by hunting and trapping.The pigs are timid and have poor eyesight but they have good hearing and a great sense of smell. They will likely detect you and move along before you see them.