Stunning redwoods in the Santa Cruz Mountains
HIGHLIGHTS: Just 5 miles north of Big Basin Redwoods State Park, Portola Redwoods State Park offers visitors solitude and some of the tallest, most majestic redwoods in the Santa Cruz Mountains. The park centers on two creeks, Peters and Pescadero. Save the Redwoods League has helped win protection for 800 of the park’s 2,800 acres.
ACTIVITIES: Hiking, picnicking, camping and backpacking. Biking and horseback riding on Old Haul Road only. The park’s 18 miles of trails connect with those of four other nearby parks—Pescadero, Memorial, Sam McDonald and Heritage Grove—to offer a wide range of recreational opportunities.
Most of the park’s ranger- or docent-led programs (including campfire talks, forest walks, and Junior Ranger programs) start on Memorial Day weekend and end after Labor Day. Check the schedule for days and times. Aimed at kids age 7 through 12, these programs offer games, crafts, hiking, and exploring with other children.
VISITOR CENTER: To get there from Highway 35, turn west onto Alpine Road, go 3 miles, and turn onto Portola State Park Road, which dead ends in the park. To get your bearings, check out the relief map of the Santa Cruz Mountains.
CAMPGROUNDS: Portola has RV, family, group and backcountry sites. To reserve a family site, call (800) 444-7275 or visit California State Parks (external link). To reserve a group site, call (800) 444-7275. For a backcountry site, call Big Basin Redwoods State Park at (831) 338-8861.
TRAILS: 18 miles of trails. This area was logged in the 19th century, mostly for shingles. But not every tree was taken, so you can still find some remarkable coast redwoods. If you are pressed for time, try the Sequoia Nature Trail right behind the visitor center. If you have a full day, take a 13-mile hike to the ancient Peters Creek Grove, which contains trees that are more than 1,000 years old and over 300 feet tall. From the visitor center, turn right on the main park road. Shortly after you cross a bridge near the center, turn right on the service road (before you get to the campground). Take the Old Tree Trail to the Slate Creek Trail to the Peters Creek Loop.
MUST-SEE, UNIQUE FEATURE OR SEASONAL HIGHLIGHT: Peters Creek Grove (described above). Save the Redwoods League’s 2006 purchase of 80 acres of undeveloped forest adjacent to Portola will help protect this spectacular grove.
HIDDEN GEM: Reaching the Peters Creek Grove takes hard work. If you want or need to avoid that, check out the 1,200-year-old, 300-foot-tall redwood about a quarter mile off the service road described above. Go down the service road and stop at the Old Tree Trailhead. It will lead you to this stately giant after only about a quarter-mile hike.
FEATURES ACCESSIBLE TO PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES: Visitor center, restrooms, one campsite, one picnic site.
DOGS: On leash. On paved roads and designated fire roads only. In tent or RV at night.
ENTRANCE FEE: $10 for day-use vehicle entry; no charge to walk or bike into the park.
FOR MORE INFORMATION: Visit Portola Redwoods State Park (external link) or call (650) 948-9098.
EAT: Sit outside and enjoy the sunset and a burger at Alice’s Restaurant (external link).
If you’re driving down the 35 from the north, Regan Ranoa, Outreach Manager, suggests stopping for an elegant bite to eat at The Mountain House (external link).
FAVORITE HIKE: The 13-mile Peter’s Creek loop (external link) is a great hiking trail as is the Sequoia Nature Trail, which leads to the Pescadero Creek and introduces visitors to the natural history of the area.
FAVORITE PARK ATTRACTION: Pescadero Creek and Peter’s Creek run throughout the park and all the nearby parks, including Castle Rock State Park.
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Acres Protected by the League: 839
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