Portola Redwoods State Park: 5-Mile Easy Hike

5-mile loop through mixed woods, crossing Pescadero Creek several times. This hike is one of the easiest in the park. Total elevation change is about 500 feet.

Meeting Place: We will meet at the Ranger Station.

Getting there:

From Interstate 280 in San Mateo County, exit #25 Woodside Road/CA 84. Drive west about 6 miles to the junction with CA 35 (Skyline Boulevard). Turn left and drive south about 7 miles to the junction with Alpine Road. Turn right and drive west about 3 tortuous and winding miles on this narrow road (be especially careful for bicycle and motorcycle traffic on weekends). Turn left onto Portola State Park Road, and drive on the tiny and unpredictable road the remaining 3 miles to the entrance kiosk. Continue another 0.4 mile to the parking areas near the ranger station. If possible park in the Madrone lot (to the left just before the ranger station), or in the spots past the ranger station and across the bridge, on the right side of the road. 

NOTE: do not be confused or tempted by the Alpine Road exit on 280. That section of Alpine Road deadends east of Skyline Boulevard.

Trailhead details:

$10 parking fee (self-register at ranger station if facilities are unstaffed). Restrooms behind and to the left of the ranger station. Maps available (for $2) at the entry kiosk (when staffed), or at the ranger station. There is plenty of parking. Pay phone at ranger station. There are a few designated handicapped parking spots throughout the park, but Portola's trails are not well-suited to wheelchairs. There is no direct public transportation to this park.

Hiking time: 2 1/2 hours. 

Exposure: Mostly shaded. 

Trail traffic: Moderate.  

Trail surfaces: Dirt trails and fire roads.

Nice any time -- check the park during winter for storm closures.

Street address (for in-transit navigation)
9000 Portola State Park Road, La Honda, CA 94020 

GPS Coordinates* for Trailhead:
Latitude 37°14'47.54"N
Longitude 122°12'47.99"W
(* based on Google Earth data, shown as degrees, minutes, seconds)

Gas, food, and lodging
Gas, stores, and restaurants either back at the junction of 84 and 35, or west in Pescadero. Portola has walk-in, tent, and RV campsites.

The Official Story:
CSP's Portola page.
Park office[masked]


* 60 Hikes within 60 Miles: San Francisco, by Jane Huber, has a simple map and a featured hike. (Order this book from Amazon.com.)

*Dave Baselt's Pescadero Creek County Park/Portola Redwoods State Park map is an excellent guide to the trails of both parks (order from Redwood Hikes). 

• Afoot and Afield: San Francisco Bay Area, by David Weintraub (order this book from Amazon.com) has a great map and descriptions of a Portola hike. 

• The paper map, available at the park, is current and very good. It also shows the trails in Pescadero Creek County Park's eastern quadrant. 

• Sempervirens Fund's Trail Map of the Santa Cruz Mountains (Map 1) is excellent. 

• Tom Taber's The Santa Cruz Mountains Trail Book has a simple map and trail descriptions (order this book from Amazon.com).  

• Peninsula Trails, by Jean Rusmore, has a simple map, trail descriptions, and suggested hikes (order this book from Amazon.com).

 Portola in a nutshell -- a printable, text-only guide to the featured hike.

 View photos from the featured hike (June 2002, including Tiptoe Falls). 

• View photos from the featured hike (August 2000, excluding Tiptoe Falls)"

Text above and below quoted from Jane Huber's Bay Area Hiker Web site.

"For the featured hike, start at the ranger station. Walk to the left of the building, following the signs to Sequoia Nature Trail. At the edge of the employee parking area, the dirt trail begins. If you have the official map, refer to the informative section associated with the hiking-only nature trail. Numbered posts help to identify redwood, tanoak, and huckleberry, plants which thrive in the park. After about 100 yards, Sequoia Nature Trail bends rights, while a dead-end path continues straight. Stay to the right, following the signs for Sequoia Nature Trail.
    The path descends to the shore of Pescadero Creek via a few steps. Striking sandstone banks on the opposite side of the creek were formed by millions of years of ocean deposits. When the sun filters down to the creek, the water turns a milky blue. Walk to the right and cross the creek on a pretty footbridge. (Note: the park staff removes the bridges each October and replaces them in spring when the creek's level drops. If you're visiting in the winter, ask at the ranger station if the Sequoia Nature Trail is navigable. If it's not, you can start on Iverson Trail which begins opposite the Madrone parking area.) On the other side of the creek the trail passes some azalea shrubs, then veers left and climbs some steps. Two signs point you to the left (you can also continue straight and loop back around to the next junction). At about 0.2 mile, at a signed junction under some tanoaks and redwoods, bear left, following the signs that point to Iverson Trail. 
     A short segment of switchbacks raises the trail a few feet, but then the grade levels out. Redwoods block much of the sun, but they do nothing to discourage mosquitoes from their copious feeding frenzies in the summer. This is one of the few parks in the bay area for which I recommend using bug repellent. At about 0.3 mile, at another signed junction, you'll reach a T junction. Turn right onto Iverson Trail.
       Hiking-only Iverson Trail climbs then descends, all the while under the shade of tanoak and redwood. For a few steps the path winds at a nearly-flat pace along the forest floor. This is a beautiful, quiet part of the park where you might see redwood sorrel, trillium, milkmaids, iris, and starflower blooming during various times in spring. The path abruptly descends to the banks of Pescadero Creek. Walk to the right and look for the footbridge to cross the creek. Alders cast shadows over the clear water, while hazelnut shrubs grow in the understory. If you are visiting in winter or early spring, you may see steelhead in the creek. On the opposite side of the creek, Iverson Trail climbs away from the water on some stairs, and reenters the redwood forest. A large fallen redwood has been notched to allow passage. The trail ascends easily, then reaches a signedjunction at about 0.7 mile. Turn left on Pomponio Trail.
     This narrow path is open to hikers only (when it enters Pescadero Creek County Park, it becomes a multi-use trail, but as it is effectively a dead-end trail for equestrians and cyclists, you'll probably only encounter hikers). Pescadero Creek is occasionally audible, but Pomponio Trail follows a discrete distance from the water. Deer are common, and you may see or hear many of the birds that call these parks home, such as bluejays, woodpeckers, and hawks. Huckleberry shrubs choke the trail; look for ripe berries in September or October. A sign marks passage out of the state park and into the county park, and then a few steps later, a signboard hosts a useful map to Pescadero Creek County Park, on the right. More signs (facing the other direction) indicate that bicycles and horses are not allowed on the state park's section of Pomponio Trail. The trail then opens up a bit, widening to fire road-width. There's plenty of room to crane your neck up towards the towering redwoods. Honeysuckle vines drip from tanoak, canyon live oak, Douglas fir, California bay, and madrone. Toyon, huckleberry, ferns, ceanothus, creambush, and wild rose make up the understory. You might see western heart's ease, forget-me-nots, and fairy lanterns in late May or early June. Pomponio Trail remains nearly level throughout, with a few brief and easy uphills, and then gently drops to a signed junction at about 1.7 miles. Turn left onto Bridge Trail.
     The broad multi-use fire road sweeps south, descending easily to cross Pescadero Creek on a wide bridge. Bridge Trail turns away from the creek and begins a moderate climb through redwood, bigleaf maple, Douglas fir, and tanoak. At about 2.0 miles, Snag Trail sets out to the right at a signed junction. Keep going straight on Bridge Trail.
     Running slightly downhill along a damp-looking overgrownmeadow on the right, Bridge Trail continues through redwood and Douglas fir, ending at a signed junction at about 2.3 miles.Turn left on Old Haul Road.
     Old Haul Road, open to hikers, equestrians, and cyclists, is a wide dirt fire road. A steep hillside on the right ascends to a ridgeline, at about 2000 feet, but the nearly level trail cuts through Douglas fir, huckleberry, creambush, tanoak, and redwood, on the high south bank of Pescadero Creek. You might see ceanothus in bloom all the way into early June. A few steps after passing over Hooker Creek, which runs downhill and joins Pescadero Creek, you'll reach a signed junction with hiking-only Ridge Trail (this is a possible option to extend this hike, with significant elevation change), which starts here and heads south toward Big Basin. Continue straight on Old Haul Road. 
     The trail passes through a stretch with erosive sandy soil. Some stunted redwoods cling to the side of a roadcut. Other creeks and seasonal streams trickle downhill from the right. The largest, Fall Creek, is responsible for lovely Tiptoe Falls -- you'll likely hear the water spilling downhill on the left. Iverson Creek is crossed just before 2 signed junctions at about 3.6 miles (Portola Trail returns from the ridge on the right).Turn left down the service road, reentering Portola State Park.
      The dirt road (closed to horses), starts a somewhat steep drop to the north. Before the descent gets bothersome, to the left Iverson Trail begins at a signed junction at about 3.7 miles. In August of 2000 this entrance was signed as closed, due to downed trees .5 mile in. When I returned in June 2002, the trail was not blocked off, but there was a major obstacle at that slide spot, and the trail was signed as closed coming the other direction at that area. (Ask at the ranger station for the current status of the trail. If this part of Iverson Trail is closed you can reach Tiptoe Falls from the trail's other end. The route as I found it is far below decent standards, but still manageable. Use your best judgment if it seems dodgy to you.If the trail is closed, return to the trailhead via the service road.) Turn left onto Iverson Trail. 
      The narrow path drops on a short flight of stairs and crosses a creek on a bridge. A familiar assortment of tanoak, redwood, and huckleberry shade the trail as it winds through the woods at a mostly level pace. At the slide area, several large trees sprawled like giant pick-up-sticks, and I couldn't even tell where the trail used to be. A path lead to the left, and straight ahead a downed redwood stretched across the canyon, but as that tree curved slightly left I was unable to see the end of it. After a bit of poking around, I decided that the log was the only way to go. Its surface was flattened a bit, and some branched had been lopped off, so I obviously wasn't the first to walk the plank across the tree. For the most part the dropoff seemed slight, but there was so much vegetation crowding the area that I couldn't really tell (probably a good thing). The log broadened towards the end, and I hopped off where a little sign (facing the other direction) proclaimed this part of the trail closed (!). Specifics may change if the trail is rerouted, but on my visit the trail ascended a switchback and some steps. You'll continue to climb easily through the forest. A massive hedge of huckleberry towers over 6 feet on the left. At about 4.2 miles you'll reach a signed junction. Turn left, toward Tiptoe Falls -- just a short distance at a slight incline from the junction. The canyon walls rise steeply up on both sides, and little Tiptoe Falls drops a few feet down from the hillside like water into a washbasin. Five-finger ferns and a young bigleaf maple complete the tableau. Even when I visited in June there was some water flowing, and (weather permitting) I can't think of a nicer place for lunch. When you're ready, retrace your steps back to the previous junction, then continue straight.
     Iverson Trail crosses Fall Creek one more time, then the trail descends easily. Redwoods are still common, but there's quite a bit of grass, horsetail, and ferns. The trail bisects a sloping meadow, then reaches a signed junction at about 4.4 miles (the spur to the right is an option, but you'll have to cross Pescadero Creek without the benefit of a bridge). Continue, to the left, on Iverson Trail.
     The trail begins to climb, weaving through redwoods. On the right the hillside slopes sharply down to Pescadero Creek, visible at a few places where Iverson Trail lingers near dropoffs, some of them fenced. Watch your footing on this stretch. The trail crests, then begins to descend at a somewhat steep pace. Abruptly, Iverson levels out, as if the descent had never happened. At about 4.6 miles you'll reach a familiar junction, with the path leading back to Sequioa Nature Trail heading right. Turn right and retrace your steps back to the trailhead."

Parking lotSequoia Nature TrailIverson TrailPomponio TrailBridge TrailOld Haul RoadBridge on Iverson TrailSlide area on Iverson TrailTiptoe FallsIverson TrailIverson TrailReturning

Text above quoted from Jane Huber's Bay Area Hiker Web site. 

Join or login to comment.

  • John

    Wonderful hike; thanks, Zeta.

    October 6, 2013

  • Brian

    Beautiful. I like these afternoon hikes!

    October 5, 2013

  • Yuri

    Sorry, I got stuck doing some work. :( Another time...

    October 5, 2013

  • andy

    Unfortunately, I am stuck at work and won't be able to make it. :(

    October 5, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    Would anyone like to car pool from Woodside? I could meet you in front of the Woodside Bakery which is on the right hand side just after the stop sign on Woodside Road. I'm happy to chip in for petrol costs and parking.

    October 4, 2013

    • A former member
      A former member

      That's great. Thank you. What time shall I meet you? Does outside the Bakery work for you?

      October 4, 2013

    • A former member
      A former member

      Yes to both questions. I'll see you at noon at The Bakery. Thank you.

      October 5, 2013

  • Elaine

    FYI I was at Portola Redwoods park last weekend and the footbridges crossing Pescadero Creek were indeed all removed... maybe there's an alternate route to still see the waterfalls but definitely triple-check with the ranger on the correct route (we weren't able to get to them).

    October 4, 2013

  • Amy

    I work 8-1pm & may come after :-) love to hike

    October 3, 2013

  • Amber

    Is there anyone who would be interested in carpooling from the San Lorenzo Valley? I live in Boulder Creek. Feel free to email me at [masked]

    October 3, 2013

  • Robin G.

    So, are dogs allowed on the trail we are going on? I wasn't sure from the description..

    October 3, 2013

  • Kerstin F.

    Anyone coming from the East Bay that my dog and I can hook up with? We can meet up with you in a convenient place. Please let me know! Thanks, Kerstin

    October 3, 2013

  • Breda O.

    Sorry, I won't be able to join you this time.

    October 2, 2013

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