Julia and I visited Sam McDonald recently and found it to be delightful. We can construct a number of hikes ranging from 5 to 10 miles. It is mostly redwoods, it receives coastal breezes and it is not very steep - you may think that's good or bad.
Sam McDonald adjoins Pescadero Creek County Park and connects to Memorial County Park and Portola Redwoods State Park. So we have lots of trail options. Parking is $6.
Distance: we've got a route planned for 9 miles - we've only seen half of this route.
Elevation: based on what we know and what we can see on maps, the elevation change is under 800 feet. There don't appear to be any really severe slopes.
Difficulty: moderate, except for length.
Trails: (click here for full map; see Sam McDonald map for this portion) from main parking lot we will hike south on Ridge Loop Trail to Towne Fire Road to Brook Trail Loop. (see Pescadero Creek map for next portion) Now we walk southwest on Brook Trail loop - this is approx. a 6 mile loop. We return to Towne Fire Road and backtrack to the cars. (We originally planned to include Heritage Grove Trail, but this would add another 2 miles).
Driving Directions: It's difficult to describe, so I recommend that you ask Google Maps for directions to "Sam McDonald County Park, Loma Mar, CA" - this leads you to the main parking lot where we are meeting. Here are three options. The distance and time shown assume that you start at Foothill College for either option. If you miss the final turnoff onto Pescadero Creek Road, you may not realize it for many miles, so be sure you have directions with you.
- Google says 17 miles, 49 minutes. Take El Monte or Page Mill to Skyline, then continue on Alpine Road, crossing over Skyline (you see Russian Ridge parking lot on your right). Continue down Alpine Road towards Portola Redwoods, but stay on Alpine and do not take the turnoff for Portola. After about 1/4 mile be sure you do not make a left turn on Camp Pomponio Road. About 3 miles after the Portola Redwoods turnoff, be prepared for sharp left turn onto Pescadero Creek Road; it is easy to miss. Drive 0.5 mile on Pesc Creek Rd, turn right into the park; again, it is easy to pass.
- Google says 23 miles, 38 minutes. Take 280 to San Hill Road. Take Portola Road to 84 - this is a special shortcut, be sure you know this one in advance. Take 84 to La Honda. Shortly after the town of La Honda, turn left onto Pescadero Road (might be named Alpine Road). Drive 1.1 mile and turn right onto Pescadero Creek Road. Drive 0.5 mile on Pesc Creek Rd, turn right into the park; again, it is easy to pass.
- Becky pointed out that these directions are not so good for San Jose area residents. If that applies, then you probably want to drive thru Saratoga to Hwy 9, up to Skyline, then go north on Skyline until you reach Page Mill/Alpine/Russian Ridge. At that point follow the rest of the route in #1.