Purisima Creek Redwoods Hike
Purisima Creek Redwoods Open Space is one of my favorite places to hike in the Bay Area. This 9.5-mile hike showcases the park’s diverse beauty.
The star of the park is most definitely the large grove of second-growth coast redwoods along the Purisima Creek Trail. Redwoods are some of the oldest and tallest trees in the world. Many people come just to hike among the redwoods, but the trails high above the canopy are just as beautiful. A portion of the trail is also part of the Bay Area Ridge Trail which you might remember from my blog post about Bay Area hiking challenges that make planning hikes easy.
During this hike, you’ll walk along the ridgeline taking in views of the dense pine forests of the Santa Cruz mountains, and on a clear day you’ll be able to see all the way to the ocean. You’ll wind your way into the canyon, passing giant Douglas firs and fiery red madrone trees. When you reach the bottom of the canyon you’ll follow the creek as you meander among giant second-growth redwood trees that are over 100 years old. The last four miles of this hike can be challenging as you climb 1600 feet out of the redwoods and back to the sunny ridgeline.
With over 24-miles of trails, there’s a lot to explore in this park. If you visit during the week you feel like you have the entire park to yourself – there’s no traffic noise or telephone wires, just the sound of the birds, the flowing creek, and the wind blowing through the pines. And, if you are an ADD hiker there is always something to look at, be it an amazing view or a slimy banana slug.
Getting to Purisima Creek
You can access Purisima Creek from three different parking areas. This trail guide begins from the North Ridge parking area (the easiest parking lot to get to). The North Ridge parking area is 4.5 miles south on Skyline Blvd from Highway 92. This lot has spaces for about 20 cars, but parking for this popular hike fills up early. If the parking lot is full you can park on Skyline Blvd, just be careful entering and exiting your car because the cars travel fast along this winding road.
The other parking area (Redwood Trail parking area) is just 2 more miles south on Skyline Blvd. There is room for 11 cars in this parking lot. If you join the hike from this trailhead add an additional 1.8 miles to your hike.
The third parking area is the Higgins Purisima lot. This is a small lot with space for about five at the end of a long, winding road. The lot is on Higgins Road, off of Highway 1, just south of Half Moon Bay. Parking here can be a challenge and I don’t recommend it.
Know Before You Go
Dogs are not allowed on the trails.
The park is open 30-minutes before sunset to a 30-minutes after sunset.
You can download a map with all of the trails in the park from the MidPeninsula Open Space website.
There is a pit toilet at the trailhead, but no water. Arrive to the park with your water bottles already filled!
You can download the GPS tracks for my hike from CalTopo.
Detailed Trail Report for Purisima Creek Redwoods
Pick-up the trail behind the restroom, next to the parking lot. Walk down the wide fire road for 0.3 mile until you reach a junction with the Harkins Ridge Trail. Make a left to take Harkins Ridge Trail, a narrow trail that is shared with bicycles. After a few hundred feet you’ll reach your first redwood grove.
The trail alternates between sunny sections and shady groves. You’ll get views of the rolling Santa Cruz Mountain range and on a clear day you can see past Half Moon Bay and all the way to the ocean. After 0.6 miles the trail hooks to the right, follow signs for Harkins Ridge Trail to Craig Britton Trail. Over the next 0.3 miles the trail is relatively flat with a short steep downhill section in the middle of the trail.
When you reach the next junction make a left and pass through the fence to follow the Craig Britton Trail to the Purisima Creek Trail. You’ll be on the Craig Britton Trail for a total of 2.6 miles. The first part of this trail is sunny and exposed, but after about a mile you’ll start to drop into the canyon and walk through shady redwood groves and oaks draped in moss.
As the trail continues to drop into the canyon the trail narrows and begins to switchback. If you do this hike in the spring you might be lucky enough to catch the wildflowers in bloom. When I hiked this trail in mid-April there lots of butterflies and even more caterpillars were lining the trail- there were so many caterpillars that in some places I had to watch my step! The wildflowers aren’t limited to the sunny parts of the trail, forget-me-nots, trilliums, and lilies are just a few flowers that flourish in the shade of the redwoods.
At the bottom of the canyon you’ll use a series of bridges to cross a small creek before the trail starts climbing up the side of the canyon. For a brief moment you’ll walk above the canopy, but you’ll soon drop back into the canyon and use another bridge to cross the creek again. Continue to walk through the shady redwoods on a narrow trail. You’ll pass a stone bench shortly before reaching a junction with the Redwood Trail Parking Area. Stay straight here to continue on the Purisima Creek Trail.
This section of the trail is a wide, dirt fire road shared with bikes and horses. After a brief downhill section, the trail meanders along Purisima Creek and crosses several smaller streams. You’re walking through a lush forest sprinkled with redwood trees. The combination of ferns, bottlebrush, and brambles makes the path glow bright green- this is serious forest bathing territory, take it all in!
The trail crosses the creek several times and you might even see some small cascading waterfalls. After 1.3 miles pass a junction for the Grabtown Gulch Trail and Tunitas Creek Road. Stay straight, following signs for Borden Hatch Mill Trail and the Higgins Purisima Parking Area. After another .10 miles pass the Borden Hatch Mill Trail and continue straight.
When you reach a large trail junction, just before the restrooms, follow signs for the Whittemore Gulch trail and make a right and cross over the large bridge. At the end of the bridge make a left to pick-up the Whittemore Gulch Trail. For the remaining 3.8 miles of this hike you’ll be climbing 1600 feet out of the canyon as you make your way back to the parking lot. This is a great time to load up on snacks and water to help power you up the hills.
If you’re feeling tired and want a slightly shorter (.5 miles less) route you can go right at the junction after the large bridge and take the Harkins Ridge Trail back to the parking lot. It may be a bit longer, but I think the Whittemore Gulch Trail is worth the extra effort.
For the initial quarter-mile the Whittemore Gulch trail climbs steeply uphill and you’ll pass a tall rock wall on your right. But, the trail soon levels out, giving you a slight reprieve before it starts climbing again. The trail continues like this for a while- steep sections give way to flat-ish rolling hills- take in the lush redwood forest, the babbling creek, and be thankful that your body can do the hard work.
The trail starts to switchback as it continues to climb out of the canyon. This trail is shared with bicycles and horses so you’ll want to keep an eye out when rounding the blind curves.
As you continue to climb Douglas Fir trees start to mix with the smaller redwoods, wisps of moss cling to branches, and the canopy starts to thin. When you reach the junction with the North Ridge Trail go right to stay on the Whittemore Gulch Trail. (You can also choose to go left to take the North Ridge Trail. It is .3 miles shorter, but steeper.) You are now approaching the ridgeline and you’ll get sweeping views of the Santa Cruz Mountain range. You’re also back in poison oak territory so watch what you brush against. You’ll have patches of shade off and on, and in .6 miles you’ll pass through a gate and meet up with the North Ridge Trail again.
Take a right and follow signs for the Harkins Ridge Trail and the North Ridge Parking Area. Head uphill on a wide dirt fire road. After an initial climb the trail flattens out.
After a half-mile you’ll reach a three-way junction. Head left and cross through a fence to follow the sign for the Bay Area Ridge Trail hiker’s only path to the North Ridge parking area. (Note: if you want to cut out .2 miles you can stay straight on the fire road.)
The narrow Bay Area Ridge Trail hiker’s only route parallels the fire road for a short while until it starts to switchback. While this route is .2 miles longer than the fire road, the switchbacks help ease the long climb. When the trail meets up with the fire road again, continue straight for about 50 feet to reach the parking lot and your car.
Start your hike by taking the wide fire road. The trail begins directly behind the bathrooms at the North Ridge parking area.
Pick-up the trail head at the North Ridge parking lot. Walk down the wide fire road for 0.3 mile and then make a left to take the Harkins Ridge Trail.
After 0.6 miles the trail hooks to the right, follow signs for Harkins Ridge Trail to Craig Britton Trail. Over the next 0.3 miles the trail is relatively flat with a short steep downhill section in the middle of the trail.
When you reach the Craig Britton Trail make a left and pass through the fence. Stay on the Craig Britton Trail for a total of 2.6 miles.
Pass a stone bench shortly before reaching a junction with the Redwood Trail Parking Area. Stay straight here to continue on the Purisima Creek Trail. Stay on the Purisima Creek Trail for 2.4 miles. Pass the Grabtown Gulch Trail (after 1.3 miles) and the Borden Hatch Mill Trail (at 1.4 miles).
When you reach a large trail junction, just before the restrooms, follow signs for the Whittemore Gulch trail. Make a right and cross over the large bridge. At the end of the bridge make a left to pick-up the Whittemore Gulch trail. Stay on the Whittemore Gulch Trail for 3.3 miles as it climbs 1600 feet out of the canyon.
When you reach the junction with the North Ridge Trail go right to stay on the Whittemore Gulch Trail. In .6 miles pass through a gate and meet up with the North Ridge Trail again. Take a right and follow signs for the Harkins Ridge Trail and the North Ridge Parking Area.
After a half-mile reach a three-way junction. Head left and cross through a fence to follow the sign for the Bay Area Ridge Trail hiker’s only path to the North Ridge parking area. After a .5 mile the Bay Area Ridge Trail hiker’s only route meets up with the fire road again, continue straight for about 50 feet to reach the parking lot and your car.
Parking: lot with parking for 20 cars
Restroom: Pit toilet at parking area
There is no drinking water in the park
Cost: Free parking and no entrance fees
Like all outdoor pursuits, hiking can be dangerous. It is up to you to assess your fitness level and education yourself about any potential dangers. While I try to regularly update these hiking guides, you should always research trail conditions before heading out.
Being prepared means arriving at the trailhead with water and some basic provisions. Each and every time I hit the trail I bring a backpack with more water than I think I need, a small first aid kit, and a snack. I also share my itinerary and plans with friends or family and I carry an InReach so I can summon help if needed. If you want to know what I carry in my pack during day hikes check out my blog post about essential gear for day hikers.
Stay safe, enjoy the trail, and soak up the magic of nature!
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