HALF MOON BAY — Skyline Boulevard also known as Highway 35 traverses the backbone of the Coastal Mountains as they run up the San Francisco Peninsula as it separates the Silicon Valley from the San Mateo and Santa Cruz coastlines.
The road itself is popular with bicyclists and motorcyclists alike with spectacular views and — by Bay Area standards — hardly a trace of vehicle traffic.
It is also the primary access — or jumping off point — to a series of open space reserves with hiking trails as well as places like Big Basin Redwoods State Park.
The most speculator definition in terms of redwoods is a short drive beyond Skyline at Big Basin State Park. Established in 1902, not only is it the oldest state park but it also boasts of 80 miles of trails with some of the redwoods 50 feet around near the base soaring as high as the Statue of Liberty with some in excess of 2,000 years old. It also happens to draw fairly big crowds.
That all changed last year after a wildfire swept through much of the park
But this isn’t about Big Basin State Park. It’s about other options along Skyline Boulevard that many pass by — including myself — until the aftermath of a wildfire altered my spring hiking itinerary this year.
And I’m glad, in a way, that it did.
If not I wouldn’t have enjoyed a different yet just as pleasant hike through a redwood reserve that doesn’t have redwoods as ancient as Big Basin but made up for it with two things — impressive views of the Pacific Ocean from the trail and the fairly delightful and pleasant Purisima Creek.
And while I hiked it in early spring before the heat set in, locals say that October and early November are optimum times to hike the reserves as well but be prepared for chilly weather.
Before I start describing the route I took, if you want to spend a pleasant time along a whimsical creek protected by a canopy that includes plenty of redwoods without getting too big of a workout, you can hike Purisima Creek Redwoods Open Space Preserve that’s part of the Mid-Peninsula Regional Open Space from the Half Moon Bay side. You just head south of Half Moon Bay and turn east onto Purisima Creek Road to the parking lot at the end. Then it’s a 2.5 mile hike along Purisima Creek Trail to the heart of the marriage of redwoods and a bubbling creek. The elevation gain to that point is 600 feet.
If you want more of a challenge and more spectacular views while descending into — and then ascending out of — second growth redwoods of more than 100 years in age that are starting to retake the hillsides where massive redwood trees pushing 1,000 years in age were logged over a century ago then take the route I chose.
I started by turning left off Highway 92 that heads to Half Moon Bay left onto Skyline Boulevard (Highway 35 and traveling about four miles to the trail head parking on the right. You can’t miss it as there are spaces for about 40 cars essentially on top of the road plus a large apron that handles overflow parking.
The Mid-Peninsula Regional Open Space website (www.openspace.org/preserves/purisima-creek-redwoods) has a great downloadable PDF map you can print or load to your smartphone.
The route I took covered was a 9.8-mile loop with 2,900 feet net gain. With a number of pauses for photos it took be just under 4½ hours at a nice leisurely pace. This is a hike that you drop first and then climb back up.
I started on the Northridge Trail, continued onto the Whittmore Gulch Trail, then the Purisima Creek Trail.
After a while dilly-dallying along the side of the creek in various spots taking in the lush scenery and being serenaded by the flowing water, I headed back up the Craig Britton Trail (there’s a couple of fairly steep spots), then the Haskins Ridge Trail, before heading east back to the parking lot on the North Ridge Trail.
I was ready to rate this as an OK outing until I reached the creek. It then joined my S-S-S list for sights, sounds and smells. You always get the first two but fragrant smells for any fairly long stretches on hikes aren’t as plentiful as they were at the Purisima Creek Redwoods Preserve.
Even the steeper parts were worth it as it brought me past my favorite flower — California Golden Poppies — along a ridge with the Pacific Ocean in the background.