Portola Redwoods SP

Uncrowded home of old-growth redwoods

Nobody just winds up at Portola Redwoods State Park. No, one plans this trip, fuels up beforehand and makes sure the passenger most likely to get carsick is sitting in the front seat, because Portola Redwoods—far from civilization and down a long winding road—is keeping a low profile.

That means fewer crowds at this 2,800-acre park than at the big Santa Cruz Mountains state parks like nearby Big Basin, Castle Rock and Henry Cowell. It’s an open secret that when other campgrounds are filled to bursting, this redwood–shaded basin, originally logged for shingles, usually has spaces. Four big group campgrounds, 53 family sites, six backcountry sites on the Slate Creek Trail and four first-come first-served sites for backpackers and cyclists (just $5!) are the offerings here. Make reservations for tent and RV camping at Portola Redwoods through ReserveAmerica.

Portola Redwoods also has the third-largest grove of old-growth redwoods in the Santa Cruz Mountains—if you don’t mind an 11–mile round-trip hike to the Peters Creek Loop to see it. The route follows Summit Trail out of the headquarters area to Slate Creek Trail and on to Peters Creek Canyon, climbing 1800 feet. (Not having it? The Old Tree, an easy stroll from park headquarters, is 305 feet tall, about 12 feet in diameter and estimated at 1,200 years of age.)

With the big trees several hours’ strenuous hike away, Portola Redwoods’ charms are on a smaller scale. Most of the park’s 18 miles of trail crisscross Peters Creek and Pescadero Creek, home to endangered coho salmon and steelhead trout. The paths dip in and out of cool ravines where second-growth trees tower over tan oak and huckleberry. Seasonal bridges, up for the summer months, make crossing easy. Attractions include tiny Tiptoe Falls and a miniature pyramid commemorating the park’s status as a Shriners retreat from 1924 until 1945.

Portola Redwoods is also part of a chain of parks on the west side of the Santa Cruz Mountains linked by a trail system; with some planning an enterprising backpacker can make it from San Mateo County to the Pacific Coast in a few days.

Portola State Park Rd, La Honda, CA 94020. 650.948.9098. Learn more at the official Portola Redwoods State Park website.

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Big Basin Redwoods State Park
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