Purisima Creek Redwoods Preserve. Dawn Page / CoastsideSlacking

Redwoods Without a Reservation at the Coastside Alternative to Muir Woods

A stroll through the overcrowded Muir Woods National Monument now requires a reservation. Good grief. Fortunately, spontaneous redwood lovers have plenty of Bay Area alternatives, including the Coastside’s Purisima Creek Redwoods Preserve.

Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve in Sonoma County and Big Basin Redwoods State Park near Santa Cruz are old-growth favorites.  Purisima Creek Redwoods, a Coastside alternative managed by the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District, features an extensive second-growth forest with trees dating back roughly 100 years to the last harvest. We finally paid a visit.

A stop in the relatively diminutive 554-acre Muir Woods in Marin County is a bit like calling on your Aunt Prissy for tea at her magical woodland cottage. Nice, but mind your elbows and don’t spill on the lace doilies. In contrast, a visit to the 4,711-acre Purisima preserve offers much of the beauty without the fuss. You’ll find no snack bar, boardwalks, interpretive displays or gift shops at Purisima’s Higgins Road Trailhead, just a pit toilet. Expect to return with mud on your boots and a smile on your face. Cyclists and equestrians are welcome.

And what Purisima lacks in slack-jawed majesty of 1,000-year-old trees, the roomy preserve on the western slopes of the Santa Cruz Mountains above Half Moon Bay more than makes up for in scope and variety, with nearly 24 miles of trails crisscrossing myriad micro climates. The sweeping ocean vistas beneath warm sunshine at the top of the mountain contrast nicely with the fern-carpeted canyons and rushing streams shaded by thick stands of redwoods in the canyon

We chose to explore the Purisima Creek Trail. Parking at the Higgins Road trailhead was easy midday on this particular Saturday. The deeply shaded and decidedly uphill jaunt through the woods on an old logging road that paralleled a babbling Purisima Creek offered a little something for everyone that afternoon.

We saw a family of cyclists putting in their work, with the father imploring the kids not to stop suddenly as they pedaled up the grade.

We saw a young man doing a set of push-ups on a tree trunk that bridged the creek as his doubtful girlfriend dutifully filmed his feat for a future social media post and boast.

We also saw a couple bending close to photograph brilliant yellow banana slugs and the ruddy but intricate folds of mold on downed trees. (That would be us. Yup, missing the forest for the fungi.)

We’d like to say we hiked alongside the creek bed all the way to Skyline Drive and back, or took the bypass to Grabtown Gulch or Bald Knob, but like half The Coastside this winter, we were struggling a bit with the rigors of cold and flu season. After more than two weeks of staying mostly close to home, we were finally well enough to be out and about, but the steady elevation gain began to wear on us a couple of miles up the trail so we doubled back.

The good news? We’ll be back. We already have plans to try the seven-mile loop up Harkins Ridge and back via North Ridge and Whittemore Gulch. No reservation required.

Another banana slug at Purisima Creek Redwoods Preserve. Dawn Page / CoastsideSlacking

4 thoughts on “Redwoods Without a Reservation at the Coastside Alternative to Muir Woods

  1. Love! But don’t do Harkins Ridge. SOOO steep, exposed, not very pretty, quite brutal. Go up Purissima Creek to Craig Britton trail for a more gradual and beautiful ascent. Then a little of the brutal HR further up to the best view and down North and Whittemore. The extra two miles is worth it for beauty all the way and a more gradual experience. I’ll go with. 😉

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