This weekend, we did a hike at Portola State Park. This park is located down twisty Alpine road, about 15-20 minutes from the intersection of Alpine Road and Skyline. Alpine is an adventure in and of itself - a narrow twisty mountain road. There can be lots of bicyclists out on this road on the weekends, so watch out for bikes, especially on the uphill sections.
There is a well staffed ranger station, and we did an approximately 6 mile loop hike that was recommended to us by the park rangers.
From the parking lot near the ranger station, we crossed the street and started off on Iverson Trail. Iverson trail climbs for a short amount of time before intersecting with Coyote Ridge Trail. Coyote Ridge Trail is a single track trail that starts off with fairly steep climb through some mixed forest and beautiful redwoods. This trail forks around a mile and a quarter into the hike, with Coyote Ridge Trail continuing to the right, and Upper Coyote Ridge Trail continuing straight. We went straight on Upper Coyote. It goes downhill for a while here, but soon heads uphill again in a fairly steep climb. North of this fork, the trail is narrow, and fairly overgrown with lots of poison oak - be sure to wear long pants and socks on this hike. I was wearing shorts and paying too much attention to the overgrown trail, and whacked my head on a tree that had fallen over the trail at forehead height! The trail is mostly shaded, but are a few places where this trail is at the top of the ridge and opens up to offer some fantastic views to the west over the valley.
This trail starts to flatten out and head downhill a little bit, and goes through some interesting terrain - redwoods, some woods and brush, followed by a more open meadow. We stopped amongst some redwoods up here for a snack, sitting in the soft layer of pine needles. Also around this point of the trail, it crosses out of Portola State Park and into Pescadero Creek County Park. Soon after this open meadow, Upper Coyote Ridge Trail ends at Tarwater Loop Trail. We turned left at Tarwater Loop Trail which begins a wide, shady walk downhill. This trail also crosses some through some nice open meadows before becoming narrower as it heads into a nice grove of redwoods through a soft carpet of needles. This was my favorite part of the hike, dark and quiet and peaceful.
This trail eventually leaves the redwood groves and intersects Bridge Trail, which is a wide fire trail, where we turned left. A very short time later we turned left again at Pomponio Trail. This trail starts uphill and then levels out to some light up and down. This trail narrows to single track after a while, and goes through some areas where there are fallen trees and other obstacles across the trail. This trail was also muddy in a spot or two. We could hear and occasionally see Pescadero Creek to our right as we made our way west, closer to the ranger station and crossed back from Pescadero Creek County park back into the Portola park.
From this point, the trail takes some interesting twists and turns and heads back uphill a ways. There are several trail intersections through here, and I am not sure the names of all of the trails we followed, but we tool the clearly marked signs back to the ranger station. These signs eventually led us back to Iverson Trail and past the intersection where we'd previously turned on to Coyote Ridge Trail. A short walk downhill on Iverson trail and we were back at the car.
On the way in, we'd noticed that there was a sign for fresh eggs on the west side of the road. On the way back, we stopped in to a nice farmhouse with some wonderful folks selling the eggs of their flock of chickens. We bought a dozen farm fresh eggs for $2.50 and had a nice conversation with the owners of the property -- this is a great place to stop on the way in if you are camping at Portola or on the way out after a day of hiking!
Upsides: Lots of different trails of various difficulty, very diverse terrain from open meadows to deep redwood groves, very few other hikers on these trails so lots of peace and quiet, fresh eggs, huge park system to explore (Portola + Pescadero Creek + Sam MacDonald parks all adjacent)
Downsides: Some trails overgrown with poison oak
Notes for next time: Try out Pomponio trail to see the waterfalls along Pescadero Creek
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