Armed with recent trail info from Will Gotthardt (thanks!), I checked out the Peters Creek Loop at Portola Redwoods State Park. An excerpt from the State Park’s description of the hike sums it up best:
“This long and strenuous hike takes you to some of the most spectacular old growth redwoods in the Santa Cruz mountains… you will have the place to yourself. The descent [from the ridge] is like going back in time to a land of old growth giants and beautiful creekside habitat… allow[ing] you to imagine what these mountains were like 200 years ago.”
Ever since I first visited this park on the Butano Ridge-Pomponio Loop last summer I have wanted to return to run this particular route. The grove of old growth redwoods at Peters Creek is the third largest stand on the Peninsula. However, unlike the easily accessible groves in nearby Big Basin Park and Henry Cowell Park, it is a 5 mile trek up and over a ridge just to reach the grove. The remoteness of this grove gives it a special and wild feeling. On this day there was a strong inversion with temperatures in the 50’s at the start, 80’s on the ridge, and 50’s again in Peters Creek. It was refreshing to descend into the lush and cool redwood groves. Climbing out the steep hill back to the hot ridge was a different story! I also switched out the watch for a camera and snapped some nice shots of these majestic giants.
The route is really an 11.5 mile dumbell with a long section of repeated trail in the middle along the Slate Creek Trail and the Bear Creek Trail. The ends of the dumbell are the Peters Creek Loop itself and the Summit Trail/Slate Creek alternatives for the start or finish. Virtually the entire way is under the cover of redwood forest with soft surface. There is one section along the Bear Creek Trail that is a bit overgrown and you need to be mindful of poison oak (or just slather on the Tecnu afterwards). Just prior to the Peters Creek Loop there is an unmarked junction (at Bear Creek) and you should stay left here. The climb out of Peters Creek on the way back is challenging and steep so be prepared, especially if it is a warm day.
A good map of Portola State Park can be found here.