Hidden Gem of the California State Parks – Butano State Park

Butano State Park | Smiling in Sonoma

As the hubs and I hiked through this beautiful little hidden gem within the California State Park system I thought to myself, ‘I hope one day my grand kids find this little blog of mine and are inspired to get outside and see what we have seen’. Thankfully this park will be saved for our future generations to explore thanks to some forward thinking people back in the 50’s. Unfortunately, the weather this past winter has really taken a toll on the park leaving trees down, trails eroded, bridges demolished and an ever present sense that mother nature has her own plans. Why the weather couldn’t get rid of all poison oak instead of toppling trees I will forever be stumped.

I got the hubs going a little early for this one since we had a 2 hour drive and headed down the coast. Even if the park would have been a bust the drive down along Highway 1 would have been worth it. We passed through Half Moon Bay and reached the tiny town of Pescadero. Farms stretching from the beach to the forest. How we love our northern California coast! Follow the road until you reach the turn off for Butano State Park and follow the path of poppies to the entrance kiosk. Just behind the kiosk is where we picked up the trail for Jackson Flats trail. Don’t forget to pick up a map when you pay…it is definitely needed.

We are still in the rainy season so the trails were super muddy which was fine. We are pros at muddy trails this year! I only fell once! 🙂 As you head up on the switchbacks the forest floor changes quickly from brush and oaks to firs and redwoods and a ton of poison oak. The trail here is wide enough most of the way where you can avoid most of the poison oak reaching out trying to grab your legs. It is so lush and green here it is more difficult to spot it blending in with all the other shade loving plants.

Once you reach Mill Ox Trail you are pretty much in the canyon and enjoying beautiful views of 2nd and 3rd growth redwoods. We descended pretty quickly to be greeted by Little Butano Creek. The hubs and I chose a forest hike this weekend because we felt like we needed a hug from the forest over expansive views atop a mountain. This park gave us a lovely hug…then pushed me down a tree trunk. We’ll get to that in a bit.

The park has these great bridges that when the water is rushing can be pulled to the side and then put back when the creek waters calm down. I believe on some of the smaller ones they might have lost what was on the other side to attach it to during the storms. This left us having fun crossing the creek several times. The first one wasn’t so bad getting to the paved park road. After you enjoy a mud free walk on the paved road hop back into the dirt when you see the sign for Little Butano Creek Trail. The next bridge crossing here was perfectly wonderful and sturdy. The creek was flowing nicely which added to the charm of this beautiful forest.

Here you will be on a nice wide path free of poison oak but not mud free. The trail is pretty flat as you follow along the creek. We went over and under some fallen trees and reached our next creek crossing. Most of the low bridge was gone so we had to hop on a couple of trees that had fallen across the creek. It won’t be too bad to cross here once the water goes down. Most people seemed to be turning around at this point. We ventured on down the trail. The debris from fallen trees got worse, the trail was more narrow but the peacefulness of no one around was wonderful. I can’t wait to see what Mother Nature does with all of this lovely rain and storm damage 10 years from now.

We reached a point where we crossed the creek again balancing on some fallen trees down to the makeshift bridge. Followed the trail up a bit almost reaching the tops of the trees then back down. The next bridge was trying really hard to hold up a fallen giant. We hesitated a bit and tried the bridge crossing one at a time. It was still pretty solid and we made it. Then back over the creek. It was like when we were kids exploring the forest and using whatever we had around us to cross the creeks!

The last bit of the Little Butano Creek Trail had a few trees down that we had to crawl over, under and unsure of where the trail was underneath all the debris followed our own path. The smell of fresh redwood trees was amazing. Sad, but a lovely smell! This is where I the tree pushed me down it’s trunk. As I was climbing over one of the giants my foot slipped and I landed on my booty sliding down the tree trunk a bit. All was fine and we kept going to reach the creek and a really nice bridge with a small waterfall behind it. So happy I wore my long pants on this hike and we didn’t have any plans after! I was just a tiny bit muddy.

This was a perfect spot for a break and a snack before we headed back up the mountain out of the canyon floor. You will be on a fire road with electrical lines above. It was so weird to see. Hang a left onto Goat Hill Trail after you see the maintenance building on your left. The trail is narrow here and and filled with these adorable tiny blue flowers EVERYWHERE! I think our work goats would love this area! The trees change from redwoods to firs and you begin to have more light filtering through to the trail. At the intersection with Doe Ridge Trail we ran into some younger hikers that were hoping we had a map. Thankfully I had one small one I had printed and the one I grabbed at the kiosk. I gave them the bigger one since they had no idea where they were going and we were close to being done with our hike. We also saw hikers with no water or packs for food…always remember at least water!

From Goat Hill Trail we hopped on the narrow Olmo Fire Road to Ano Nuevo Trail. Be prepared to climb on a super narrow lush trail and watch out for poison oak! This trail was beautiful and once we reached the top we were greeted with peek a boo views of the coast. The breezed felt good and knowing everything else is downhill from here is a definitely plus! The trail description on Gurmeet said the downhill is steep and you lose 800 ft in elevation in .8 miles. This was not an exaggeration! Weaving through the lush landscape trying to keep your feet from slipping and enjoying the views was very tricky! We hadn’t seen any other hikers in a while so when the bushes below me started rustling I screamed out a little not sure what was happening. A tall skinny hiker started laughing and asked if I thought he was a bear…ha ha hiker man. You scared me awake! Good thing we were on one of the few switchbacks or I might have slipped and slid down the rest of the hill. 🙂 I can’t caution enough to be on the lookout for poison oak on this part of the trail. We found some blooming at eye level. Yikes! Once you hit the tiny stairs and cross yet another creek you are suddenly back at the entrance kiosk.

This hike was just what the hubs and I needed this weekend. A lot of adventure, hugs from the forest, some exercise and a beautiful drive along the coast.

Hiking details:

California State Park fee of $10, only about 6 parking spaces near the kiosk but it isn’t a busy park, restrooms were 1/4 mile in from the entrance, dogs on fire roads only, supposedly 5.5 miles but my tracker was more like 7.5, approx 1,000 ft elevation gain/loss, I would go anytime of year but watch the weather and the state park website for trail closures.

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