Four Peninsula parks where trails are less crowded – plus how to support POST

by Nik Rau on August 11, 2020

Looking for the least crowded parks and preserves in our area?

You’re not alone. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to upend daily life, visiting our local open spaces has become more popular than ever. Which is understandable when you consider all the mental and physical health benefits of being in nature — we need these places to ground ourselves.

To help you find the least crowded parks in our region, Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST) reached out to some of our partner organizations like San Mateo County Parks and Midpeninsula Regional Open Space Trust (Midpen) to get a sense of which preserves have been least impacted by the recent uptick in visitors. Here’s where they recommend going.

Pescadero Creek Park
The trails are plentiful here, which means you can put more distance between yourself and other hikers. It’s also a great place to go in the heat of the summer as Pescadero Creek flows through the park year-round and the diversity of trees along its banks offers many shaded areas to rest or picnic under. It’s the perfect spot to escape the summer heat.

The two trails that park rangers have noted as being less crowed are the Butano Ridge Fire Road and the Basin Trail. Both follow the Butano Ridge which lies on the outer edge of the park. They are a bit of a hike to get to, but worth the effort if solitude is what you’re after. The Butano Ridge Fire Road, the rangers noted, is the wider of the two and offers sweeping views of the surrounding hillsides as well as an ocean viewpoint.

The Pescadero Creek Loop, which starts from the Tarwater Trailhead is another trail option that will take you through redwood forests and oak woodlands. This trail is more centrally located and might be a little more crowded than the other two mentioned, but it is still a great one to consider.

Memorial County Park
Adjacent to Pescadero Creek Park is Memorial County Park, another great spot if you’re looking to put some distance between you and other park visitors. It’s an equally gorgeous destination and another great place to hide under the shade of ancient redwoods amid the hottest days of summer.

On the far west side of Memorial County Park, you’ll find Loma Mar Redwoods, a property that POST helped protect in 2014 and has since been added to this park. It’s not as well known as other parts of the park, and the trails are not managed and lack signage, which tends to limit users. Parking for Loma Mar Redwoods is located about a mile west of the Memorial Park entrance, on the north side of Pescadero Creek Road. Look for the Loma Mar sign and a parking lot for four to eight vehicles. Parking is free of charge.

The Creek Trail and the Wurr Trail are two more trail options that park rangers have noted as being less crowded. They will take you through a creekside habitat along Pescadero Creek — enjoy lots of shade among the alders, willows and stunning old-growth redwoods.

El Corte de Madera Open Space Preserve
This preserve is a great alternative to Purisima Creek Redwoods, which is located nearby and has been crowded in recent months. It offers over 34 miles of multi-use trails, many of them over six feet wide, making it easier to maintain your distance from other hikers.

The El Corte de Madera Creek Loop is a good option if you’re looking for a longer hike — it features a massive sandstone formation and a view overlooking the Santa Cruz Mountains. For a less strenuous option, the preserve rangers also suggested trying the Lawrence Creek Trail toward the bottom of the preserve, which is also over six feet wide.

Skyline Ridge Preserve
This preserve is a nice option because it has a large equestrian parking area that can take some overflow, so finding a parking space should not be a problem. And at over 2,000 acres, there is plenty of space to find some solitude. It’s also a great option for kids, with easy to moderate hikes and trails designed for wheelchair and stroller access around both Alpine Pond and Horseshoe Lake.

The preserve rangers also shared that there are a few options for trails that are six feet wide, like the Sunny Jim Trail and the Old Page Mill Trail. Full of biodiversity, you can experience a mixed evergreen forest, grasslands, chaparral and even wetland environments.

Know about popular times before you do
If you do a quick search, Google has listed the most “popular times” for some parks and preserves (but not all). You’ll see this information in the search results. Some parks even include live updates on how busy a park is at any given time. It’s worth a look before you leave home.

Know when to expect crowds
Weekends will always be more crowded than the rest of the week. Add to that a holiday and you can pretty much guarantee there will be more people on the trail than usual. So, if you’re visiting parks and preserves on the weekends, try to go at the leasts busiest times of day, which are usually early mornings and late evenings. Popular times usually bell curve, with the busiest window being 11:00 am to 5:00 pm.

Know which parks are the most popular
Before planning your trip, it helps to have an idea of which parks and preserves are usually busy. Some open space preserves that have been especially busy lately include Purisima Creek Redwoods, Fremont Older Preserve, Rancho San Antonio Preserve and Windy Hill Open Space Preserve.

Going the distance may reduce the foot traffic
This might seem obvious, but parks and preserves that are closest to urban areas tend to get hit the hardest. That means if you’re willing to drive a bit farther than usual you will likely get rewarded with a less busy trail.

And remember:
-Bring a face covering and use it when you cannot maintain your distance!
-Stay at least six feet away from anyone not in your household.
-No gatherings are allowed.
-Check with managing agencies (visit official preserve websites and/or call) for the most up to date trail conditions.

Author Nick Rau is a marketing assistant for POST, which is currently seeking 300 donations by August 13 which will unlock $32,500 in additional funding. Donate now.

Pictured top is Pescadero Creek Park followed by Memorial Park and Skyline Ridge Preserve

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