Pescadero Creek Loop Trail
(Pomponio Trail and Old Haul Road)
Directions: From Skyline Boulevard (Highway 35), take La Honda Road west to Pescadero Road and turn left. Stay on Pescadero Road, turning right at the junction with Alpine Road (about one mile), and continue on Pescadero Road about 3.5 miles to Wurr Road, just before the entrance to Memorial Park. If you miss Wurr Road, turn around at Memorial Park and take the first road on your right.
Grade: Moderate. Maximum elevation gain from the trailhead is 400 feet. Total elevation gain for the loop is about 1,000 feet.
Distance: 8.5 miles.
Time: Four to five hours.
Special Conditions: No dogs allowed on trail. The first half of the loop may be closed to equestrians during winter months. Bikes permitted on Old Haul Road. You may have to wade across Pescadero Creek. No restroom facilities or water at the trailhead or on the trail. This park is operated by the San Mateo County Department of Parks and Recreation. For information, call 650-363-4020.
Previous issues of the Weekly Walker have covered trails in Pescadero Creek County Park, but this is the first time we have featured a fairly long trail (8.5 miles) over fairly level terrain close to Pescadero Creek.
This is not, however, a streamside walk. Early in the hike, you will have to step over the creek on boulders or logs, or wade through if the water is high—such as during winter, spring, and early summer months. At the turn back, just past Tarwater Trail Camp, the bridge is closed to vehicles, bikes, and equestrians, with a signed detour path crossing the creek below the bridge. This crossing is possible on boulders unless the water is very high. Other than the crossings, the trail is generally several hundred feet above and away from Pescadero Creek, so you will sometimes hear it, but not often see it. Along the way, however, Pomponio Trail crosses several feeder streams on wooden bridges over deep gorges, so you are never far from water any time of the year.
I had a mission on this hike—to scope out the facilities at Shaw Flat Trail Camp and Tarwater Trail Camp. In July I plan to take my grandson Joey on his first backpack trip to one of these camps, along with a couple of friends. Besides, it was a beautiful Saturday, so Veralyn and I did what we enjoy most.
This hike starts at the Hoffman Creek trailhead on Wurr Road, with parking just before the road to the Baptist Camp and Conference Center. Walk across the wide bridge into a broad meadow. On the left is an information kiosk with a park map and background information about the park and its wildlife. A couple picnic tables are under the trees.
Continue along the Old Haul Road for about three-quarters of a mile. Watch for a sign for Piney Creek on your right and the junction for Pomponio Trail to your left. Turn left and wind down to Pescadero Creek. When we crossed in mid-May, the water was knee-deep. The usual logs and planks used for summer crossings had washed away, so off came our shoes and socks, and we waded across.
Pomponio Trail continues as an old logging road for a short distance as it climbs out of the streambed. Soon you will reach Worley Flat, a large, grassy meadow with a smattering of oak trees. Many years ago, when the county bought this acreage, they planned to build a 400-foot-high dam in the Worley Flat area. The resulting reservoir would have been more than seven miles in length and some two miles wide. It was intended to control the floods on Pescadero Creek and provide a reliable water supply for the coast side of Pescadero (with a projected population of 70,000) city and local farmers. As plans were announced, opposition forces united and the idea of a dam at Worley Flat was quickly and permanently cancelled.
Follow the Pomponio Trail through the flat, go up a narrow trail (watching for poison oak), and cross over an old logging road. Pass through a gate that closes this trail to equestrians in the winter, and continue into cool and shady Jones Gulch. The trail into Jones Gulch is to your left, but stay right and on Pomponio Trail. The trail narrows, and in five minutes you are at another junction to Brook Trail Loop. Stay to the right, and hike along the deep gorge a short distance to Granges Bridge over Towne Creek. This is a beautiful area, with five-finger ferns growing on the vertical sides of the gorge. It’s a great place to stop and rest awhile, especially on a hot day.
Continue on the Pomponio Trail. Cross a service road, and hike along the hillside above this road. After about five minutes of hiking, you will pass a mileage sign indicating that the Shaw Flat Trail Camp is .9 mile ahead and that Portola State Park is 4.1 miles up the trail.
Carry on, following trail signs to Shaw Flat Camp. The area includes eight well-separated campsites with a chemical toilet, but no drinking water. If you are camping, carry in water or be prepared to filter/boil it from the creek. I figure that this camp area is about three miles and two hours from the trailhead at Wurr Road. We reviewed all eight sites, and I marked nos. 1 and 8 as preferred.
From Shaw Flat, move on to the Tarwater Trail Camp. Return to Pomponio Trail, and follow it about one-half hour to the asphalt road that leads to the San Mateo County Honor Farm (jail). Along the way, you will find several large patches of mountain iris and forget-me-nots (in bloom during April and May). There is a fertile meadow is marked as a “sewage water pond” that services the county jail, and a mileage sign indicates Tarwater Camp as only 1.4 mile ahead.
At the asphalt road, turn left and walk down to the bridge over Tarwater Creek. Continue a few hundred feet, and watch for the trail sign on your right to Tarwater Loop. Hike this trail for about five minutes, and turn right on the service road to Tarwater Camp. Tarwater has six campsites; my favorites were nos. 3 and 5. The camp has a chemical toilet, but again, no drinking water.
After exploring the camp, follow the road to the creek and continue up the other side to Old Haul Road. Before you get to the junction, watch for Snag Trail on your right. Take this single-track trail for about one-half mile until it intersects with Old Haul Trail. On the Snag Trail segment, watch for a dead tree trunk standing upright and twisted like a wrung-out washcloth. You have to wonder how the laws of nature made this happen. Farther on, you will walk through a meadow with some evidence of an old logging camp.
From the junction with Old Haul Road, the trail is wide with a nice tree cover for the next three miles. As you walk along, be reminded again of the logging operations that dominated this area 100 years ago. Tree stumps with springboard slots are everywhere, and slashed trees dominate the hillside.
Your comments and hiking suggestions are always welcome.
Footnote: Check out the Weekly Walker Web site at www.weeklywalker.com.