Major Redwood Action
Purisima Creek Redwoods Open Space Preserve about 30 miles south of San Francisco is one of the crown jewels of the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District . The area's redwoods were almost completely logged in the late 19th- and early 20th Centuries, but redwoods can't be held down for long. Redwoods have the ability to sprout from stumps, root systems, or even their fallen brethren. While the redwoods at Purisima are undoubtedly impressive, they are only about 100 years old. These trees won't reach maturity until at least the 24th Century when they may grow to 300-feet-tall. People love redwoods, but it's often quite difficult to get a good view of an entire tree. However, this hike provides ample opportunity to enjoy great views of these titanic organisms.
The hike heads downhill from the trailhead on a short 0.3 mile spur trail to the beginnings of the North Ridge and Harkins Ridge Trails. Both trails end at the Higgins Canyon Road / Purisima Creek Road parking area at the junction of the Whittemore Gulch, Purisima Creek, and Walker Gulch drainages 1500' below. Harkins Ridge takes 3.0 miles to get to the other trailhead, and taking North Ridge before joining Whittemore Gulch Trails is 3.6 miles. However, Harkins Ridge has steep downhill portions that drop hundreds of feet punctuated by relatively flat stretches while Whittemore Gulch / North Ridge is a relatively mellow grade from top to bottom. There is also another 0.5 mile spur trail from the trailhead to the junction just north of the 0.3 mile spur.
Purisima Creek Redwoods is near the northern end of the Santa Cruz Mountains which run from Santa Cruz northward to just south of San Francisco. The mountains here take the form of a north-south spine at its highest point (along which Skyline Blvd. travels) with high ridges and deep drainages dropping off to the east and west. This park is on the west side of the mountains, and consequently enjoys the summer fog rolling in from the Pacific which can contribute as much as the equivalent of 10" of precipitation. These canyons and ridges also get pounded by rain in the winter so this park is best avoided then unless one is really into mud.
I went right onto Harkins Ridge (not knowing the respective grades of either route) to begin a steep descent. Harkins Ridge is a fire road that drops steeply over a route that features both steep and mellow stretches. 200 yards of steep descent followed by 100 yards of flat trail are the norm until it switchbacks to the east after about a mile. The flora here consists of a mosaic of Douglas fir, California bay, and tanoak interspersed with "soft" California coastal chaparral. This chaparral is referred to as "soft" because most of its indicator species lack spines or scratchy leaves. It still packs a punch, however, because poison oak is everywhere so stay on the trail.
Harkins Ridge enters the dense redwood forest of the Purisima Creek drainage after the switchback, but there are great redwood views for the next 0.5 mile as you can see entire trees. The trail makes a few switchbacks before reaching the deep redwood forest next to Purisima Creek. You may notice the Purisima Creek Trail on the other side of the creek that heads to another trailhead 2.5 miles south on Skyline Blvd. from your starting point. The last 0.5 mile follows the creek through the dark forest to a small bridge that leads to the lower parking area.
The Whittemore Gulch Trail heads northeast from the bridge and travels a few hundred feet above that creek gaining elevation the entire way. The trail crosses the creek after about a mile and continues up the north side of the drainage. This entire stretch goes through tall redwoods and Douglas firs that crowd out the sun, but wildflowers were very prominent in mid-August 2011 when I was here. Whittemore Gulch Trail switchbacks uphill to the north to the North Ridge Trail through soft chaparral and Douglas fir to a 3-way junction. Go right for 0.6 mile to reach the North Ridge Trail, go left for 0.1 mile to the North Ridge Trail then another 0.3 mile to meet the junction with the 0.6 mile route. There are some steep uphill stretches here, but the last mile back to the trailhead after the junction is pretty mellow.
WARNING! Hiking and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for the current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends.