A journey or a goal?
I don’t usually think of my hikes as being goal oriented, even though I often plan my routes to seek out some particular sights or seasonal attributes along the way. Some of my favorite routes I feel drawn to, and hike them again and again, while others I may not go back to for years. The Butano Ridge loop is a hike that fits into the latter category. Not to be confused with Butano State Park, Butano Ridge is partly in Portola State Park and partly in Pescadero Creek County Park. Most of the time when I find a trail that runs along the top of a high ridge, my expectation is that I will be able to find vantage points to get views of the surrounding terrain. I love an awesome long range view. Many of the local high ridges will provide views in almost all directions, and under clear skies, for tens, or even hundreds of miles. A fitting payoff after sweating to hike up steep meandering trails to gain the altitude. Walking along a rolling ridge-top trail drinking in the views provides a special kind of down-time for me, because it really seems like I have broken free of the confines of city life, at least for the day. The Butano Ridge loop trail falls short of those expectations. The route is so thickly wooded that no views from the ridge are possible. But that doesn’t mean that it’s not still a rewarding hike experience. Actually it made an interesting choice after reading a recent post at Backcountry Bliss entitled “Discussion: Does the Journey make the Destination?” I always like to think a true rambler loves the journey as much as the destination, but actually sometimes the payoffs are what make the journey special. Good point Chris. It’s an individual thing. But I wanted to go back and do this hike because I haven’t done it in recent memory.
My route began in Portola State Park, even though most of the hike is actually in Pescadero Creek County Park. You really need maps of both parks in order to figure out all of the trails. The official Portola map does not have enough coverage for this hike. The best map I’ve seen is available from Redwood Hikes Press, and covers both parks. Also the day use fee at Portola has gone up to 10 bucks. Luckily I still have some CSPF free passes left. Don’t forget to vote YES on prop 21 this fall.
I used the Iverson trail to get up to Old Haul Road. There are two different trails that can take you up to the Butano Ridge Loop Trail if you choose to go clockwise. The Portola Trail comes together with the Ridge Trail leading up to the junction near the top of the ridge, which tops out at about 2200 feet. Park headquarters is about 400 feet. The trails are not killer steep, but climb steadily for just over two miles with quite a few switchbacks. When you reach the top your thighs will know they’ve had some work. The terrain throughout the route is thickly wooded and the specter of historical logging is in evidence. This route also provides access to the Basin easement trail which you can use to hike over to Big Basin. Just be sure to stay on the trail. Go right at the fork to continue on to Butano Ridge. Much of the foundation of this section of the ridge was formed from sandstone, and there are quite a few outcrops along there that are worth admiring. The trail finally brings you down to a fire road. The trail markers are more than adequate, which is nice considering that a wrong turn will bring you into private logging company property. This fire road trail is so thickly wooded as to eliminate any possibility of views. The west side of the trail is a property line which is punctuated by lots of “No Hunting or Trespassing” signs precluding any notion of hiking off trail attempting to get a better view, although that may well be possible. The ridge trail/road rolls up and down gently, but mostly down going north. You get a nice stroll in the woods down to the marked trail cutout about 1.9 miles from the southern junction. Back onto single track the trail is now downhill in earnest until you give back all of the altitude back to Old Haul Road.
You could use this road to hike back toward Portola, but it’s a lot more fun to use the Shaw Flat Trail to Shaw Trail Camp. Not shown on the Portola map, this will require a stream crossing at Harwood Creek, so be prepared. It was easy this time of year. I didn’t even use trekking poles. After passing through the camp you can easily find your way to the Pomponio Trail, which is unspectacular, but a much nicer hike than the fire road. As you cross over the paved road to the abandoned county honor camp, you will have to hike up the paved road a little bit, cross a bridge to pick up the trail again. Total distance on this route is about 12.5 miles, and I will estimate about 2800 total feet of elevation gain. Not for the goal oriented, but something a little different for the ramblers. I enjoyed it.
You can probably tell it was a lousy day for photos but here they are anyway