Santa Cruz Mountains Outdoors - Portola Redwoods - Butano - Pescadero


Secrets of the Santa Cruz Mountains

With so much forest to roam, the Santa Cruz Mountains are a close-to-home wilderness respite. Get off the grid at one of these tucked-away treasures.  

Peters Creek Portola Redwoods

Like a Virgin

Where can you find the most pristine grove of old-growth redwood trees in the Bay Area? Deep in Portola Redwoods State Park lies a forest of virgin redwoods that somehow dodged the logging operation spawned from the California Gold Rush. Peters Creek is home to thousand-year-old redwood trees that can measure up to 12 feet in diameter. The only way to reach this grove is by a 6.5-mile hike (one-way) that weaves through quiet canyons lush with ferns, clovers, and banana slugs. Because the hike is long, chances are good that you'll have this unspoiled sanctuary all to yourself. Make a loop around Peters Creek and gaze up at the red giants that are more than 200 feet tall. Stop for lunch and dip your toes in the cool creek water. Then head back the way you came. Immaculate adventure.

Start on the Old Tree Trail. After a couple hundred feet, make a left onto Slate Creek Trail. Stay on Slate Creek Trail for 2.4 miles, which takes you to the trail camp. At the trail camp, go left onto Bear Creek Trail. Stay on this for 2.4 miles. .25 miles after crossing over Bear Creek you'll reach Peters Creek. Follow the signs to make a 1.3-mile loop around the creek. Return the way you came. Visit the Portola Redwoods State Park website for directions to the park. No dogs.

Butano Trail camp

Butano Backcountry

Snagging a good campsite among Bay Area redwoods is about as easy as getting a parking spot in North Beach. But head to Butano State Park and, with a little help from a hike, the odds swing heavily in your favor. Butano is a park less traveled, and a 5.5-mile hike-in leads to a sweet reward: a tranquil trail camp among redwood trees. Make your way by heading up lush Jackson Flats Trail and exposed Canyon Trail. It's a bit of a climb, but the effort is worth the huff and puff. Butano's Trail Camp was just cleaned spic-and-span by the Boy Scouts (they even added log tables to many sites). Most of the sites are the size of a studio apartment—but #8 is more like a two-bedroom! Camping under a thick redwood canopy limits big vistas, but only half a mile away there's an abandoned landing field with clear views all the way to the ocean. Bring a blanket and flashlight and watch the sun set from 1,700 feet before returning to your tranquil, tree-roofed retreat in the woods.

Recommended route: hike up the Jackson Flats and Canyon trails to Trail Camp. Return via Indian Trail, Olmo Fire Road, Doe Ridge Trail, and Goat Hill Trail. Bring water to camp, or be prepared to hike .5 mile to the nearest source. There is a pit toilet and trash cans. No reservations; register at the visitor center when you arrive. Visit the Butano State Park website for directions to the park. No dogs.

the tower pescadero

Kitschy Castle

Want to feel like royalty? Make like a kitschy King or Queen in The Tower, an unconventional homestead in the delightful one-stoplight town of Pescadero, located in the foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains on the San Mateo coast. Nestled on a residential street and modeled after the water towers of Northern California, The Tower balances quirky and comfy within two stories and 900 square feet. A wrap-around wooden deck encloses the upper floor, with trumpetvines and jasmine spilling over the edge. French doors on all sides open to sweeping views of the rolling hills. Downstairs is a cozy sleeping space decorated with rose-flowered curtains and sheets (a bit frilly, yes, but all part of the charm). Outside, the family's potbellied pig, Ivy, acts as mascot and endears herself to all patrons. Use The Tower as a home-base for exploring nearby Butano State Park or Año Nuevo State Natural Reserve. Or borrow one of The Tower's complimentary bikes for a 2-mile spin (one-way) down to Pescadero State Beach. In the evening, walk a couple of blocks to downtown where you can hit the Country Store for some BBQ or the best pizza in town. It's good to be King.

The Tower, 785 North St., Pescadero; 650-879-0841. It is $135 per night on weeknights and $160 per night on weekends with a two-night minimum. Dog-friendly!

Southern Hospitality

Sometimes the best things in life are right under your nose. But you need to know where to look in order to find them. is your friendly concierge to all things South Lake Tahoe—they have the scoop on where to stay, where to eat, where to play, and where to party on your summer vacation.

Upcoming Festivals and Events:

Celebrity Golf Tournament, July 14 - 19: Former professional athletes (Michael Jordan, Jerry Rice, Tony Romo, and Bode Miller, to name a few) and entertainers strut their strokes for the 20th annual American Century Championship to benefit Lance Armstrong's Livestrong Global Cancer Campaign.

Concerts on the Lake: Harveys Outdoor Concert Series is in full swing! This weekend, catch the Blues at the Lake where music legends gather for an evening of tunes and grooves. Next weekend (July 17), arena rock meets the mountains for an REO Speedwagon/Styx double-header!

Zip Trek the Longest Line in the Continental U.S.: At 3,300 feet and with a 525-foot drop, ride the Heavenly Flyer at 50 mph over treetops with an eagle's view of Lake Tahoe. That's some serious bragging rights!

For more info and other events, check out

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