From the San Jose Mercury News, August 2007

The Old Tree is just a dot on the map of Portola Redwoods State Park — until you stand before its mind-boggling bulk and try to take it all in. It’s 297 feet tall, 12 feet across, perhaps 1,200 years old. Forget about fitting it into a single snapshot.


The Old Tree

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Acres: 2,800

Miles of trails: 18

Limitations: No dogs on trails or near creeks.

Hours: Quiet hours 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., when all trails are closed.

Fees: $6 for day parking.

Camping: Reserve a site at; $20-$25 plus $7.50 online fee. Call (831) 338-8861 to reserve a site at the Slate Creek backpacking camp; $5 reservation fee, plus $5 for each night.

Driving directions: From Highway 35, turn west onto Alpine Road, go 3 miles and turn onto Portola State Park Road. On Highway 35, Alpine is just over 19 miles south of Highway 92, seven miles south of Highway 84 and just over 6 miles north of Highway 9. Page Mill Road from Palo Alto goes directly to Alpine.

Even if your brain can process the sight of the behemoth coast redwood standing at the terminus of the delightful Old Tree Trail (an easy half-mile from the park headquarters), it’s more difficult to reconcile what this tree represents: a rare survivor of an era when thousand-year-old trees were killed to turn a buck. Few old-growth redwoods remain at Portola, but the abundance of new growth shading the trails here is cause for hope: forests come back, if people let them.

Portola Redwoods, in the Santa Cruz Mountains west of Palo Alto, is one of the Bay Area’s true all-season parks. Rushing waters in its creeks are a delight amid the rainy depths of winter, and cool ocean breezes are a welcome respite from the scalding heat of summer. Trails are well marked and graded for mostly easy to moderate ascents and descents.

The park also is a crossroads for trail systems throughout the Santa Cruz Mountains: Long Ridge Open Space Preserve to the northeast and Pescadero Creek County Park to the west. There’s even a trail that connects to Big Basin and Butano state parks for truly intrepid trekkers.

Standard precautions:
Poison oak and ticks are common. The woods get buggy in the summertime, so bring repellant. The road to Portola is narrow and twisty with a few steep drop-offs — take it slow. Get a map ($2) at the park headquarters.

Hike suggestions:

Easy: Sequoia Nature Trail, three quarters of a mile, near the park headquarters crosses Pescadero Creek, which runs all year. Iverson Trail goes about a half-mile to Tiptoe Falls — a trickle now but far more scenic in the spring. The half-mile Old Tree Trail is the best of the bunch.

Moderate: The Slate Creek Trail to the Page Mill site is a pleasant six-mile out-and-back hike climbing gradually through a thick forest of second-growth redwoods.

Hard: If you’ve got the legs for a 13-miler, the trek to the Peters Creek Loop is a must. It climbs gradually for a bit over five miles, then dives steeply down a hillside that takes you to the Land of the Giants: an impressive stand of ancient coast redwoods.

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