Phleger Estate sign

You have to earn the privilege of enjoying a Phleger Estate hike. Just getting to the best part of it — a sublime grove of redwoods along the Raymundo and Mount Redondo trails — requires a two-mile out-and-back, either from Huddart Park or unmarked trailheads along Skyline Boulevard.

I hiked in from Huddart last June, so this time I opted for Skyline Boulevard, where the parking’s free — if you can find it. Either approach route rates as fair to middling, but the 2.4-mile loop at the center of the estate is not to be missed.

Phleger Estate map

Here’s slice from the National Parks Service’s map of Phleger Estate, which is part of Golden Gate National Recreation Area (download the whole PDF here). I parked at the southern lot of Purisima Creek Redwoods Open Space Preserve (three-tenths of a mile north of Kings Mountain Road; 6.5 miles south of Highway 92), crossed highway 35 and headed north along the Skyline Trail.

The go-to loop comprises the aforementioned Raymundo and Mount Redondo trails. My route is in orange; the alternate route from Huddart Park is in blue.

My way Monday required hugging the highway along the Skyline Trail till it hit the Lonely Trail; from there it’s down to the Raymundo/Redondo junction. If you go, either trail is fine; let your health be your guide. If you’ve got bad knees, take the longer Raymundo route down and the steeper Mount Redondo up. If you’re knees are fine but you haven’t been to the gym in six months, go the other way and take the more gradual climb back to the top.

Skyline Trail is not especially well-marked; just stay near the highway till you get to the Kings Mountain Volunteer Fire Station (avoid the trails going down into Huddart Park). The trail turns east just before the station comes into view but it’s easy to miss because there are no signs or arrows. Fortunately, though, there’s another trail on the north side of the fire station’s parking lot that heads east and reconnects with the Lonely Trail, which gets you back on your way.

Overall this hike is about seven miles; my GPS unit logged 1,700 feet of elevation loss and gain, which seems a bit exaggerated, but you do hike down from 2,000 feet to 750 and return, so it’s a decent workout.

It took me three tries to find the parking area and I got a bit annoyed at the lack of signage along the Skyline Trail. Lonely Trail is a bit boring, and I was working my way into a full-blown case of hiker’s remorse when I took the Raymundo turn and headed down the hill. Then, as if Mother Nature flipped a switch, I was in this charming expanse of young redwoods with a creek bubbling gently. It may have been warming up in the rest of the world, but down there on the trail it was still cool.

I had to marvel for the dozenth time how the redwoods have this uncanny ability to make you wonder why anybody would want to be anywhere else.

One Discovery Channel moment before I move on to the pictures: as I was trudging up the Lonely Trail on my way back, I heard this rattling on a charred old snag. I looked to my right, saw the bushy gray tail that said “squirrel” just as the furry critter saw me. Then it leaped at least 10 feet to the closest tree, its body fully splayed in parachute mode to control its descent to the neighboring trunk. All I really saw was a flash of furry white belly, but it was fascinating nevertheless. A squirrel’s torso is only about a foot long; a human would have to jump 30 feet from a standing start to manage an equal leap.

OK, let’s see the pics:

Lonely Trail

Lonely Trail passes into and out of redwood stands and patches of oak and madrone. Sorry about the no-dogs rule. Seems like one on a leash could not do any harm.

Moss covered stump

I set out to see if I could bring any worthwhile tree stump pictures home. These things are a visual feast but not remotely photogenic.

Major trail junction

Here’s the Raymundo/Mount Redondo trail junction. I love the trail signs at Phleger.

Raymundo Trail

Raymundo Trail passes through young redwoods. This area would be especially nice in winter when the water’s running in the creek.

Spider webs in a tree stump

Wacky spider web action.

Sudden change in biome

We get a lot of this on the east slope of the Santa Cruz mountains: you step out of one forest and into another. The color jump from dirty red to bright green is striking.

One photographic aside: I’m thoroughly exasperated with trying to shoot redwoods on sunny summer days, though it nice to be reminded of the superior performance of the human eye. Then again, it just adds to the redwoods’ mystique: no two-dimensional camera will ever come close, end even video is nothing compared to being encased in this ecosystem. You really have to be there.

Phleger links:

Here’s a Google map of the Skyline Boulevard trail head.

View Skyline Boulevard parking for Phleger Estate in a larger map