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Tom Stienstra

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Top 5s & 10s From California Camping California Camping

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1) Big Basin Redwoods State Park -
By my estimate, there are 10,000 miles of hiking trails in the Bay Area. My favorite 11 miles are in Big Basin, hiking out from park headquarters to 70-foot Berry Creek Falls, continuing on to Silver Falls and Golden Falls, then looping back to headquarters. It is the one place that has it all: old-growth giants, dense second-growth trees, beautiful waterfalls, and a huge variety of trails, 80 miles in all, from a short loop among the ancient trees at headquarters to long traipses to remote ridges. The park is huge and makes an outstanding destination for off-season camping, with tent cabins, backpack trail camps, walk-in camps, and drive-to camps.

2) Muir Woods National Monument -
The valley floor of Muir Woods is home to the mammoth ancients, and a beautiful stroll here will take you among them. Walking along Redwood Creek, every pore in your body seems to open in order to absorb the magic energy of the place. It is one of the most popular walks at any park in North America, and though it's paved for a mile because of the heavy use it receives, you can link into an excellent three-mile loop trail by taking the Hillside Trail up the west side of the canyon.

3) Butano State Park -
This is a great destination for hiking and biking (potential user conflicts have been resolved, and trails are well signed), picnics, and camping. It's also ideal for lookouts and look-ins, that is, looking out from ridgetop viewpoints or heading into the forest for a look inward at yourself. The 2,713-acre state park encompasses the redwood-filled Butano Canyon as well as the U-shaped ridgeline that frames it. A great network of trails offers many different ways of hiking through the redwoods and then up to the ridge for views, including glimpses of the Pacific Ocean. I've hiked every trail in the park and would rate all of them as first-rate.

4) Purisima Creek Redwoods -
For newcomers, this 2,500-acre preserve can be stunning in its beauty and scope, extending from Skyline Ridge all the way down to the outskirts of the town of Half Moon Bay. It features a redwood forest, a pretty creek, riparian habitat, and wild berries in the lowland, and if you climb out on the Whittemore Gulch Trail, a 1,600-foot climb, you will gain sweeping lookouts of the Pacific Ocean and Pillar Point Harbor. There are three access points, two on Skyline Boulevard and one on Higgins Canyon Road southeast of Half Moon Bay.

5) Samuel P. Taylor State Park -
The campground here has a classic woods-and-water setting, surrounded by a deep, dark redwood forest and with the headwaters of Papermill Creek (also called Lagunitas Creek) running nearby. A picnic area is set in a beautiful redwood grove, and from there, the Pioneer Tree Trail provides a short, easy indoctrination to the park. If you want more, you can seek out a secret waterfall, always a surprise (ask a ranger for specific directions to the trailhead). A paved wheelchair-accessible trail is now available along Papermill Creek.

6) Portola Redwoods State Park -
This park is a favorite of mine not only for hiking, camping, and poking along the headwaters of Pescadero Creek, but for its several hidden meadows and pretty views of the coastal foothills. Trails are linked to nearby Memorial and Sam McDonald County Parks. The road in is quite twisty, which is just perfect because it means that the only people who get here are those who love it and earn it.

7) Memorial County Park -
This county park set in a pocket of redwoods between Loma Mar and La Honda has 50 miles of trails, a pretty stream (Pescadero Creek), and hiking links to two adjacent parks. The Iverson Trail along Pescadero Creek is a sure-bet winner for newcomers.

8) Redwood Regional Park -
Rain is a magic tonic here, giving life not only to the surprising grove of redwoods, but to Redwood Creek and its wild strain of rainbow trout. When the creek fills with water in winter, trout will migrate upstream from Upper San Leandro Reservoir and spawn here, with an excellent fish ladder constructed to help them make the trip over obstacles. The fish ladder and the surrounding redwoods make the Stream Trail one of the top five hikes among hundreds in Alameda and Contra Costa Counties.

9) Huddart County Park -
This park sits on the western slopes of the Peninsula foothills, covering 1,000 acres and featuring several groves of redwoods, mostly well-established second-growth trees. The park has 45 miles of trails, and with many junctions, visitors with maps in hand can custom-tailor any kind of hike they desire. That makes it one of the top parks for hiking on the Peninsula.

10) Wunderlich County Park -
While Wunderlich does not provide an expansive redwood forest, there are pockets of redwoods dotting canyons amid hills supporting tan oak and madrone, with 45 miles of trails weaving in and out from one habitat to another. The result is a bit of everything for hikers, with occasional views of the Peninsula foothill country and beyond providing a nice bonus.

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