Sarah & I went for a lovely hike at Butano State Park on the San Mateo coast yesterday. This was my first time at this park since childhood, and I don’t know what took me so long to return! Although a fairly small state park, it is largely undiscovered, and very tranquil.
We were initially inspired to hike here due to a report on Carol’s Wildflower hotsheet about some blooming Calypso Orchids, which I have yet to see. Looking at a map, however, the area reportedly containing these orchids would be a 6+ mile out-and-back hike, so we opted for a different loop so as to get better acquainted with the park.
We paid our $7 entrance fee (on the honor-system, as there were no rangers at the entrance kiosk, nor staffing the visitor’s center), drove down the park road for a quarter mile or so, and parked at a picnic area with some restrooms. After getting geared up we set out on the Six Bridges Trail. Only later did we discover that by starting where we did, rather than at the park entrance, we would miss 4 of the 6 namesake bridges – oh well!
It was a beautiful spring day, with temperatures in the low ’70s (pretty high for coastal California in early March!), and the babbling of Little Butano Creek kept us company as we hiked out on this verdant trail. We immediately started seeing Western Trillium (Trillium ovatum), and encountered a pair of beautiful Giant Trillium (Trillium chloropetalum) near one of the bridges. Although we have seen Giant Trillium before, this was the first time we’d seen it with petals – our prior encounters were late-season, when the pedals have fallen and only the burgundy stamens remain atop the large, blotchy green leaves.
A few Slim Solomon (Smilacena stellata) grew in one boggy spot, and copious Redwood Sorrel (Oxalis oregana) carpeted the soft duff under the coast redwood trees. After a bit, the trail left the creekside and climbed up a fern- and moss-covered hillside, and we soon arrived at the end of the Olmo Fire Road. A short hike west back to the main park road, then a jog north, brought us to the head of the Butano Creek Trail.
This lovely trail ran right next to Little Butano Creek through a lush redwood forest. Although the terrain was very similar to hikes we’ve on on Mt. Tamalpais, one distinct difference was the almost total lack of other people here (Mt. Tam on a day like this would have been very crowded!). We saw two hikers on a hill above us, a couple families picnicking, and that was it!
Winter Wrens were calling vociferously (as my ornithology instructor said, “it’s a little bird with a lot to say”), but only one showed itself, and although we heard some forest birds, we had but shadowy glimpses of movement in the distance, and contented ourselves with enjoying the sounds of nature.
Banana slugs were in in numbers I’ve only rarely seen before – it seemed like we saw one at least every 10 feet for several miles on end! Sarah found them rather gross, but I like the little yellow critters (it probably helps that they’re the mascot of my alma mater, UC Santa Cruz).
The trail rose, then fell before ending at a pumping station. We decided this was as good a place as any for lunch, perched ourselves on a sun-dappled fallen log, and enjoyed sandwiches from our local bakery and some wine.
Our lunch over, we hiked back towards the main area of the park on a fireroad, which rose steeply for a few hundred yards, then levelled out to be a beautiful little road, soft with redwood duff. We saw one other pair of hikers here, the first people we’d seen in a couple of hours. Continuing down the road, we decided to take a spur trail to check out the Ben Ries Campground in case we get the hankering to do a short weekend getaway, although Butano SP is a little closer to home than we prefer for camping. It’s a nice small campground, with running water and bathrooms and little else.
We walked back to the car along the park’s main road, seeing a smattering of Stream Violets (Viola glabella), a little Hound’s-tongue (Cynoglossum sp.) and Miner’s Lettuce (Claytonia perfoliata) in the wet, shady areas between the road the creek. Before long we arrived back at the car, our lovely little hike over.
Despite our best efforts, we did not see any orchids, but the day was lovely anyhow. This is a gem of a little park, and we were surprised by how few people we saw on such a beautiful day, what with nearly all of the greater SF Bay Area about an hour away, but that just made it all the more enjoyable. We’ll surely be back to explore the park’s other trails.
Distance hiked: ~4.5 miles
Time: ~3.5 hours
The few birds we saw were:
– Stellar’s Jay
– Varied Thrush
– Winter Wren
We did better for wildflowers, however:
– Aster sp.
– Claytonia perfoliata (Miner’s-Lettuce)
– Cynoglossum sp. (Hound’s-Tongue)
– Dentaria californica (Milkmaids)
– Myosotis sylvatica (Forget-me-not)
– Oxalis oregana (Redwood Sorrel)
– Scoliopus bigelovii (Fetid Adder’s Tongue – leaves & stems only)
– Smilacina stellata (Slim Solomon)
– Trillium chloropetalum (Giant Trillium)
– Trillium ovatum (Western Trillium)
– Viola glabella (Stream Violet)