[Editor's Note: Watch for this column each Thursday on Patch by local hiking enthusiast Tom Davids. Below is this week's suggested hike to Tarwater Loop Trail in Pescadero Creek County Park.]
By Tom Davids
The Tarwater Loop Trail
Pescadero Creek County Park
Directions: Go south on Skyline Boulevard to Alpine Road. Continue for three miles; pass by the entrance to Portola State Park and continue 0.4 miles to Camp Pomponino Road (also marked for “County Jail”). Turn left and continue one mile on the narrow paved road to an unpaved parking lot and trailhead.Grade: Moderate, elevation loss and gain of 700 feet.
Distance: Five miles.
Time: Three hours with lunch break.
Special Conditions: No dogs or bikes allowed. Horses not allowed during winter months. No restroom or water at trailhead or enroute. The park is managed by San Mateo County.
From the parking lot (this is as far as you are authorized to drive unless you have business at the county jail—honor farm), walk across the road to the signed Tarwater Trail. The trail starts through open grassland with good views to the north and west.
Continue over the grassland, and turn left down a narrow trail through an oak and bay woodland and along the east edge of a long meadow. As the trail cuts across the meadow, watch for an old barn next to a grove of eucalyptus trees. This is Tie Camp, part of a dairy herd operation that provided milk and cheese to the locals. From the barn, the trail circles around the eucalyptus trees, crosses to the other side of the meadow, drops into a forest of second-growth redwoods, and passes over a small feeder stream heading to Tarwater Creek.
This is a quiet area of large redwoods with remnants of the people who lived here many years ago—a rusty bucket, tin cans, and an old leather shoe sole. The trail continues downhill, alongside an old barbed wire fence line and through a wallow, fringed with water plants.
The junction with Canyon Trail is just ahead with a seasonal gate to block horseback riders during the winter season. At the junction, turn left onto the wider Tarwater Trail, which becomes an old service road. A right turn on Canyon Trail will quickly take you to Tarwater Creek. The name, “Tarwater,” refers to the shiny, oily substance that you will see in the water.
Continue along the wide Tarwater Trail, which runs parallel to Tarwater Creek. After about one-half mile of pleasantly shaded and mostly level hiking, the trail crosses Camp Pomponino Road. The road continues into the county jail after it crosses the bridge over Tarwater Creek.
Turn up Camp Pomponino Road, and follow the signed trail bordered by redwood and fir trees that runs parallel to the paved road for a short distance. As you hike over Shingle Mill Creek, watch for a junction and a left turn onto Tarwater Loop Trail. This is a single-track trail; bikes are not allowed and horses are restricted during the winter season. Pass through the horse gate and gradually ascend along the creekside. After about 10 minutes of hiking from the last junction, watch on your left for the remains of an old shingle mill. Some large support timbers are still in place, as well as rusted parts of an old steam engine. This is a beautiful area of second-growth redwoods and an area worth exploring.
As the trail gains elevation, it turns into an unpaved road that was probably used years ago to transport the newly cut shingles to market. On the ridge, the forest changes to mostly oak and madrone with scattered fir trees. Clumps of forget-me-nots in full bloom (March) brighten the trail. Good views open up to the south and west, and before long the trail passes through a broken-down, barbed wire fence. Deep in the ravine below is Wally’s Creek, and you will also see portions of Camp Pomponino Road. In a short distance, the trail loops down through a gate to the parking lot.
By the Way…
The county jail, a minimum-security detention camp, referred to above was closed in 2003 due to budget constraints but during recent years, the Sherriff’s Office has considering reopening the facility to ease overcrowding in local jails. The camp could house as many as 140 to 150 medium inmates.