High in the peninsula hills, above Redwood City and Woodside, El Corte de Madera Open Space Preserve is another peaceful sanctuary along Skyline Boulevard. El Corte de Madera Creek and Lawrence Creek, both born from springs near the road, descend through the preserve's 2,821 thickly forested acres on the way to San Gregorio Creek and the Pacific Ocean.
These steep slopes were severely logged years ago and most of the trails are roads left over from those operations. Enough time has passed to heal the scars and leave a lovely second growth forest in its place – and a few extra treats.
There are several access points to El Corte de Madera OSP. Our day began at Skeggs Point, an easy to find vista point parking area five miles north of where Highway 84 intersects Skyline Boulevard. We parked, then walked across Skyline and hopped on the Tafoni Trail heading for Vista Point. The trail edged steadily up a slope shrouded in a forest of tan oaks, madrones and Douglas firs - the trees that would accompany us most of the day.
A mile out, Tafoni Trail turned to the right. We would return and pick it up again, but first we followed the sign pointing the way to a brief side trip to Vista Point.
I expected a sweeping panoramic view, but the forest is king at this preserve, and the encroaching trees left only a few corridors to look toward the coast. A thick blanket of morning fog still rested in the valleys below, but there must be great ocean views on a clear day.
We backtracked and continued our way along Tafoni Trail. After a very short distance, the side trail to the sandstone formation appeared on our right that leads to a viewing platform at the foot of a massive 50-foot rock outcrop.
Over the years, the erosive effects of rainwater combined with carbon dioxide from the air have carved an artistic array of recesses and hollows into the face of this huge sandstone slab. It was surprising to see such a bold and unusual geologic feature tucked in our coastal hills.
Back on the Tafoni Trail, we slowly descended another mile to the junction with El Corte de Madera Trail, which turns toward home and continues to gently drop down to El Corte de Madera Creek. As we neared the creek, we left behind the drier oak/madrone/tanoak forest and stepped into a soft and damp environment of redwoods, Douglas firs, with an understory of ferns.
The bad news is that at the creek crossing, we were at the low point of our hike, and we faced a stiff climb over the last 3/4 a mile. The good news was that the park's namesake creek was our companion, and despite the dry winter, the creek carried enough water to gurgle us encouragement the whole way.
With the side trips to Vista Point and the sandstone formation, our walk was a pleasant 4 1/2-mile stroll. If you prefer open country and vast views, El Corte de Madera OSP may not be your preference. But if you love a walk in the woods, you will love it here. Every step is through a forest that changes personality near the creek or according to the aspect of the slope.