One of Midpen's largest and most diverse preserves, La Honda Creek offers immersion into a historic ranchland with grazing cattle, views of the San Mateo County Coast and Santa Cruz Mountains and pockets of redwood forest. Since first opening to the public in 2017, it has become a regional destination for birding.
Public access is currently available in two unconnected parts of the preserve.
- Upper La Honda Creek features 3.5 miles of shorter sections of trail through forest and redwoods. Due to parking limitations, a no-fee permit is required for access to Upper La Honda Creek (Allen Road entrance). This is the only area in this preserve where dogs on-leash are permitted.
- Lower La Honda Creek offers 6 miles of trail through open rolling grasslands where conservation grazing occurs. The main access is from the parking area at Sears Ranch Road. A smaller parking area for visitors and equestrians at the Event Center requires a no-fee permit.
Take this short one-mile trail to see the impressive “Big Tree,” one of the few remaining old-growth redwood trees in the area. This trail is located in Upper La Honda Creek Open Space Preserve, which requires a no-fee permit to enter.
This out-and-back trail meanders for six miles through open, rolling grasslands. The Harrington Creek trail runs through an active grazing operation, so visitors may encounter cattle and ranchers. There is very little shade on this trail, so bring water and sun protection!
Preserve Highlights & Features
Rich in native plants and wildlife, California's coastal grasslands evolved with herds of grazing wildlife that are no longer on the landscape, natural fires and Native American burning practices. This habitat can benefit from periodic disturbance to prevent encroachment by introduced species, shrubs and forest.
Midpen's work to protect and enhance coastal grasslands supports the management and recovery of endangered, threatened and special-status species that need grassland habitat, like the San Francisco garter snake, American badger, California red-legged frog and burrowing owl.
Historic Red Barn
Agricultural roots run deep on the Coastside. When Midpen’s boundaries expanded in 2004 to include the San Mateo County Coast, we committed to protecting that heritage.
This historic barn, originally built around 1900 by the Weeks family, has greeted travelers on Highway 84 for more than a century. Today, it is a visual gateway to the rural Coastside. It requires care to keep it standing strong against the elements. The barn hosts the only known pallid bat maternity roost on the Peninsula, and Townsend’s big-eared bats – both species of special concern.
We are currently exploring opportunities to provide public access into this central area of the preserve.
Tips for Hiking among Grazing Cattle
La Honda Creek is one of only two Midpen preserves where visitors recreate among grazing cattle. Use common sense and remember the following safety tips:
- Keep your distance and walk around groups of cows.
- Keep pedestrian gates closed and leave larger vehicle gates as you find them – open or closed.
Stories from the Preserves
Here are some of the plants and animals that other visitors have observed at this preserve and recorded in iNaturalist. Protected species may be excluded and some species may not yet have been observed. Help improve iNaturalist by adding your observations to the Midpen Biodiversity Index project
Sign up for our newsletter to find out what’s happening in your open space!
Know Before You Go
Preserve regulations help provide a safe, enjoyable visit while protecting sensitive areas and wildlife.
Share the Trail
Use designated trails to avoid damage to natural resources and prevent injury.
Avoid blocking the trail. Step aside to allow others to pass .
Whether you’re walking or biking, always yield to equestrians.
Leave no trace. Pack out what you pack in. Most preserves do not have trash cans. Littering is prohibited.
Abuses of trail etiquette should be brought to the attention of a ranger or call the Midpen main office at 650-691-1200.
The following trail may be closed to hiking and equestrian use during wet conditions.
- Folger Ranch Loop Trail is CLOSED to hikers and equestrians.
Main parking lot (22 spaces): Access to Lower La Honda Creek at the Sears Ranch Road parking lot off of Highway 84 in La Honda.
Upper La Honda Creek: Vehicle access to northern La Honda Creek Preserve requires a parking permit. Four permit parking spaces are available, permits are free and should be requested at least 48 hours in advance. There is no parking available outside of the preserve gate on Allen Road.
- Dogs: Dogs are allowed only on designated trails in this preserve (marked on map) and must be controlled on a 6-foot or less leash. Self-retracting leashes are allowed with a maximum extended length of 25 feet. Visitors may have no more than three dogs per person. Bag dog waste and take it with you. Midpen accommodates service dogs in preserves wherever we allow public access. For more information visit the Dog Access page.
- Equestrians: Horses are allowed on designated trails (marked on map). Helmets are recommended for all equestrians. For more information visit the Equestrian Access page.
- Bicyclists: Bikes are NOT allowed in this Preserve. For information on preserves open to bikes visit the Bicycle Access page.
- Fires are prohibited in preserves.
- Plants & Wildlife: Please leave undisturbed. If you encounter wildlife during a visit, do not approach, startle or feed it. Although wild animals are generally fearful of humans and will run away, some wildlife can be dangerous.
- Smoking is prohibited in preserves.
- Water Areas: Swimming, wading or engaging in any water-contact activity is prohibited.
- Weapons are prohibited in preserves.
A general access permit is required for any activity or event that:
- may be attended by twenty (20) or more people; OR
- would restrict the use of any part of Midpen lands by members of the public; OR
- requests or requires a fee be paid or a donation made for participation. This includes events where the fee is in the form of a mandatory purchase, such as a t-shirt.
Permits are required for access to Upper La Honda
- No-fee permits are issued for single-day use for hiking only.
- Permit access to this section of the preserve is via the Allen Road locked gate only.
- Drive-in access via car is the only allowed means of access.
- No parking is allowed outside the gate (private property).
- Access is available ONLY to the upper La Honda Creek area from this entrance.
Driscoll Ranch Event Center Parking
- No-fee permits are issued for single-day use for hiking and equestrian trailer parking only.
- Equestrian access to this preserve is via the Event Center locked gate only.
- Access is available ONLY to the lower La Honda Creek area from this entrance. Dogs are not allowed in this part of the preserve.
Midpen trails and facilities are generally very safe. However, you are entering an environment where there are some naturally occurring hazards. Reasonable caution and common sense should be utilized when venturing into any outdoor environment.
- Do not leave valuables in your vehicle! Lock your vehicle and store valuables out of sight or take them with you on the trail.
- Travel in groups of two or more. Two of more people can assist each other in the event of an accident or emergency.
- Dress for the environment. Temperature changes can be occur and you should dress in layers appropriate for the location, time of year and planned activities.
- Carry water with you. Drinking water is not available at most Midpen preserves so you should bring your own. Two quarts per person per two hour hike is recommended.
- Apply sunscreen and drink plenty of water prior to and during your outdoor activities.
- Be aware that cell service is very sporadic on the preserves.
Be Prepared and Aware
Plan ahead before you leave. Check regulations and weather, download a map, pack water and first aid.
Know your limits and take safety precautions.
Rattlesnakes are native to this area and are especially active in warm weather.
Poison oak grows on most preserves: Learn to identify and avoid it in all seasons.
Ticks are present in this area and may carry diseases.
Mountain lions are a natural part of this region’s environment and are occasionally seen.
In Case of Emergency
If you experience an emergency (fire, accident or other immediate threat to life or property), call 911. For nonemergencies, call 650-691-1200.
Activities & Events
La Honda Creek Open Space Preserve was established in 1984 with the purchase of a 255-acre property. Following many additional land acquisitions, the preserve now encompasses over 6,100 acres. Over 4,500 acres of these lands, including the former Driscoll Ranch, were purchased by the Peninsula Open Space Trust and transferred to Midpen to add to the preserve.
In order to manage the preserve’s rich ecological and cultural resources, and to provide opportunities for public enjoyment and education, Midpen completed a comprehensive 30-year master plan in 2012. Through this public planning process, a preserve vision was created: to harmoniously blend recreation and ranching uses for the benefit of the land, wildlife and surrounding commuting, both present and future. As part of implementation of the master plan, Midpen has completed many land stewardship projects. Five ponds were deepened and reinforced to allow threatened California red-legged frogs to breed, and encourage the endangered San Francisco garter snake to return to the preserve. Miles of ranch roads were repaired to reduce sediment flowing to Harrington, La Honda and San Gregorio creeks, which provide habitat for endangered coho salmon and threatened steelhead trout. Fences and springs were upgraded to support cattle grazing. Existing trails and staging areas were improved in Upper La Honda Creek, and a parking lot was constructed on the lower preserve. More trails and a staging area near the historic Red Barn are planned, which will link the upper and lower preserve areas and provide additional recreation opportunities, including mountain bicycle use, in the near future.