Purisima Creek Redwoods Open Space Preserve is located on the western slopes of the Santa Cruz Mountains overlooking Half Moon Bay. The centerpiece of this 5,412-acre preserve is Purisima Creek Canyon, with its towering redwoods, rushing creek, and understory of ferns, berries, and wildflowers. Magnificent views of the coast and Half Moon Bay are visible from the northern part of the preserve.
The preserve was established with a gift of $2 million from the Save-the-Redwoods League.
This nearly five-mile long loop can be accessed from Tunitas Creek road, where there are multiple pull-outs, or from the lower parking lot via a one-mile long walk up the Purisima Creek Trail. As you move away from the trail entrance, you will be enveloped in the sounds of the forest. The remote nature of this trail allows you to fully experience the sounds of the redwoods.
There is limited parking in the pullouts along Tunitas Creek Road, so be prepared to make alternate plans.
This trail is an old logging road on the western side of the preserve, which passes by an accessible restroom and continues at a gentle uphill grade for the first mile into the preserve (although there are a few short sections that are a 10%-15% grade). The trail follows along Purisima Creek, crossing the water over several bridges. This hike features redwood groves, open meadows, and views of the Pacific Ocean.
Suitable for visitors of all physical abilities. This trail winds 0.25 miles through tall redwoods just off Skyline Boulevard. Visitors will find wheelchair-accessible picnic tables and a restroom along this flat easy route. The Redwood Trail was built through a grant from Peninsula Open Space Trust.
Preserve Highlights & Features
When dinosaurs roamed the earth, redwoods were the dominant trees in the Northern hemisphere. Today, coast redwoods are only found along the coast in a narrow band rom southern Oregon to just south of Monterey.
Coast redwoods are the tallest trees in the world, growing up to 380 feet tall (38 stories). The oldest known age of a redwood is 2,200 years, although the average mature age is 500 to 1,000 year old. Most trees at Purisima Creek Redwoods Preserve are about 100 years old. They make up what is called a second-growth forest. The original redwood forest was logged in the late 1800s - 1900s. The largest redwoods were probably close to 1,000 years old when they were cut, with diameters between 10 and 20 feet. The large stumps along the Purisima Creek Trail are evidence of these trees.
While this preserve is famous for its beloved redwood forests, you can also find spectacular views of the San Mateo County Coast and Pacific Ocean.
The upper parts of the Harkins Ridge and Soda Gulch Trails provide superb views, as does part of the Whittemore Gulch Trail, which drops steeply into Purisima Canyon and is popular with mountain bicyclists.
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
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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 parking areas at lower Purisima Creek Redwoods are often full on weekends. Overflow parking is not available at this location and there is no way to safely wait for parking to open up. Please be prepared to make alternate plans.
- Parking restrictions in place along Purisima Creek Road and Higgins Canyon Road.
The following trail may be closed to bicycle and equestrian use during wet conditions.
- Whittemore Gulch Trail is OPEN to bicyclists and equestrians.
Main entrance and the North Ridge Trail trailhead: (30 spaces) Parking is Located on Skyline Boulevard (Highway 35), 4.5 miles south of Highway 92.
Redwood Trail or Purisima Creek Trail: (11 spaces) 6.5 miles south of Highway 92.
Western Access Point: (5 cars) Accessible from Purisima Creek Road. From the Highway 92 and Highway 1 intersection in Half Moon Bay, travel on Highway 1 south approximately 4.3 miles. Turn left on Verde Road. After turning on to Verde Road and traveling 1/4-mile, continue straight to remain on what becomes Purisima Creek Road. (Verde Road splits off to the right.) Travel approximately 3.7 miles on Purisima Creek Road. Roadside parking restrictions currently in place along Highway 35 and Purisima Creek Road and Higgins Canyon Road. Please observe all posted signage. Preserve parking is very limited at this time.
- Bicyclists: Bicycles are allowed on designated trails only (marked on map). Helmets are required. Observe the 15 mph trail speed limit (5 mph when passing). Avoid startling hikers and equestrians by announcing your presence when approaching from behind.For more information visit the Bicycle 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.
- Dogs: Dogs are not allowed in this Preserve. For information on dog-friendly preserves visit the Dog Access page. In accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, Midpen accommodates service dogs in preserves wherever we allow public access.
- 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.
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.
By the early 1900s, all of the trees that were not too small, too twisted, or too inaccessible were gone from Purisima Canyon. There are seven recorded mill sites along the creek banks in this preserve. Evidence of these sites can be seen today. The redwood was used for shingles in the building of San Francisco after the Gold Rush, and for lumber for the development of Half Moon Bay, include the construction of a flume on Montara Mountain. Along the Purisima Creek Trail, visitors can see many of the cleared area that were once the sites of these sawmills.