Portola Redwoods State Park often gets overlooked in favor of its bigger neighbor, Big Basin Redwoods State Park. But Portola’s 18 miles of trails wind through giant redwoods to some peaceful, pristine country (and a hidden highlight). The park is remote, located at the end of a twisty, fun-to-drive road at the base of Butano Ridge in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Start on the Coyote Ridge Trail and gently ascend for about a mile before taking a break to listen to the trees creaking in the wind. At the end of the Upper Coyote Trail, look left for the Tarwater Loop and begin your journey back. About a mile down the trail, as you descend into redwood shadows, keep your eyes peeled for the aforementioned highlight: it’s unmarked, but you can’t miss it—a hulking redwood flexing two giant elbow-shaped limbs. A few old-timers claim this is the largest living thing on the Peninsula. You don’t say.
BONUS: Top off your hike with a signature burger at Alice’s Restaurant. Try the Harley if you dare—it’s loaded with bacon, sausage, cheddar, jack, and grilled onions. Alice’s is a favorite biker hangout, as you can see by the hogs filling the parking lot. It’s all part of the kick-back-and-refuel atmosphere, easy-rider style.
Directions: From Hwy. 35 (Skyline Blvd. west of Palo Alto), take Alpine Rd. south for 3.5 miles. Turn left onto Portola State Park Rd. and follow it 3 miles to the end. Across from the parking lot, take the Iverson Trail for a short distance and then turn right onto the Coyote Ridge Trail. Follow it up about 1 mile, then go left on the Upper Coyote Ridge Trail at the fork. Continue for 1 mile, then turn left onto the Tarwater Loop (you’ve gone too far if you hit the parking lot). The flexing redwood is about 1 mile down, on the right-hand side. At the end the Tarwater Loop, go left on the Bridge Trail for a short distance and left again on the Pomponio Trail back to your car. More information.
Alice’s Restaurant, 17288 Skyline Blvd., Woodside, 650-851-0303.