Choose from more than 150 trips on over 500 miles of trails with this comprehensive guide to every park and preserve on the San Francisco Peninsula. From Fort Funston and San Bruno Mountain south to Saratoga Gap, and from the Bay west to the Pacific Ocean, the peninsula offers something for everyone. This updated edition includes 18 new trips covering newly acquired public lands. Also includes maps and a trips-by-theme appendix.
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Sawyer Camp Trail
A historic road of singular beauty extends for 6 miles through the San Francisco Watershed lands past the sparkling San Andreas and Crystal Springs lakes. The road is paved, but open to hikers, equestrians, and bicyclists only. The camp that gave the road its name was in a small flat in the San Andreas Valley where in the 1870s, Leander Sawyer trained performing horses for circuses. Later he ran an inn here for travelers on their way to Half Moon Bay.
The sunny meadow by the creek where Sawyer had his camp had earlier been home to the Shalshone Indians (a tribelet of the Ohlones), who hospitably offered wild fruits and seed cakes to Gaspar de Portolá’s expedition when it passed this way in 1769. During Sawyer’s day, wagons pulled by teams of eight horses hauled wood over the road on their way to San Francisco and stage coaches used it as an alternative route from San Francisco to Half Moon Bay.
When San Francisco took over the Watershed lands, narrow, winding Sawyer Camp Road was kept open and later fenced on either side for protection of the Watershed. San Mateo County closed the road to motorized vehicles in 1978, and it is now officially the Sawyer Camp Historic Trail.
Jurisdiction: San Mateo County: 650-363-4020
Facilities: Trail for hikers, bicyclists, and equestrians; picnic tables, restrooms, water at Jepson Laurel picnic area and north end of trail; telephones
Rules: Open dawn to sunset
Maps: See map on page 59, San Mateo County Jogging, Exercise and Bicycle Trails and USGS topos Montara Mountain and San Mateo
How to Get There: By car from I-280: (1) North entrance at Hillcrest Blvd: (a) SouthboundTake the Larkspur Dr. exit and go south on Skyline Blvd. to Hillcrest Blvd., then west under freeway to trail entrance on right; (b) NorthboundTake Millbrae Ave. exit and go north on Skyline Blvd., then west on Hillcrest Blvd. to trail entrance. (2) South entrance at Crystal Springs Rd: (a) SouthboundTake Hayne Rd. exit and go south on Skyline Blvd. to parking beside entrance gate on west side of road; (b) NorthboundTake Bunker Hill Dr. exit, cross over freeway, then go north on Skyline Blvd. past Crystal Springs Dam to entrance gate.
By Bicycle: Use the same approaches from Skyline Blvd. as for cars.
Distance: 6 miles one way
Time: 3 hours. A car shuttle is practical here. Shorter round trips on part of the trail from either end make good hikes.
Elevation Change: 400’ loss from north to south
Entering the trail at the north end, the first 1.75 miles descend from Skyline Boulevard to San Andreas Lake and its dam. The woods and lake are a pleasant introduction to the trail. Summer winds often ruffle the lake and drifts of fog sweep over the hills. On the far side of the dam look for a commemorative plaque that marks the hundredth anniversary of the dam’s completion in 1869. From here the trail heads south along a shady walk between the creek and a hillside of bay trees. Fern-covered banks bloom with purple iris and scarlet columbine. You may see the very rare shrub leatherwood, with its small yellow blossoms. It is found in only a few places in San Mateo County (one of them is Edgewood Park). The Indians used its tough, flexible branches for lacings.
In a small clearing along the way, about 30 yards west of the trail, is the venerable Jepson Bay Laurel, thought to be the second-oldest and largest in the state. In 1923 it was named in honor of Willis Jepson, one of California’s most noted botanists. The flowery little meadow around the tree was popular as a picnic spot in Mexican and early California times. Today the tree is fenced to protect it, and there is a picnic area nearby, and once again picnickers are enjoying this retreat beside the famous bay tree.
Here and there you will come to benches beside the trail for a place to rest, picnic, or enjoy the sound of a stream or a view of the lake. At about its halfway point, the trail crosses San Andreas Creek where it enters Lower Crystal Springs Lake. From here on, it borders the east side of the lake, giving a succession of views out over the bright waters to the wooded Watershed hills. The Peninsula’s own “Lake District” has a special enchantment whether mists are shrouding the mountains or the lakes are reflecting a blue sky. A few hawks sail overhead. Grebes, ducks, and other waterfowl bob on the water, and the oaks by the trail are alive with countless small birdscountless except to the Audubon Society, which enumerates the species meticulously in its annual Christmas bird count; a recent count totaled 190 species. Bring your binoculars and favorite bird guide. Along the road cuts you will see the greenish-gray serpentine, a rock that occurs through the foothills in San Mateo County. It is frequently found in major earthquake fault zones, and is associated with some of our finest wildflower displays.
The south end of the trail is on Skyline Boulevard at the Crystal Springs Dam that crosses the gorge of San Mateo Creek. (A proposed extension to Highway 92 is planned in the near future.) This is a good starting point for a 3+ mile walk north by the lake, with vistas of the shimmering waters around each bend. Your return trip brings you new views as you retrace your steps. Walk here in late winter when clouds are moving across the sky and sunshine alternates with light showers. The hills are already green, drifts of magenta Indian warriors bloom under the trees, and the first buds of iris appear. This is one of the Peninsula’s best walks for any time of the year and the most popular of San Mateo County parks.
Table of ContentsINTRODUCTION
- The Peninsula Bayside, Mountain, and Coastside Setting
- The Peninsula’s and Coastside’s Past
- Trail Planning
- Information for Trail Users
- Map Legend
- San Bruno Mountain State and County Park
- Milagra Ridge
- Sweeney Ridge
- San Pedro Valley County Park
- McNee Ranch
- Junipero Serra County Park
- Mills Canyon Nature Area
- Trails on Northern San Francisco Watershed Lands
- San Francisco Watershed–the Bay Area Ridge Trail Route
- San Andreas Trail
- Sawyer Camp Trail
- Mountainside Parks and Preserves on the Skyline Ridge
- Thornewood Open Space Preserve
- Windy Hill Open Space Preserve
- Coal Creek Open Space Preserve and Upper Alpine Road
- Los Trancos Open Space Preserve
- Monte Bello and Saratoga Gap Open Space Preserves and Upper Stevens Creek County Park
- Monte Bello Open Space Preserve
- Upper Stevens Creek County Park
- Russian Ridge Open Space Preserve
- Skyline Ridge Open Space Preserve
- Long Ridge Open Space Preserve
- City Parks and Trails in the Foothills of the Southern Peninsula
- Town of Portola Valley
- “The Loop”Through Portola Valley, Woodside and Menlo Park
- Enid Pearson Arastradero Preserve
- Foothills Park
- The Arastradero/Foothill Expressway Hub
- Foothills Open Space Preserve
- Town of Los Altos Hills
- Open Space Preserves and a County Park in Los Altos, Cupertino, and Saratoga Foothills
- Rancho San Antonio Open Space Preserve and County Park
- Duveneck Windmill Pasture Area
- Stevens Creek County Park
- Picchetti Ranch Open Space Preserve
- Fremont Older Open Space Preserve
- Pescadero Creek County Park Complex
- Sam McDonald County Park
- Pescadero Creek County Park
- Portola Redwoods State Park
- Butano State Park
- South San Francisco
- Millbrae and Burlingame
- Coyote Point County Recreation Area and City of San Mateo Parks
- Foster City
- Redwood City
- Redwood Shores
- Port of Redwood City
- Pacific Shores Center
- Menlo Park and East Palo Alto
- Fort Funston & Daly City
- Pacifica Beaches
- Pacifica to Montara
- Fitzgerald Marine Reserve
- Half Moon Bay State Beaches
- San Gregorio to Pescadero
- Pescadero to Pigeon Point
- Año Nuevo State Reserve and Coastal Access
FOREST PARKS IN SOUTHWESTERN SAN MATEO COUNTY
SAN FRANCISCO BAY TRAIL
SAN MATEO COAST BEACHES AND COASTAL TRAIL
APPENDIX 1: TRAILS FOR DIFFERENT SEASONS AND REASONS
APPENDIX 2: SELECTED READINGS
APPENDIX 3: INFORMATION SOURCES ON PARKS, PRESERVES, TRAILS, AND TRAIL ACTIVITIES