On a recent weekday morning, two friends and I set out on what we called a guys field trip. For years, we have met weekly to do what old men do: drink coffee and talk about nothing. And we love it. We decided it was time for a road trip, a term that has a dramatically different meaning than it did forty years ago. After a fabulous meal at the Breakfast House, an inconspicuous but terrific cafe in San Carlos, we set out for Huddart County Park and a walk in the woods to burn off some of the Hollandaise sauce.
Huddart County Park is another pearl in a string of parks and preserves along the length of the San Francisco Peninsula hills. This 974-acre park was willed to the County of San Mateo County in 1944 making it one of the elder statesmen among the community of nearby open spaces. It drops from Skyline Boulevard down the western slope of the Santa Cruz Mountains to the edge of the town of Woodside.
We exited off of Interstate 280 onto Highway 84 and drove through the town of Woodside. A mile and a half past town, we turned onto Kings Mountain Road and entered the neighborhood where the one percent lives. Past a string of palatial estates, the park entrance appeared.
The majority of preserves I visit in the peninsula hills are undeveloped. Other than a parking area and maintained trails, there is little in the way of amenities. While most of Huddart Park is also wild, a vast area near the parking lots is improved for a wide range of day-use activities. Around a huge expanse of lawn with sand volleyball courts and horseshoe pits are numerous picnic sites, group picnic areas with shelters, youth camp areas, and an amphitheater.
Our trailhead was a bit hidden among all the amenities, but above the Werder Picnic Shelter, we found Toyon Road, the first leg of our loop, and began our ascent. Like virtually all of the Bay Area hills once covered with old growth redwoods and Douglas firs, these slopes were logged bare to meet the demand for lumber to build a young and burgeoning San Francisco. But second growth redwoods sprouting from their stumps have restored the silent softness and dappled light we seek in a forest.
After a half mile on Toyon Road, we turned onto Canyon Trail and began a zigzagging descent through a redwood forest with a smattering of Douglas fir, madrone, and tanoak. At our feet, the headliners were robust blue hound’s tongue with support from milkmaids, redwood sorrel, wood strawberry, and a few western heart’s ease violets (Viola ocellata). But the belle of the floral ball was the western trillium (Trillium ovata), a new flower to me and a head-turning elegant beauty.
On the Chaparral Trail, as the name implies, we left the cool forest and stepped into a bright garden of manzanita, chamise, ceanothus, and toyon that allowed slivers of bay views through the foliage. Finally, we turned onto the Crystal Springs Trail and the scenic highlight of the loop. Back in the forest, we ascended a gentle creek to a bridge in an airy open grove of tall second growth redwoods; a magnificent peaceful scene.
Our four-mile loop was a great walk that left us three old men with enough energy to keep the field trip rolling. We only touched a corner of a park with many more miles of trails that feature cool forests more than sweeping vistas. For a hike or just a family picnic, Huddart County Park delivers.