Sam McDonald County Park

My plan here is to catch you up on many of the hikes I’ve already done, but for today you’ll be getting my latest: A hike in Sam McDonald County Park in San Mateo County.

County parks don’t often get the same claim-to-fame as their federal and state cousins, but they can provide as much magic without the crowds. You can have the park to yourself (and maybe some friends and family, of course). There’s no better way to contemplate life when you’re taking in the outdoors, Mother Nature in all of her splendor.

First Look: A taste of what you can expect to see!

Route: Park HQ – Big Tree Trail – Heritage Grove Trail – Hiker’s Hut (a Sierra Club lodge) – Towne Fire Road – Scenic View 33 – Towne Fire Road – East Brook Trail – Towne Fire Road

Distance: 7.5 miles
Difficulty: Easy to Moderate (4-6; there’s some good heart-thumping climbs between mile 2 and 3)
Elevation gain: 1,050 ft.
Signage/Trail markers:

Sam McDonald County Park map




When to go: The coastal hikes are great for the hot days of summer elsewhere (like in the East Bay) to the moderate temps of fall and spring. If it’s an El Nino year, be sure to check the weather before heading out since the coast gets a lot of rain in the winter when the big “N,” aka “Godzilla,” comes around.

HighlightsOld-growth redwoods, Douglas Fir, California Laurel, Madrone; wildlife (deer, California newts, bunnies, banana slugs and more); scenic views to the Pacific and the Sierra Club Hiker’s Hut. Oh yes, for horse lovers, there is also the Jack Brook Horse Camp.

Tell you more? The Big Tree and Heritage Grove Trails wind through tranquil, lush Redwood forests, some old growth but mostly new. It’s quiet, with Alpine Creek gurgling softly in the background. Don’t forget to stop, look up and take in the majestic redwoods you’re walking among. You are indeed in special company.

Also along for the ride are many banana slugs. Thankfully, they’re bright yellow so they’ll most likely escape being trod upon!

As you reach the top of the Heritage Grove Trail, take the turn to the left (you’ll see the great signage) and visit the Hiker’s Hut. You can have lunch or simply take in the view.

When we arrived to the hut, we lucked out and met some very informed fellow hikers. It’s great to share a love for the outdoors with others, and this group was quite passionate about hiking (one of them, Rick, had helped to build the hut back in the day, seriously cool). And they told us about a do-not-miss: A scenic view further along Towne Fire Road (scenic view No. 33).

So … our five-mile adventure turned into a 7.5-mile one as we left the hut, turned left and headed up Towne Fire Road. You’ll climb a small hill and then suddenly see this:

Elevation 1,316 ft. Yes! Credit: Miranda Leitsinger
A little reward for your effort! Head back down the hill and left at the trail marker to continue along Towne Fire Road. You’re looking for marker No. 33. That’s the one with the scenic view. And hopefully, it’s a blue skies kind of day so you can enjoy this backdrop that opens to the Pacific:

Want to know some history about the man, Sam McDonald, who helped to form the park? It’s a great story that you should read. Plus this (from the park): In the 1970s, many of the Heritage Grove’s “huge redwoods were scheduled to be logged until a citizen’s group banded together to raise funds to purchase the grove so that the magnificent trees could be preserved forever. The county matched these funds and made acquisition possible.” Just another reason I love home so much.

So I’ll say “Happy Trails” and leave you with this closing shot:


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