State Park Trifecta

HARD 18 reviews

State Park Trifecta is a 28.8 mile moderately trafficked loop trail located near Los Gatos, California that features a river and is rated as difficult. The trail is primarily used for hiking, camping, and backpacking.

Distance: 28.8 miles Elevation Gain: 5,265 feet Route Type: Loop

backpacking

camping

hiking

forest

partially paved

river

historic site

no dogs

This may be the longest direct loop hike available in the peninsula. The nearly 30 mile loop covers three State Parks (Castle Rock, Big Basin, and Portola Redwoods), a county park (Pescadero Creek Park), and a Mid Peninsula Regional Open District (Long Ridge Open Space Preserve). This is all made possible by well positioned easements that allow for narrow but critical routes in between the parks. If you're looking for a good weekend hike that loops, this may be your best bet in the South Bay. Campsites: There are three nearly equidistant camp sites along the trail; Waterman Gap Trail Camp, Lane Trail Camp, Slate Creek Trail Campground. No matter where you start the hike, you will also have a campground within roughly 10 miles. Reservations are required in advance. Parking: There are three overnight parking lots; at Big Basin Park HQ, Portola Redwoods Park HQ, and at the main Castle Rock entrance. Parking at the latter will add a few miles distance. There are also several places where one could get dropped off and hop on the Skyline to Sea trail. Historical Sites: There are two historical sites along the way, the Iverson Cabin and the Page Mill Site (original site of Mr. Page's Mill and road). There is not much to see at the sites except a marker and a sign, but it's nice to connect with some of the region's 19th century history. Variations: If you're looking for a longer route, you can extend this trail by pushing further into either Castle Rock, Big Basin, and even Pescadero Creek Park, as long as you make it to the easement cross points. Pushing further into these parks can easily help you come up with a 50-60 mile loop if you really wanted. Trail info for the parts encompassing: - Skyline to Sea: Good trail but proximity to highway 9 causes it to lose some of the isolation charm. Great views of redwoods though. Well trafficked popular trail. - Basin trail: The relatively higher elevation presents a very different vegetation, with shorter trees and more bushes, where one can capture some nice long distance views. - Basin trail easement: All the property mark signs on the first part of the trail made me just want to get through it and across. Second part of the trail felt like it didn't get a lot of foot traffic but was well marked and maintained. - Butano ridge trail: Sharp switchbacks take you down almost 1500 feet of elevation. Nice scenery. - Summit trail: Sounds like it would be a tough hike based on the name but it was only about a 600 foot elevation climb. - Slate creek trail: Well maintained and nice trail. Runs by a river for most of the distance. - Ward road trail: Connect Portola Redwoods state park to the Long Ridge Open Space Preserve... biggest elevation change of the entire trail here. Wide trail that really is more of a road. Something to get through, though there are some nice long views available. - Hicky Oaks Trail: Best long views of the entire hike here as one can see into the entire valley before re-connecting with the Skyline to the Sea trail. Trail is recommended only for experienced hikers. There are several rivers along the way to refill water, but it would be worth planning for those in advance as there are some long stretches with no river access. Please post your trip reports and variations!

hiking
24 days ago

Awesome hike! This was my first time hiking in this area, so the loop gave me a taste of all the different parks. Each one had its own personality. Portola was my favorite as it had this ancient forest smell to it, if that’s even a thing. And you’re rustling along on a bed of leaves throughout the park. I’d love to go back there. I would rate Big Basin 2nd and Castle Rock 3rd based on this hike. To speak to the parking comments, I discovered that there is parking along the road for the trailhead, but it’s dawn to dusk only. So parking is convenient for ppl who are knocking this one out in a day. But if you’re backpacking over 2 or 3 days, then you’ll need to park about 1/2 mile up the road at the lot where 9 & 35 intersect. It looks like you can take Skyline to the Sea from the parking lot to get to the trailhead to start this hike. I took the advice of the other reviewers and did the trail counter clockwise. I get why the original poster mapped it out clockwise because they don’t call it the “sea to skyline” trail, so you’re going with the grain of the foot traffic for that stretch. But this loop isn’t really about that trail. The biggest thing I liked about going counter clockwise is that it was more ideal for my water and sun exposure situation. You want to get the stretch to Slate Creek out of the way early so you’re not getting cooked out in the sun coming back up it in the afternoon. Except for a couple spots in Big Basin you’re going to be shaded by the forest canopy for the rest of the hike. I didn’t even worry about sunscreen for this reason. I pack pretty light, so I brought a full camel back and a throw away drink for the start. The drink I hand carried got me to the Slate Creek campsite, where I was able to dispose of it. Then my camel back lasted me from there to the Waterman Gap campsite at the 22.5 mile mark. There’s drinking water there, but the spigot and basin under it were both swarming with bees. So I put my camel back under it and filled it quickly and was able to avoid getting stung. I started around 6:30 and didn’t see anyone along the trail until I got near the Slate Creek camp site at the 6 mile mark. Then I didn’t see any other hikers for another 11 miles when I got onto the skyline to the sea trail. And even that traffic thinned out long before I got to Waterman Gap as people set out early for that hike too. My phone died with about 4 miles to go, so I wasn’t able to record the whole loop.

hiking
closed
private property
3 months ago

Easier to walk counterclockwise. Super long. Took us 10 hours. We had to run to get back before sunset. I would start early next time. Some parts of the trail were closed. No parking. So we parked 2.5 miles away. Adds another 5 miles. Overall nice trail.

backpacking
7 months ago

Not for beginners. This was my first time ever hiking with weight on my back. I wanted to do the whole loop back to castle rock but I got picked up at camp the next day instead. I’d recommend spreading this loop out over 2 or 3 nights. There are lots of intense changes in elevation, especially the route I took. If you want to do the whole loop, start counter clockwise to get the steep parts out of the way with first. Overall, this is some great hiking and I can’t wait to see the other half via Skyline to the Sea trail.

hiking
Saturday, July 28, 2018

I just finished a modified version of this hike starting at Castle Rock and staying at Lane trail camp. I agree with the others who have commented on this. You need to carry at least 2.5L of water. If you are taking my route, which is ~18 miles each way, then you should carry up to 3L when you fill up at Waterman Gap as there is no water source at Lane Creek camp. (I had to go an extra 4 miles round trip to get water once I camped there). Overall it was just a long hike. Some parts were really nice and others not. If you want to do a high mileage hike I'd would suggest doing Berry Creek falls trail 2x.

hiking
Friday, July 13, 2018

Did this loop as a day hike ;)

hiking
Sunday, July 08, 2018

Great loop if you fancy a challenge! Anti-clockwise seemed the best option - the early section is exposed so you get to do it in the cool morning sun if you go early. Three stars for me as I’m not sure that I would do it again, except to test my fitness or as training in future. The anti-clockwise section from the start to Slate Creek was perhaps most enjoyable due to the varied terrain. A few km after Page Mill Site the terrain and scenery tends to become quite monotonous (but still beautiful!) however the final section from Big Basin back to the start fully tracks the road which takes some of the fun out of it. In July there was water at Slate Creek, Iverson Creek, Fall Creek & Boulder Creek. Starting with 2.5l I comfortably made it to Boulder Creek before refilling with 2l but should have refilled 2.5l.

backpacking
Saturday, May 12, 2018

I definitely recommend this loop! Only reason it’s not 5 stars is because about 25% of it is along roads, so you’re hearing cars instead of the wild. I did this loop over 2 days, camped at Waterman. I started from Portola National Forrest, which by the time you get on the loop trail probably adds at least a mile. Totally I’d say was 32 miles and I perfect split 16 and 16 each day from where I started. Note: where this map says start/finish, you can’t park! So unless you’re being dropped off you can only park at one of the 3 national forest. Portola was a good place to start, less busy and easy to park at than the others. I hoped on the trail and headed towards Slate creek. This is a nicely little couple mile section to get the legs warm. After you pass the slate creek campground, you take on the steepest terrain this whole loops overs. It’s a good hour of continuous steep terrain, great to tackle your first day. After that is rolling hills and a since change of scenery from tree covered areas, to open grass pastures and hilltop views almost to the ocean. The last couple miles to Waterman you’re on the Skyline to Sea trail along the road. At one point you get into some rocky areas with some incredible views. Waterman Camp: permits required, but didn’t run into any rangers along the way, and there was plenty of room at the site. Running water, which was the only place I refilled. There’s a stream by Slate creek, but not much else for water from Portola to Waterman. Only downside is you can hear the road from the campsite, and those windy roads attract lots of people racing their cars and bikes. Day 2: I was pretty sore from the 16 miles on day one. This was by far my longest hike yet (prepping for Whitney). Again, another day of rolling hills and great change of scenery. You get into more of the redwoods in this section. I woke up to rain that morning and hiked the first two hours in a nice steady mist, but there was a majestic layer of fog throughout the forest. From Waterman back to Portola where my car was, I think I saw 2 people on the trail and both were within the first 30 minutes of leaving camp. This is what I came for! You’re still along roads, a lot of this section is along the road going into Big Basin, but it’s beautiful none the less. I was pretty beat up towards the end, I probably should have just used my running shoes, but this was an awesome 2 day hike. The elevation gain throughout is pretty substantial and the miles will test you. I ran the SF marathon a couple years ago (sub 4 hours)... and I think this loop was tougher for me both mentally and physically! I did this loop for the workout and that’s what I got! What’s nice is all 3 campgrounds are spaced out almost exactly by 10 miles, so it’d be easy to split this up over 3 days as well.

hiking
Sunday, March 18, 2018

Great trail to spend time on :)

hiking
Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Great way to see a wide variety of the open spaces and trails in the peninsula. This trail takes you through five different parks, and it's nice that it's a loop so you don't have to shuttle cars around.

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Monday, August 20, 2018

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