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Purisima Creek

 

Purisima Creek is another open space just off of Skyline Road (Highway 35). This park is very close to El Corte de Madera (ECdM or Skeggs) and it is reasonable to ride both parks in a single day, though this can be a lot of climbing. I think this is one of the prettiest parks, especially when the fog is rolling in since you start above the fog and go down into it.

Park: Purisima Creek OSP
Date: Multiple
Distance: 9.6 to 14.8
Ride Time: 1:40 hours (estimated)
Total Ascent: 2,287 feet
Maps: Detailed official trail map
Overall Rating: 8

To get there, follow the same route used going to ECdM, but at the top of King's Mountain Road, turn right on Skyline (35) rather than left. The main parking area and the PC01 gate are about 2.5 miles to the north of the intersection.

The top of the North Ridge Trail has been ruined by lots of loose gravel (I suppose this controls erosion, but it really ruins the riding). Fortunately, you get past this fairly quickly and then the road turns to more forgiving redwood duff. Take the first left through a gate to get onto Whittemore Gulch Trail. This leads down the hillside at a moderate grade through a series of switchbacks with several nice views (the lower part of the trail is visible). The top of Whittemore Gulch descends shrub covered hillside and forest with several switchbacks is a fun ride. The lower part of the trail descends fairly quickly through the deep forest. This wooded section stay moist most of the year, allowing ferns and other bright green vegetation to cover the forest floor. It is really quite beautiful. This trail is fantastic!

At the bottom of Whittemore Gulch there is a second parking lot that is accessible from the coast side via Higgins Purisima Road. Purisima Creek Trail seems to be an old rail bed (tracks long since removed) that runs along Purisima Creek. This is a very nice ride that gives you a chance to look into the forest and study the creek without having to focus on navigating and planning the next maneuver. This section is definitely appropriate for even small kids. This is a nice shady section with lots of ferns due to the creek.

A worthwhile bonus loop is Borden Hatch Mill Trail followed by Grabtown Gulch Trail. This loop starts with a climb (of course) through the forest. I find that this trail goes on a lot longer than I usually remember. It gets pretty steep toward the top. At the top of Borden Hatch Mill is a nice clearing that is home to a large extended family of banana slugs at certain times of the year. You can bail out to Tunitas Creek Road here if you need to (this will also connect to the back side of El Corte de Madera Creek via Star Hill Road if you want a longer ride). After a short break, go on the fast downhill Grabtown Gulch that brings you back to almost the same spot on Purisima Creek where you started up Borden Hatch Mill.

You can return to the parking lot in one of three ways: Purisima Creek Trail, Harkin Ridge, or Whittemore Gulch. Going up Purisima Creek Trail takes you back to Skyline where you can return to your car or go to El Corte de Madera Creek on the highway (watch the traffic). The lower part of this fire road is extremely pretty as it runs along the creek and crosses it twice. The upper part stays in the forest, making the climb a bit more bearable.

Harkin Ridge is an alternate that will take you back to the Purisima parking lot. This trail may be open in the winter when Whittemore Gulch is closed for the season. It has a few steep sections and I don't usually go this way.

My favorite is to go back up Whittemore Gulch just for the challenge and the view. The bottom of Whittemore Gulch is a bit steep but quite doable, but I kind of enjoy riding up the single track through the switchbacks. Going up the trail allows you to savor several of the sites that you may have missed on the way down. Harkin Ridge joins Whittemore Gulch near the top in the gravel section. I always find this section difficult because I am tired by this point, the grade increases, and the gravel is just a pain that prevents you from getting the traction you would like.

An alternative route toward the top is North Ridge trail past Whittemore Gulch. This rides along the spine of a ridge. I have ridden most of the way on this trail and it is not too remarkable. You could try this if you have extra energy after climbing Whittemore Gulch, but the other trails are better and should be ridden first.

From the bottom of Purisima Creek it is a short ride along Higgins Purisima Road to Burleigh Murray Ranch State Park. This is an easy ride suitable for kids and beginners with an interesting barn at the end. You can also continue down Higgins Purisima to Half Moon Bay and even Princeton by the Sea for a clam chowder lunch!

This is a fun and beautiful ride that you should do frequently.

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