Backpacking in Butano State Park

Tightening our straps and clicking our waist belts, we hit the trail for our first backpack of the season. It was just a short one-nighter to Butano State Park, but it was a great trip with good variety not too far from home.

View towards the ocean from Butano Fire Road

We grabbed a sandwich on the way down Highway 1 and stopped off at Pescadero State Beach to eat lunch in the sun. From there, it’s just a short drive inland to Butano State Park. We called ahead the day before and snagged the last trail camp site available for Saturday. (Yes, we’re more often last-minute planners than not.)

Checking in at the ranger station, we didn’t learn any interesting trail or park news, other than a reminder to stay “crumb clean” for the marbled murrelet.

Andrews’ Clintonia (Clintonia andrewsiana); view from the Ox Mill Trail

We set out on Jackson Flats Trail and after a little less than a mile, took a left on Ox Mill Trail to head up to the Butano Fire Road. Taking a right on Butano Fire Road, that took us the next approx. 4.2 miles to the trail camp. (Continue/slight left on fire road at junction with Jackson Flats, and continue straight at the wide intersection with the old landing strip).

Poppies along Butano Fire Road; dead blue belly lizard

The fire road was fairly scenic and had some great vistas, but a wide trail is definitely less stimulating than narrow singletrack. We enjoyed it nonetheless and it was likely less tiring with a lower grade as well. We saw a group of mountain bikers and encountered only one other hiking duo.

Redwoods; view from the Butano Fire Road at the Jackson Flats intersection; mountain biker on the fire road

We reached the trail camp at about 5.2 miles and three hours from the trailhead. There are 8 sites, each with a bear box. We checked them all out and deemed site #8 to be the best, followed by #1 and #2. About half were occupied (including #8), but we got #1, which is a long hike from the central camp area, but ended up overlooking the main trail. Despite being fairly near the main trail, the site was very much secluded from the other sites and had some benches and a “table” made from logs and a 2x4. We didn’t see any seating at the other sites, so this made for a great spot to make and enjoy dinner. (Other plus: no mosquitos!)

Banana slug and our campsite

We set up camp, took a short hike farther down the fire road, and then came back for dinner. It started to get quite cold around sunset and stayed cold through the night and all through the next morning.

The next day, we reluctantly headed back down. We took our time spotting hundreds of banana slugs, birds, and a few newts. The route down involved many more trails than the day prior. There are plenty of options and variations. I was happy with our 5.3 mile route I’ll detail here.

Another banana slug; green view along the Doe Ridge Trail

From camp, we walked past site #8 and then took a right on Indian Trail and continued on it by taking a left where it hits Canyon Trail. Indian Trail will eventually come to a T at the Olmo Fire Road. Take a right here for about a third of a mile and then take the Doe Ridge Trail on the Right. The Doe Ridge Trail is really pretty and where we saw newts!

Huge redwood; California newt; view along Goat Hill Trail

Take a right on Goat Hill when the trail comes to a T and then a left towards the Ben Ries Campground. Walk through camp and then continue along Six Bridges Trail. I think the trail starts through the “shared fire circle” or something like that. We missed the trail at camp and ended up walking down the road and catching it at the junction with the fire road.

One of the bridges along Six Bridges Trail; Little Butano Creek; big leaf maple

Six Bridges Trail climbs and descends and then levels out along the stream. It’s a pretty hike and goes through some nice riparian habitat. There’s even a big leaf maple or two! I love BLM.

We took a very short side trip, intrigued by a “Bat Habitat” sign along the trail. No bats, but an overgrown trail with lots of nettles.

Bat Habitat aka Batitat

There’s an unmarked trail to the right at one point — I assume to a picnic area. Then there’s a marked trail junction with the Ano Nuevo Trail. Take a right here to get back to the parking lot.

Pit stop at Montara State Beach on the way home to warm up and relax.

Montara State Beach sunshine bliss

Date: May 2017
Day 1: Jackson Flats Trail > Ox Mill Trail > Butano Fire Road > Camp
Day 2: Indian Trail > Doe Ridge Trail > Goat Hill Trail > Six Bridges Trail
Length: ~ 10.5 mi
Elevation gain: ~ 1,500'
Difficulty: easy

Another similar backpacking trip just down the coast is Forest of Nisene Marks (trail sites are first-come first-served) read about it here >

Check out a trip report from a hike at Butano State Park in February for a different loop and more wildflowers >