Bay Area Trail Running – Purisima Creek Redwoods

Hands down, Purisima Creek Redwoods is easily in the top 10 most beautiful trails around the bay area. The centerpiece of this open space preserve is the Purisima Creek Canyon, with its towering redwoods, rushing creek, lush ferns, berries and wildflowers. With 21 miles of developed trails and historical logging roads, this place made me grin during most of my run here.

Purisima Creek Redwoods

The main entrance and the North Ridge Trail trailhead are located on Skyline Boulevard. The downside of starting here is the final ascent at the end of a long run, but this entrance has parking available for 30 cars. Besides, having a uphill at the end of a long run is a good way to teach your body to run with tired legs. Just make sure you bring plenty of water. This extended loop around the Purisima Creek Redwoods is about 14 miles with an elevation gain of 3,746 feet. You can make this into a 10 mile loop if you skipped the detour onto Borden Hatch Mill Trail and Grabtown Gulch Trail, but you would miss out on a fantastic downhill run.


From the parking lot, it’s a sharp 3.5 mile descent down the North Ridge Trail. You get a taste of the spectacular ridge views along the trail until you reach the Whittemore Gulch Trail heading all the way down to the Higgins Purisima Parking on the Half Moon Bay side. I was just blown away by how lush this canyon was. There’s a restroom when you reach the end of Whittemore Gulch Trail, but I didn’t find a water fountain. From here hop on the Purisima Creek Trail that hugs the creek and gradually climbs up. Borden Hatch Mill Trail is mostly redwoods and climbs up to the ridge just in time for a spectacular downhill run on Grabtown Gulch Trail. I had a big grin on my face as I was bolting down the trail. It’s not super technical and you can really pick up amazing speed here. When you are back on Purisima Creek Trail head up until you enter the wonderful single track Craig Britton Trail. With redwood cathedrals everywhere, the steady climb leads you up to Harkins Ridge Trail. This is probably the most exposed section of the whole loop. Harkins Ridge Trail finally connects back up to North Ridge Trail leading you back to the parking lot.

  • Along North Ridge Trail
    Along North Ridge Trail

If you are training for a run like the Headwaters Ultra 50K (high elevation, hot and exposed) this is the wrong place for it. But for the pure joy of running through cool redwoods and lush fern undergrowth, it’s hard to beat Purisima Creek Redwoods. Here’s the route that I took:

  • North Ridge Trail (from the parking lot)
  • Whittemore Gulch Trail
  • Purisima Creek Trail
  • Borden Hatch Mill Trail
  • Grabtown Gulch Trail
  • Purisima Creek Trail (right)
  • Harkins Ridge Trail
  • North Ridge Trail (back to the parking lot)

Have your run in Purisima Creek Redwoods? What’s your favorite route?

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