A Serene Forest Off Highway 1
Butano State Park is halfway between Santa Cruz and Half Moon Bay. Turn inland from Highway 1 and rolling hills give way to a tall, dense redwood forest. The 4,628-acre park typically has fewer visitors than neighboring parks such as Big Basin or Henry Cowell, giving Butano a serene, secluded feeling.
The park contains several distinct habitats, allowing for a diversity of wildlife. In the shade of the redwoods visitors are likely to see anything from deer to banana slugs. The park’s grasslands are covered with coyote brush and bush lupine. In vernal wetlands, Pacific tree frogs and California newts can be found slinking around cattails. And knobcone pines, scrub oaks and manzanitas cover the open, sunny ridge tops.
One distinctive feature of the park is the famous Candelabra Tree. This redwood is situated on a parcel of land that was only recently added to the park. The tree is a hefty 20-feet in circumference, but that’s not what makes it special; the trunk’s branches sprawl out horizontally in five directions, hence the tree’s name.
Butano was part of Quiroste tribe territory for thousands of years. Before European contact, the Quiroste were intimately connected to the land. They actively managed the landscape, using controlled burns to promote the growth of plants eaten by deer, pronghorn and tule elk; these animals were food, in turn, for the Quiroste. Hazelnuts and acorns were also important to the Quiroste diet.
Spanish explorers reached California in 1769. Eventually, European disease decimated indigenous peoples, and the surviving Quiroste were forced to give up the land and join the Spanish mission system. By 1834, the land was privately owned, and less than three decades later, settlers were logging the Butano canyon.
Logging didn’t stop until the mid-1950s, when California State Parks acquired the land. Sempervirens Club, Save the Redwoods League, and the Sierra Club spent over two decades advocating for the land’s protection.
When You Visit
Butano State Park is well-suited for both day trips and overnight camping. Ben Reis Campground has 20 drive-up campsites and 18 walk-up sites. The campground is closed December through March; reservations are recommended. Seven picnic sites provide tables and barbecue grills. Firewood can be purchased at the camp kiosk. For general questions and backpacker registration, visit Butano’s visitor center, located at the park entrance.
This park is “crumb clean,” meaning visitors are required to pick up all food scraps they bring into the park. This isn’t only for aesthetic purposes. People food attracts corvids, namely jays and ravens. These birds are known to attack the nests of Marbled murrelets, a threatened Pacific seabird. Please pick up crumbs to avoid drawing corvids into the park.
If you’re looking to get some serious exercise, consider taking the 13.6-mile Ridge Loop Trail. The loop climbs about 2,000 feet in total, making it a strenuous journey. Enjoy a shift in gears from start to finish; as you climb, the surrounding habitat will transition from riparian and redwood forest to dry, open chaparral.
Or consider taking Año Nuevo Trail to Goat Hill Trail. It’s a long but relatively mild hike; the trail is three miles and has a 600-foot elevation gain. The trail is lined with ferns. Two benches, one halfway and one at the peak of the climb, sit along the trail. The route offers good views across Little Butano Creek Valley and the grassy hills beyond.