Thornewood Open Space Preserve: small is beautiful

There’s a lot to like about Thornewood Open Space Preserve, especially for a procrastinator like myself. When it’s 2 o’clock on a Sunday afternoon and I suddenly have the urge to get out to nature, this is my go-to place, for several reasons – it’s close, easy and offers some nice diversity. The 1.5-mile trail through the 167-acre preserve slopes gradually down from the trail head past a variety of flora and ends at a small algae-covered pond, where you can sit and enjoy the cool shade while watching the ducks paddle around, and fill your lungs with clean, forest-scented air.


A big attraction is just how easy it is to get to. Drive down (or up) I-280 and exit at Hwy 84 toward the town of Woodside, and head a few miles up into the Santa Cruz Mountains. Keep an eye out for the stone gate on your left that marks the entrance – it’s easy to miss. Take the narrow road about 30 yards in, and you’ll come to a small parking lot on your right, where you’ll find the trail head.

There’s some nice tree cover as you start out through a grove of mossy live oaks, with the trail crossing several small rivulets you want notice unless it’s rained recently. Even if it hasn’t rained for a while, you’ll notice dampness in places, which is due to the dense forest canopy. A small wooden bridge crosses over Dennis Martin Creek, which is mostly dry in the summer. On a recent hike, we noticed some flowering plants, and spotted a banana slug on the side of the trail. At one point, the trail comes to a small crest and the growth opens up to reveal a magnificent view of the peninsula below – towns, San Francisco Bay, and the mountains of the east bay.


On the latter portion of the trail, live oaks and broad-leaf maples give way to towering redwoods, with small shoots sprouting up here and there from the many pine cones strewn about. Near the end, the trail curves around and you look down upon the green pond and a cluster of redwoods surrounding it. Several fallen trees have been sawed in half to clear the trail here, and moved into ‘guard rails’, fun for climbing on if you’re so inspired. The pond itself, aka Schilling Lake, is home to migrating waterfowl, and we spotted a family of ducks paddling along, weaving little trails through the algae.

Leashed dogs are allowed here, and many of the people we passed were hiking with their pets. Horses are also allowed, though the trail is a bit narrow in spots, and there’s no parking for horse trailers. Either way, you’ll leave refreshed, but with your legs still intact.

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