Catch a State Park Documentary

There are some new opportunities to catch two awesome documentaries about California state parks in person or in the comfort of your own camper. Be sure to check them out!

1. Mile … Mile & A Half

See a screening of a new documentary by The Muir Project, Mile … Mile & A Half. The screening is June 15 at the Guild Theater in Sacramento. See a screening of the film, see a musical performance by Opus Orange, and do a Q&A with the film crew. Half of ticket proceeds from the screening with be donated to CSPF, so double bonus! More info on Facebook, and direct ticket sales here.

Beautiful shot from the film Mile ... Mile & A Half

Beautiful shot from the film Mile … Mile & A Half

MMAAH_Press_2About Mile … Mile & A Half

A group of artists leave their daily lives behind to hike the John Muir Trail & bring back their experiences and inspiration. From Yosemite Valley to the highest point in the contiguous US – Mt. Whitney. 219 miles in 25 days.

Along the way, they are joined by musicians, painters, teachers and other adventure-seekers. In the midst of the grandeur and daily grind, they discover what matters most is the opportunity to seek adventure wherever and whenever you can.

What began as an adventure to see – let’s be honest – if they could complete the trail, became the need to capture the experience in order to share the trail with others. Come see how life on the trail shapes the lives of artists and individuals.

2. The First 70

You’ve heard us talk about this film before (because we love it), but now The First 70 is going to be widely available for everyone to enjoy in a new DVD box set and on digital platforms.

The new DVD has lots of cool extras, including behind the scenes, cutting room floor, photo gallery, and a special download from CSPF!

TheFirst70_busimagethe-first-70-3d-box-lrAbout The First 70

When they heard the state of California wanted to close a quarter of its state parks, three young filmmakers set out to visit the 70 parks that were doomed to close.  Along the 3,000 mile trek, they capture both the majesty of the state’s parks and the outrage of local community members, park rangers and environmental activists who are confounded by the State’s financial logic, yet determined to keep these wondrous expanses of beauty open to the public.

The First 70 is a about Californians banding together to enact change and develop solutions in the face of a glaring bureaucratic oversight. Volunteers have been forced to lend even more of their time and effort to support the already grossly underfunded state park system. Independent organizations and nonprofits have become obligated to step up to the challenge of keeping parks open, supporting them financially while working within the state’s guidelines. Due to these citizen-led efforts, the 70 parks were not closed on the July 2012 deadline, however their future is still hazy.

Above the clouds…and fog: East Peak of Mt. Tamalpais (Photos)

A guest post BY VICTOR VOLTA

Victor is a professional photographer and writer, living in Alameda, CA. He has a degree in Journalism from San José State University. He is an avid hiker, loves road trips to the Sierras and the desert.

victor_volta_040513

East Peak, Mt. Tamalpais

There are various ways to get to the East Peak of Mt. Tamalpais (directions from Mill Valley). At 2,571’, it’s the highest point in the park . The easiest way is to cheat and drive up East Ridgecrest Boulevard, park in the lot and wander around the summit, taking in the panoramic views.

But as with most things worth savoring, a little hard work is more beneficial to the soul, not to mention the heart, lungs and legs. The southern approach from Fern Creek Trail is one of the most challenging stretches of climbing in the entire park. The best starting point for this option is to park at the lot across from Mountain Home Inn on the Panoramic Highway. On mid-week mornings, parking is ample, but it can fill up on weekends, especially during the late spring and summer. There are two chemical toilets and a stunning view of Muir Woods below and to the west.

One caveat: From the parking lot, the starting point isn’t apparent or obvious. First the hiker must cross the street (look both ways for cars being driven by awestruck tourists, speeding cyclists, or deer) then walk up the driveway of the Throckmorton Fire House. You might feel like a trespasser, but continue to the left of the station and you’ll see a wide fire road (Hogback Fire Road).

The terrain starts off with a moderate incline, but once past the water tower and the Matt Davis trailhead, the real workout begins and it’s a steep climb of several hundred yards to the intersection of Old Railroad Grade Fire Trail. Unless the hiker is out to really punish their legs, an occasional stop to catch one’s breath and to take in the view to the south is recommended. While a magnificent scene of the forest peeking through a fog bank like the above photo isn’t guaranteed, the view is always something to be marveled at. Depending on visibility and the fog bank, stretching to the horizon are views of Sausalito, San Francisco Bay, the Bay Bridge, and countless other landmarks.

The T-intersection of Old Railroad Grade (1400’) is a good place to stop and rest, drink some water and perhaps shed a layer of clothing. This fire road is a popular thoroughfare for mountain bikers on their way from Mill Valley to either West Point Inn or the East Peak. Continuing to the left, it’s an easy amble of less than half a mile on the wide fire road to the Fern Creek trailhead.

Nestled against the mountainside in the crease formed by Fern Creek, the trail to the summit is single track (no bikes allowed) that takes the hiker up varied terrain up the southern slope towards the summit. This trail section is roughly a mile in length, gaining about 1,000′ in elevation, making it one of the steepest one-mile stretches in the park.

It’s starts steeply up switchbacks and steps in the shade of bay laurel, oak and a smattering of evergreens. This time of year (early April) finds blooms of wild iris. A quarter mile up, the trail flattens, crosses Fern Creek, and then reaches the intersection of the short Tavern Pump trail. From here it’s a hard, steady climb. Once past a long wooden staircase, the underbrush becomes mainly chamise and manzanita and the path turns rockier and more uneven. On the way down, this rocky terrain will test the treads on one’s hiking shoes and help determine if a trip to REI to buy new ones is needed.

There’s a final steep chute through a tunnel of manzanita branches that takes the hiker to the end of the trail. One more caveat: This isn’t the summit. The summit is a short climb away from the Visitor Center, which is to the right about two hundred yards up an access road. In addition to the visitor center (open only on weekends) there are bathrooms, picnic tables and the views become expansive once again.

For those who want to experience the true summit of the East Peak, it’s another quarter mile and 200’ climb up a wooden walkway that eventually gives way to a rockier trail. At the end of this short section is a lookout tower that’s inaccessible to the public, but from just below it, finally gives the hiker a panoramic view in all directions. Lunch can be enjoyed here above the clouds and fog (hopefully), back down near the Visitor Center, or some other spot of the hiker’s choosing.

For the return trip, the hiker can either backtrack to Mountain Home Inn or, using a trail map, pick a new route back down the mountain.

This article originally appeared on Examiner.com.

My Funky Hiking Boots Lead The Way

A guest post BY SHAWN BOLKER

Shawn Bolker is a member of California State Parks Foundation. He completed the Defend What’s Yours Challenge in 2012 to show his support for California state parks.

Henry Cowell © Shawn Bolker

Henry Cowell © Shawn Bolker

Ever since I was two years old, my family and I have had the tradition of spending time outdoors and of also volunteering to protect our natural surroundings.  The outdoors must be preserved for future generations.  It is important to have a natural place to ground people when they are  moving all around, to stay in touch with the earth and just to mellow down.

I really like to hike, backpack, and photograph waterfalls.  Now that I am a teenager, my dirty old hiking boots and I often head out to explore nature.  My hiking boots lead the way and my camera is in my hand to capture and reflect what is around me.

I also enjoy researching an area before I take off to explore.  My comfortable, warm and funky hiking boots remind me of where I have been and all that I would like to discover.

Guest Post: Hiking Big Basin Redwoods

A guest post BY EMILY SIEGENTHALER

Emily Siegenthaler is the senior member services assistant in the California State Parks Foundation’s San Francisco office. Originally from Boston, Emily has loved living among the redwood trees in California. This is her recent account of a hike through Big Basin Redwoods State Park:

When I first moved to California in 2009 I lived in Santa Cruz, and visiting the redwoods there was one of my favorite activities. So when a friend suggested we go hike Big Basin a couple weeks ago, I was thrilled—there is nothing quite as breathtaking as being in the presence of these extraordinary, ancient giants.

Big Basin Redwoods State Park is California’s oldest state park, it was established in 1902. In fact, starting with the Sempervirens Club in 1900, local citizens have spent years fighting to preserve its beauty, and their efforts over the decades have paid off! It is home to the largest continuous stand of ancient coast redwoods south of San Francisco, and the park consists of over 18,000 acres of old growth and recovering redwood forest.

My friend and I decided to take in as much of the park as we could in an afternoon, choosing a hike to Berry Creek Falls which allows explorers to experience the wide range of habitats represented in Big Basin. There are multiple routes hikers may take to reach the falls depending on desired difficulty. We opted to take the Sunset Trail out and the Skyline to the Sea Trail back, which is the most strenuous and totals at approximately 11 miles. The hike takes 4-6 hours and, of course, what makes this hike worth it are the four waterfalls you witness along the way: Cascade Falls, the Golden, Silver Falls, and Berry Creek Falls. On our route, Berry Creek Falls were that last, lower falls, and they are the largest.

Berry Creek Waterfall

The Sunset Trail is filled with redwoods and opens up into a small, rolling valley before you reach the falls—lovely views, and a nice place to stop and take a breather. The soft sandstone has also been etched upon by the hundreds of people who have come to enjoy Big Basin, one message eroding away into the next. On the return, the Skyline to the Sea Trail threads its way through the park along Waddell Creek to the beach and adjacent Theodore J. Hoover Natural Preserve, a freshwater marsh. This nice, hilly (but shady!) route back is dotted with redwoods, creek beds, bridges, and of course, banana slugs.

I highly recommend Big Basin Redwoods State Park to anyone looking to hike amongst some of the oldest treasures of California. And with 80 miles of trails to choose from, you’re bound to find a hike that is exhilarating and perfect for you!

Henry W. Coe State Park: Perfect for Experts and Beginners

A guest post BY WESLEY MCDONALD

Wesley McDonald is a proud San Franciscan who enjoys blogging about travel, culture, the hospitality industry and everything the Bay Area has to offer. He is an online publisher for sanfranciscohotelguides.com.

Thanks to businessman, hiker and philanthropist Dan McCranie’s staggering donation earlier this year, California’s second biggest state park was given a second chance. In an interview with NPR’s “All Things Considered,” McCranie stated, “I’m crazy about this place… I think everybody who comes here is crazy about it.” That just about sums it up.

Henry W. Coe Park isn’t just a great place for tourists; it’s also a good entry point into the world of California state parks for young people who are new to Northern California and the Bay Area. With the wealth of interesting plant and wildlife, the huge variety in scenery and the abundance of outdoor activities it offers, Coe Park is great for newcomers and diehards alike. This article will cover a few of the recreational possibilities available at Coe Park and give some suggestions for both first time visitors and park veterans.

Photo © Tom Burke

Hiking
Though Henry W. Coe State Park has a fearsome reputation for steep alternating inclines, there is some good hiking to be had for beginners and urbanites. There are a ton of trails to choose from, some of which are extremely strenuous and daunting. Fortunately, there are also some trails that remain extremely pleasant while presenting only a small challenge. Hikers are likely to encounter canyons lined with creeks, rolling hills and the aforementioned steep inclines. In the spring, wildflowers are abundant and there are small lakes everywhere. Beginners should be advised to pack in sunscreen, proper clothing and plenty of water. The Henry W. Coe monument, which reads, “May these quiet hills bring peace to the souls of those who are seeking,” is a must-see for first time visitors. Bay Area Hiker has a great trail suggestion for beginning hikers here.

For more experienced hikers, the China Hole Trail is recommended. It’s best described as “tough but doable” for all but the most avid hikers. This hike is just about ten miles long, so it’s perfect for a day’s outing in the park. This hike is extremely steep toward the end and is not a good option for novices. It should also be noted that this hike is best ventured during the spring and early summer. There’s a good chance you’ll get your feet wet on this trail, so plan accordingly. Every Trail has a great guide to China Hole, including various maps, here.

Backpacking
Backpacking is one activity that’s best left to the experts where Coe is concerned. If you have the skill to venture in with a pack on your back and adventure in your heart, however, be prepared to see amazing natural wonders with nary another human being in sight. As mentioned previously, be prepared for some steep climbs and challenging terrain with will take its toll on your legs and knees. Coe allows backpackers to camp wherever they want to within reason, and the prices per night are more than fair. Always pack plenty of water and check in with park officials for information on the state of lakes, springs and creeks. Some great trip suggestions and photos can be found here and here.

Photo © Tom Burke

Equestrian
While Coe does not rent horses and there are no commercial stables with rental possibilities close by, the park is a great place for equestrian activity. For first timers or beginners, a simple day trip is recommended for a pleasant experience. The Hunting Hollow Trail is mostly free of steep inclines and treacherous terrain, and it clocks in at less than 7 miles—perfect for the uninitiated. Double check your routes with park officials before you depart in order to avoid any unforeseen hardships.
There are a ton of possibilities for more experienced equestrians, but be advised that both you and your horse need to be in excellent shape in order to tackle some of these trails. There are many camping destinations available, but most require horse and rider to secure permission before they stay the night. Park officials should be happy to tell you about the state of springs and other bodies of water (your horse will get thirsty too, after all) and help you obtain permission to camp. There are also some places that offer easy access to horse trailers.

Mountain Biking
Though it contains some of the Bay Area’s most intense steep climbs, Coe also includes some great downhill singletrack for intermediate riders. Those who are not experts should consider trying a ride they feel is a little below their skill level and go in the spring or early summer before it gets too hot. As with more inexperienced equestrians, bikers on the novice end of the scale should try the Hunting Hollow entrance. There are some spots that the water makes nearly impassable while mounted on a bike, so you’ll need to be prepared to carry your ride at certain points on your journey. Make sure to watch out for poison oak and motor vehicles. As always, park officials will be happy to speak to you about your chosen route—and remember to start slow and easy.

For veterans, there are few better tests of strength, endurance and skill than Henry W. Coe State Park. There are around 200 miles to explore on a multitude of open trails, so your skill level, your navigation skills and your resolve are the limit. Make sure you pack bike tools and plenty of water, as some trails are not commonly traveled by park officials on a regular basis. Some good suggestions for bike routes can be found here.

Nature Study and Photography
No matter your hiking, backpacking, equestrian or biking skill level one thing remains true—if you can get there, you can photograph it. Coe offers an amazingly diverse landscape full of hills, canyons, water, trees, wildflowers and a vast array of wildlife. It might seem like common sense, but it bears repeating: don’t engage in reckless behavior around potentially dangerous wildlife. Always ask park officials what you might expect to encounter on your journey and the best way to avoid conflict. Once prepared for your inevitable encounters with amazing wildlife, come in with an open mind and a camera or sketchbook at the ready. Intrepid travelers might encounter tarantulas, jackrabbits, wild pigs, mule deer, bobcats, mountain lions, red tailed hawks, wild turkey, long-eared owls, acorn woodpeckers, western pond turtles, California mountain kingsnakes and coast horned lizards—just to name a few! There’s also a handy guide to wildflowers available right here.

Devout city dwellers and recent transplants to the Bay Area are doing themselves a disservice by not visiting Henry W. Coe State Park. It offers a variety of activities for people of all skill levels and gives visitors the chance to witness breathtaking wildlife and landscapes. Veteran nature lovers will also find a lot to love about Coe, and it should be fairly easy for them to find camp sites and trails that are fairly secluded. Whether you’re a hardened backpacker or a first time visitor to any state park, please plan your trip in advance, pack plenty of water and seek the advice of park officials.

California’s State Parks: Recreation for Everyone


California’s richly diverse state parks give us all the chance to step back from our frenzied modern lives to refresh and restore ourselves in some of the most beautiful places on earth.

Henry Coe State Park is one such park that offers a spectacular recreational playground for people of all ages. With its vast and rugged landscape stretching across 90,000 acres, it is the second-largest state park in CA. A park so close to large metropolitan areas, one can escape to Henry Coe for horseback riding, mountain biking, exploring trails, hiking, connecting with nature and more.

Henry Coe is one of 70 California state parks on the park closure list. Though it will be kept open for now with a temporary operating agreement, it and 69 other parks are threatened to be lost to Californians for good.

To learn more about how you can help save California state parks like Henry Coe, visit calparks.org/defend.

This video is part of The Magnificent 70 project. See more at mag70.calparks.org.

Produced by Doug McConnell and Convergence Media. Music by Jenny Lloyd.

Guest Post: A Visit to Castle Rock State Park

A guest post BY NATHAN PARCELLS

This is my first post on the CalParks blog.  As an East Coast native exploring many of the California state parks for the first time, I wanted to share a fantastic day trip to Castle Rock, which is now one of my favorite California parks.  While everyone visits state parks for different reasons, it’s our shared joy of what they offer that helps create a community and preserve them for the future.  Thanks to the CalParks team for letting me post this and for the work you do every day to help our parks!

Castle Rock trees covered in moss.

Castle Rock State Park jumped to the top of my list of hikes to explore a few weeks ago. I had learned from a friend that the park’s odd-shaped boulders and cliffs have been the stomping grounds for some of the world’s best rock climbers. Reading more about the park, I quickly discovered that Castle Rock is an equally special place for back-packers and day-trippers who love the park’s vistas, Douglas Firs, and wildlife.

This last Saturday I finally got to join the ranks of visitors as a few friends and I woke up early, bought oranges, and made the two-hour trip south from San Francisco to Castle Rock.

The park is now one of my favorites.

Dripping Wet, A Park Transformed

During a weirdly dry California winter, the Saturday we visited Castle Rock was one of the wettest days of the season. We arrived at the park to find it socked in by clouds and mist, leaving every nook and cranny cool and damp. Still, the parking lot was packed with excited hikers not minding the weather.  Before we took off we ran into a large Boy Scout troop hurriedly waterproofing their backpacks with plastic covers and getting ready for an overnight trip, all with big smiles on their face.

Castle Rock itself is covered in moss.  It hangs from overhead branches, and is attached to the trunks and limbs of nearly every tree you pass.  With the greenness of the park, you get the sense that so close to the Pacific, the park is in its most natural state with a bit of rain and fog.  For me, one of the best parts of the hike was getting to the top of the Saratoga Gap. We looked out over the famous vista and instead of an ocean view, were treated to a wall of fog, slowly marching up the cliff.  While not the traditional vista, after a tough hike, the lookout into the abyss of fog was incredible in its own way.

So Many Different People

One of the most shocking things to me about Castle Rock is the diversity of people who visit the park.  From hardcore rock climbers to day-tripping families, the park offers something for everyone.

On our trip we ran into a group of European trail runners, college students playing in the caves of Goat Rock, and photographers snapping close ups of the fauna.  At just over 5,000 acres of preserved wilderness, it really is amazing how much seclusion and adventure the park can provide to so many different people.

Hiking required ponchos on this soggy day.

A Bit of Urgency

Ultimately, our trip was marked with a sense of urgency given that Castle Rock is one of 70 California State Parks whose budget has been cut and whose fate lies in limbo.  The park now depends on community and non-profit support to carry on.  After visiting Castle Rock, I couldn’t imagine a future without it, and hope we can all pitch in to help it live on.  Otherwise I look forward to traveling down to Castle Rock again soon and seeing a new side of the park, on a clear day.  I would love to hear your stories or thoughts on the park. Feel free to share them below.

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Nathan Parcells is a life-long backpacker and outdoorsman.  After interning for both the National Park Conservation Association and National Audubon Society, Nathan moved from his hometown of Bethesda to San Francisco to start InternMatch.com, a company that helps students find internships with a focus on non-profits.