Trailhead: Enter at main park entrance — Redwood Gate at 7867 Redwood Rd. – pass the entry kiosk and park in first lot on the left next to the Fishway Interpretive Site
Parking: Parking is free on weekdays, but there is a $5/car parking fee on weekends and holidays April – October. There are several lots at this entrance.
In a Nutshell: A shady and easy hike which, despite not being so much off the beaten path, is always peaceful and offers plenty of inspiring natural beauty and wildlife sightings.
Approximate Length: 3 miles out and back (with options to go farther)
Approximate Time: 1 hour
Terrain: Relatively flat path that follows Redwood Creek. Some small ascents/descents towards the end of the trail.
When my energy is low, but I need to get out, Bridle Trail is one my favorite places to go. It’s just a simple out and back trail that never strays too far from the road into the park, or from picnic areas which (I’ve heard) can be popular on the weekends. But there’s a peaceful sense about this trail that I welcome especially when my mind has been in overdrive. And even if I set out with the intention to just walk, I always see something so lovely along this trail that I can’t resist stopping to take some photos too.
I find there are fewer dogs on this path (dogs must be on leash here to protect the creek habitat—see below), and perhaps that’s why I’ve had so many more wildlife encounters on this trail. It’s the only place in the entire park that I’ve ever seen bunnies, and it was along this trail just 2 weeks ago that I watched at least 5 deer grazing not more than 30 feet away from me. More recently, I’ve heard the frogs return.
The trailhead here is actually an historical landmark where the Rainbow Trout species was first identified. As the interpretive signs will explain, the trout that spawn in Redwood Creek today are all direct descendants of that pure native strain.
The trout have some friends with them in this creek, the California Newts, who come to the creek during breeding season only. According to CaliforniaHerps.com, these cute little guys live on land most of the time, and it’s believed they can live as long as 20 years! But every year, their strong homing instinct takes them back to the same breeding sites starting as early as December and they may remain there through March. They’ve found that some newts migrate over 2 miles to get back to their breeding grounds. But even more fascinating is that some experiments have suggested that the newt’s homing instinct/migration could involve a form of celestial navigation! (http://www.californiaherps.com/salamanders/pages/t.t.torosa.html)
From the parking lot, head over to the fishway area and cross the creek. Go right to start on Bridle Trail.
You’ll notice lots of bramble throughout the hike on both sides of the trail, and undoubtedly you’ll hear something rustling around in that bramble. Could be one of the many birds around—I’d bet on some variety of a towhee or a stellar’s jay. Or just as likely it’s a squirrel. But if you’re really lucky, you might catch a rabbit hopping out of there.
From Bridle Trail, you have several options to take a left on other trails that take you up to the ridge (I’ll talk more about these in another post). The first two you’ll pass are West Ridge Trail and Orchard Trail. Just past the turnoff for Orchard, on the right you’ll see one of my favorite trees in the park growing on the bank of the creek. It’s a sprawling mossy oak behemoth with most of its root system exposed. I can’t help but take a photo every time I pass it. In different light and from all perspectives, it always offers an exquisite eeriness that seems to exude a sense of life and death simultaneously. Here’s one shot, but it’s only the beginning of what this tree looks like. I’m going to have to do an entire gallery posting dedicated to this tree. Coming soon!
Eventually you’ll come to an area called Fern Dell where you can veer to the right for Stream Trail. Most of Stream Trail is paved at this section, and it winds through various camping sites and picnic areas so I typically avoid it and stay on Bridle. But it’s a nice area and definitely worth scoping out if you you’re considering picnicking up here.
Bridle Trail begins to wind and has a few small inclines from this point until you reach Chown Trail, but it’s all easy stuff. Just be careful of the poison oak on the trailsides as the path narrows.
Once I reach Chown Trail on the left, I’ll start heading back the way I came. Bridle Trail officially ends at Chown, however it connects with Stream Trail at this point if you want to keep going down this leisurely streamside path.