Redwood Peak > French > Starflower > Madrone


Trailhead:  Redwood Bowl Staging Area parking lot at approximately 10600 Skyline Blvd., just north of the main Roberts Recreation Area entrance.

Parking:  Parking is free and the lot is large

In a Nutshell:  A short but strenuous hike into deep redwood and madrone forests.  Very quiet and almost entirely under the shade of impressive trees.

Approximate Length:  2 mile loop

Approximate Time:  45 min – 1 hour

Terrain:  Steep inclines with good footing on narrow gauge trails in abundant shade.


BIG.  That’s all I could think as I looked around at the redwoods on this hike.  And it occurred to me that these trees are not just big in stature, they are large in spirit, too.  In addition to the wonderful things trees do like provide oxygen and clean our filthy air, I had recently read that way up there on those redwood branches are mini-ecosystems for all sorts of other living plants and insects.  There are even certain species of salamanders and earthworms who will spend their entire lives 300 feet up in the air, in the cradle of redwood branches (

Even the felled redwoods are generous.  Whether it’s a tree trunk uprooted by a storm that now provides a habitat for plants and animals on the ground, or the harvested timber used for building homes and cities, the benefits from the redwoods seem endless.  And there I was, a mere speck, standing next to these giants.  A speck in size, but admittedly, in generosity too. I had to ask myself, how much do I selflessly do for others?

And I confess to these benevolent trees around me:  It’s possible that when an opportunity comes my way to do something for someone else, I ask myself:  “What’s in it for me?”  “How will I benefit?”

Now honestly, I don’t think friends and family would consider me an especially self-absorbed person.  But by what stick are they measuring me?  Certainly not against the virtuous sticks I stand next to here.

At first, I feel so ashamed I believe penance must be extreme.  Should I give up on a having a profitable career, a mortgage, and instead start spending all my time and energy crusading for some noble cause?  I look to the trees for approval.  They do not reply.

Maybe I need to start smaller and stop looking around for approval.  Maybe I need to drop the cost/benefit analysis.  Rather than my standard “What’s in it for me?”  How about, “What can I offer?” Or “How can I help?”  Because there is always something or someone right in front of me who could use a little help.

The plant that is withering away in my garden:  Put down the phone and feed the plant some compost.

The birds need safe places to nest:  Shut down the computer and put up a birdhouse.

The elderly woman down the street is afraid to leave her house:  Turn off the TV and check in on her, see if she needs anything.

These responses will cost me time and energy.  Sustaining this approach will demand a considerable amount of discipline on my part.  But what is that compared to what I have received?  Compared to these magnanimous trees?


From the Redwood Bowl Staging Area parking lot, follow the signs for the West Ridge Trail.  Eventually, you’ll pass the Redwood Bowl picnic area on your left.

Keep following the trail, past the Roberts Ridge and Graham trails until you reach a major trail intersection.  To the right, you’ll see and smell a bright Eucalyptus grove to start off the Madrone Trail.  I chose to go left and conquer the Redwood Peak Trail first.

A few steps up the trail and you are greeted by a toppled tree creating a Gothic archway into this woodland cathedral.IMG_0773b-cr When you get to the fork in the trail, going to the left will put you on a short path up a hill along the Archery Range on the left.  Up at the top, you’ll find several large rocks which, sadly, look like they have been carved in by people for years.

Retrace your steps back down to the fork and this time go to the right.  Here, we begin a descent of about 300-400 feet in ½ a mile.  Despite the steep incline, there are lots of rocks and tree roots that make stepping down easy.  Even after a bit of rain, there were only a couple spots that were a little slippery.  It was incredibly quiet on this trail that follows a gulch down to the valley floor.  Once in a while, I heard or saw a bird.  Other than that, nothing seemed to be stirring but me.

Redwood Peak Trail ends at French Trail—go right.  As you continue to descend, you’ll find yourself flanked on either side by armies of redwoods and ferns covering the hillsides, all the way up on your right, and all the way down to the valley floor on your left. I had to stop for a while to admire this incredible landscape and see if it were possible to see the tops of any of these giant redwoods.

At the bottom of the hill, you’ll come to another crossroads.  At this point, the signage was a little confusing to me my first time, so I’ll make it easy and tell you to just keep going right until you’re back up at the top. In fact, you are turning right onto Starflower Trail and, shortly thereafter, turning right onto Madrone Trail.

From the start of Starflower Trail you begin the ascent; from this point forward it’s all uphill.  I found it rather intense.  Fortunately, similar to the Redwood Peak Trail, there are plenty of natural footholds along the way that make the climb easier.

IMG_0786a-crThe Madrone Trail was aptly named as madrone trees are everywhere in all their red and peeling glory.  This trail is also, according to the map, about ½ mile.  With its steep ascent, it felt longer.

Less than ¼ mile from the end of the trail, I finally saw some wildlife.  A graceful deer was leaping away from the sound of me, her tail bobbing through the forest.

The trail winds around back up through the Eucalyptus grove we saw earlier near the West Ridge crossroads. Take the West Ridge Trail back down to the parking lot.

While the shade of this trail makes it perfect for hiking on sunny days, I highly recommend getting up there on a foggy morning, too, for an extra-ethereal experience.


Tres Sendas > French > Starflower > Tres Sendas


Trailhead:  Waterloo Staging Area at approx. 9300 Skyline Boulevard, Oakland, CA

Parking:  Parking is free, but lot (if you can call it that) is small—about 4 or 5 spaces—and there is additional parking street side.

In a Nutshell:  A deep woods hike with several ascents and descents, some of which you may find strenuous.  Overall, a moderate trail with abundant shade and spectacular changes of scenery.

 Approximate Length:  ~1.7 mile loop

[For a longer hike, turn right onto French Trail the second time you run into it, and left on West Ridge Trail back to Waterloo (~2.3 mile loop).  For a longer and sunnier hike, from Starflower, go right on Tres Sendas, left on Stream Trail and left on West Ridge Trail back to Waterloo (~3.1 mile loop that somehow seems less strenuous than the others).]

Approximate Time:  45 min. – 1 hr.

Terrain:  A winding narrow gauge trail with some strenuous ascents and descents below the canyon ridges.



This hike was the location for last week’s photo series entry, Fallen Dragons.





From the Waterloo Staging Area, walk down a path (passing the red house on your right) down to the trail marker.  Take a right onto Tres Sendas which will immediately take you down into lush woodlands.  The path follows a currently dried up creek which I can’t find on any map.  I have rarely seen anyone on this portion of the hike, although you’re sure to hear a thriving squirrel community rustling around on the other side of the dry creek.

The trail continues to descend into a valley of mossy oaks, bays and ferns.  And while I am always delighted by the verdant beauty along this trail, in the mornings, the sun shines down the hillside, its light dispersed into a multitude of rays by the density of trees in its path.  And the leaves caught in those rays glow in astonishing shades of green against the background of their shadowed neighbors.  Nothing like starting your day with such a spectacular symphony of trees and light.

IMG_0783aAfter about 1/3 of a mile, turn right onto French Trail where you’ll begin ascending.  From this point forward, the trail winds up and down several slopes along a valley floor with redwoods and ferns cascading down the hillsides.  The scene is otherworldly here, and I can’t help but feel like I’ve tripped through a portal into some pristine prehistoric period.  The sad and ironic fact is that the redwoods here are 2nd and 3rd generation forests, their ancestors having been harvested in the mid-1800s and again in the early 1900s.   (More on this subject will be coming in a separate blog entry.)

In just over half a mile, you’ll come to the Starflower crossroads.  Turn left here, and then left again once you reach Tres Sendas.

This section of Tres Sendas is a little more popular than the previous trails.  And it’s easy to see why with its redwood trees and large rocks closely bordering the trail.  After ¼ of a mile, you’ll pass French Trail (this is where you can turn right for longer hike mentioned above).  In less than another 1/10 of a mile, you’ll come to another French Trail marker—turn right to stay on Tres Sendas and to climb back up the trail you initially took down to the valley floor.