Monday, December 8, 2008

Backpacking: Butano State Park Trip Report

PB280036View of the sun getting ready to set from the Landing Strip near the trail camp on Butano Fire Road.

Figuring I should take advantage of not having to work on the Friday after Thanksgiving and wanting to burn off all that turkey and pie, I asked my friend Brian to join me for a short backpacking excursion. Originally I thought a two-nighter from Hetch Hetchy to Rancheria Falls in Yosemite might be nice, but then I remembered how gnarly traffic would be on Sunday coming home through Tracy and the Altimont Pass...BLECH!!! So I narrowed it down to this local one-nighter at Butano State Park returning home Saturday rather than Sunday to avoid the holiday return traffic frenzy.

Backpack Stats:
  • Date: November 28 & 29, 2008
  • Location: CA, Bay Area, Pescadero, Butano State Park
  • Mileage: ~11.25
  • Elevation: +/-2,081' ; lo pt 281'; hi pt 1,690'
  • Trailhead: Mill Ox Trail
  • TH Lat/Long.: 37.208,-122.333191
  • TH Facilities: NO toilet, water, or phone at trailhead; phone at entrance; water & toilet at picnic area on right after entrance station.
  • Trails Hiked: Mill Ox, Jackson Flats, Canyon, Trail Camp, Butano Fire Road, Mill Ox
  • Route Type: Loop
  • Trail Terrain(s): single track: steep in parts, slippery when wet, roots, some gravel higher up; fire road well maintained (mountain bikes allowed on fire roads).
  • Camp Lat/Long.: 37.22451,-122.291451
  • Camp: designated trail camp first come first pick; pit toilet, trash cans, NO WATER—pack it in or be prepared to hike for it; No fires, stoves only, some sites have log table w/bench
  • Plant Communities: Riparian, Redwood Forest / Mixed Evergreen, "Vernal Wetland", Chaparral.
  • Why go?: newts, lots o' banana slugs, fungi & lichen, nice sunset from the abandoned landing strip by camp. Trail camp is not heavily used, local solitude.
  • Official Website: Butano State Park
  • View the entire flickr photo album.
Fire-breathing newt crossing, BEWARE!
Brian molesting a newt for my photographic exploitation.

Newts, & Slugs, & Fungi, Oh My!

This was my first time visiting Butano State Park and I was quite impressed with the sheer numbers of newts, banana slugs, and variety of fungi and lichen. This is one moist park! I was also quite amused by all of the "Slow! Newt Crossing" signs. I'm really not sure it is possible to drive slow enough to see a newt actually crossing the road in front of me, but I tried my best.

Along the trail I spied a clump of fungi I had never seen before. It was a series of almost translucent white finger-shaped stalks pointing out of the leaf litter only a few inches high. Once home I found out it was named appropriately enough: Fairy Fingers. There were many other species, some of which I had seen before in other redwood parks but never took the time to figure out what they were. This time I did a little research after getting home. Three of the species I identified were:

Clavaria vermicularis
a.k.a. Fairy Fingers
Enjoying the little camp table at site #1 and a few afternoon rays of sunlight. The redwood canopy above creates a very damp & chilly environment
Butano Trail Camp

As with most of the local backpacking opportunities in the bay area, camping is restricted to a trail camp. Often this situation feels like all the disadvantages of car camping mixed with all the disadvantages of backpacking (all work and no solitude). But not so this time. We practically had the whole trail camp area to ourselves except for one very quiet couple—not visible or audible to us at our site.

I don't know if this relative vacancy was due to Thanksgiving weekend and everybody traveled out of the bay area, or if the masses were too busy shopping to hike, or if the camp is just deserted like this most of the time in the off-season. Or maybe it was because there is no water at this trail camp so you have to pack it all in or hike back out in search of the closest running creek. In any case, this solitude created some much welcomed peace.

Butano trail camp does offer some amenities such as a pit toilet and trash cans, and some of the sites have little log benches and tables (site #2's was squished under a felled conifer). Also this camp doesn't seem to have the racoon problem of other local trail camps (let's keep it that way people...don't leave out any trash or food "rewards").


One of MANY banana slugs near camp.

One potential downside is that the camp area is shaded by a reasonably thick redwood canopy, so in the event of fog or recent rain bring some extra dry warm layers and a tent or tarp over and under your sleeping bag because everything left out WILL get wet just from the surrounding moisture and there won't be much sunlight to dry it off the next day. Also be prepared for curious, moisture loving banana slugs crawling on your stuff. Have no fear of the slug. They won't hurt you, but they will leave a slime trail that does not wash off easily.

If at camp you find yourself craving views, you are in luck. Not far from camp along Butano Fire Road to the west there is an abandoned landing strip of sandstone gravel surrounded by chaparral and knobcone pine with nice views of the valley to the south and west. After setting up camp, we took a stroll over to the landing strip to explore and watch the sun dip into the blanket of coastal rolling fog with colors turning from silver to yellow to orange to pink to red.


  1. Cool. I have not been to Butano but perhaps this is worth reconsidering.

    I'm also impressed at your fungus identification-- I just went to the fungi fair at the Oakland Museum last Sunday and it's become one of my new goals in life- to learn more about all the different kinds of are further along on this journey than I!

  2. Thanks Victoria! I'm sorry I missed the fungi fair.. I live really close to the museum... hopefully next time.