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Mt. Ellen and Pomponio Trail

Memorial County Park

July 11th, 2004

4.0 miles
850 vertical feet
Total Time: 2:36

Rating: 6/10

Directions: From Interstate 280, take the Woodside Road (Highway 84) exit west. Follow the road up and over Skyline Boulevard. Turn left onto Pescadero Road. After about a mile, bear right, following the signs up the hill toward Memorial County Park. Drive another 4.5 miles and turn left into the signed Memorial County Park entrance. Parking is $5 per vehicle.   View Driving Map

Most people seem to come to Memorial County Park for the car camping or the picnic grounds. We were there for the hiking, but we didn't encounter a single other hiker on the trail. So if you like peace and quiet, this may be the hike for you.

We parked as close to the park entrance as we could, then walked back up and across the road to the Mt. Ellen trailhead. We shortly reached our first intersection, and took the right fork to head up to the Mt. Ellen summit. Supposedly the ascent is gradual, but it didn't seem that way under the weight of a 20-pound baby. It also didn't help that we managed to pick one of the hottest days in the past few weeks. Still, it wasn't all that bad, and the bulk of this section of trail is nicely shaded by redwood and other tall trees. Because of this, there's not much in the way of views for a while.

Before we knew it, we had climbed about 450 feet and stood on the summit of Mt. Ellen. I wouldn't exactly call it a mountain summit, though. It's probably more accurately described as the crest of a ridge. You're still surrounded by tall trees blocking the view on all sides, so the only way you know you're at the summit is that you've reached a high point and the trail in front of you heads downhill (heading roughly northwest).

Trees on the summit of Mt. Ellen

After stopping for a brief rest, we continued down the hill. The trail levels out a bit and within a couple hundred feet comes to a small fence. The reason for the fence is that on the other side is a sheer drop off a cliff. You can peer over the other side, and there are some nice lichen-draped trees, but no real views to speak of. If you want a lunch break, this is your best bet for a while. We didn't know this, however, and kept going on the trail, which veers sharply down to the left.

The narrow trail winds its way through a lot of poison oak and thorny berry bushes on either side. The trail goes in and out of sunlight here. Since it was such a hot day, we welcomed the shady sections, which seemed to occur less and less frequently. Every time we broke out into the sunlight, however, we could see pretty nice views of forested canyons below us to the left.

We eventually gave up on finding a nice spot to sit down and have lunch. We just picked the next shady spot of trail and sat down. Since we hadn't seen anyone else on the trail, I didn't expect that anyone would mind if we just sat down in the middle of it. There's really no other place to sit down for a break, as either side of the trail is covered with thorny bushes.

View of the forests

After lunch, we kept going on the trail, shortly passing a bench with a nice view. After the bench, the trail starts its turn back toward the trailhead, and also heads downhill. It also re-enters the forest. Shortly thereafter, we stopped at a small wooden fence. The book I have mentioned a spur trail here. While the fence says "park boundary", there are no private property signs or "keep out" signs, so we turned onto the noticeable spur trail here. The trail is short and easy to follow, except for one small section of trail which involves ducking a branch and jumping across a 2 or 3 foot wide ditch. On the other side of the ditch we crawled out into the open sunlight, crossing grassy fields to a dirt road. Here, there are some nice views of grassy hillsides to the northwest.

Hillsides to the northwest

After taking in the view, we headed back to the main trail and continued our descent. The trail is now pretty much shaded all the way back to the trailhead. It's a pleasant walk through some nice forest, but nothing really to note except for a nice section of redwood forest just before reaching Pescadero Road.

We crossed Pescadero Road and joined the trail on the other side, then turned left onto the Homestead Trail. We crossed a small bridge over Pomponio Creek, with a view of Pescadero Creek. Soon we were onto the pavement walking past camp sites. A left turn brought us to the entrance station and we were soon back at the parking lot. There's a little campground store here where I'm sure you can probably buy some ice cream and other refreshments, which would be welcome on a hot summer's day.

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