Suddenly it hits you. You’ve had one of those weeks. You need a vacation. Unfortunately, vacation time and resources are not available. Is there somewhere you can go? Somewhere you can be as active or passive as you want within an environment that gives you an opportunity to relax, reflect—catch your breath?
There definitely is, but certain criteria need to be met to ensure an enjoyable day. Your destination needs to be relatively close to home, within one to one and half hours. Scenic, in a natural setting. Close to water, like a lake, a creek, or the ocean. Somewhere to walk or bike along trails. Picnic facilities available, a table and grill.
Samuel P. Taylor State Park, in central Marin County, is a great place to spend your one-day getaway. Less than one hour from San Francisco, set among towering coastal redwoods and Papermill Creek, this 2,882-acre park provides enough options to satisfy every member of an outdoor group or family. Below the canopy of redwoods, broadleaf maples and white alder—among the ferns and spring wildflowers—thick leaf litter below your feet—listening to the sound of water tumbling over smooth creek boulders—there, you’ll find yourself releasing the tensions of a busy life. Regardless of the season, a visit here is always a memorable experience.
Samuel P. Taylor—the man for whom the park is named—was lured to California by the gold rush but entered the lumber business after reaching San Francisco. He first saw the park area in 1854, when he purchased 100 acres of timberland. Rather than starting a logging business, Taylor constructed the first papermill west of Pennsylvania. Around 1870, he and his wife opened a nearby summer campground for city children and their parents. Camp Taylor, along with a narrow gauge railroad and a resort hotel—the Azalea—made Taylorville one of the most popular weekend recreation areas of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s.
Today, the Azalea is gone but Camp Taylor still exists, and options are numerous for the active part of your day. There are 10 miles of hiking trails within the park crossing the cool, shaded canyon floor and running up the northern slopes to dry, open grasslands at the summit of the hills.
The North Creek Trail and Ox Trail follow tree-lined Papermill Creek for a level mile to the Old Mill Site and the swimming hole, with plenty of creekside access along the way. A self-guiding brochure, “Historical Trail Guide,” explains the nine numbered posts on your route. From the large redwood stump in the picnic grounds (a reminder of the giant redwoods once part of the area), to the spreading pond in the shallow creek at the end of the trail (a natural swimming hole for over 50 years), you can step back in time as you enjoy these spots.
Following the smaller Wildcat Creek up into Wildcat Canyon is the 2.2 miles Pioneer Tree Redwood Ecology Nature Trail. The self-guiding brochure that accompanies this hike points out the relationships between flora and fauna in this coastal redwood ecosystem: Coast redwoods, California bay, tanoak, Pacific madrone, hazelnut, bracket fungi, fox, raccoon, stellar jays, ravens, and vultures all interacting with the sun, wind and water to create this unique environment. On the open grassland, hiking trails and fire roads meander through the hills up toward Barnabe Peak at 1,466 feet, where raptors soar over views of the rolling countryside. This area appeals to our need for open spaces, the warming rays of the sun, the brisk chill of the wind, and uphill walking.
Bikes are permitted in developed areas and on paved trails.
The Old Railroad Grade, closed to vehicles, scenically follows the creek, passed the Swimming Hole, to the town of Tocaloma. This gentle, nearly level, three-mile route is ideal for families. The grade also runs east of the main grounds, following a wide dirt trail, about two miles, to the Shafter Bridge.
After your activities, be sure to allow time for the passive part of your day. The Azalea picnic area, under the redwoods and along the creek, is equipped with picnic tables and cooking stoves. It’s the ideal location for some serious eating and relaxing, while reflecting on the beauty around you. Take yourself down creekside to sit, wade, or just wet your feet.
At Samuel P. Taylor State Park, the whole is definitely greater than the sum of its parts. Ù