Overview: Less than an hour’s drive north from San Francisco, the 2,882 acres of Samuel P. Taylor State Park is within easy driving distance of ... more »
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Less than an hour’s drive north from San Francisco, the 2,882 acres of Samuel P. Taylor State Park is within easy driving distance of ... more »some of northern California’s most dramatic outdoor scenery. The park features a unique contrast of coastal redwood groves and open grassland. Special thanks to Ranger Vic Graves and Damien Jones, Supervising State Park Ranger – Marin Sector North Parks of the California State Parks for their participation. Robin Marks of the Exploratorium contributed to this Exploration.
The park also features a variety of flowers and trees, including oak, tanoak, madrone, live oak, laurel and Douglas fir. California native wildflowers include buttercups, milkmaids, and Indian paintbrush.
The most common animal in the park is the black-tailed deer. There are also raccoons, striped skunks and gray foxes. Silver salmon and steelhead trout migrate up Papermill Creek to spawn.
This Exploration created in collaboration with the Exploratorium.
Special thanks to Ranger Vic Graves and Damien Jones, Supervising State Park Ranger – Marin Sector North Parks of the California State Parks for their participation.
Robin Marks of the Exploratorium contributed to this Exploration.less «
The park is 15 miles west of San Rafael on Sir Francis Drake Boulevard.
P.O. Box 251
Lagunitas, CA 94938
Please call the park for current hours of operation at the phone number above.
Download a trail map and more about the park.
Sunlight glints through the majestic redwoods as it has for thousands of years in the forest that makes up Samuel P. Taylor State Park. The park's 2,800 acres invite families and hikers of all ambition levels to explore classic northern California forests and vistas.
Park ranger Vic Graves, who's been with the state park system since 1980, helps... More keep the park in good shape, and greets visitors when he sees them on the trail.
A large stump near the park entrance gives visitors a sense of how big the forest's old growth trees were, most of which were logged during the 19th century. Hollowed out in the middle, the stump is big enough to hold an entire family for a park photo op.
Hikers in Samuel P. Taylor will find the occasional redwood stump etched with divots. Loggers would cut these slots through the foot-thick bark (now worn away) and into the wood to hold springboards they would stand on when sawing through the tree's enormous trunk, which could be 15 or 16 feet across. Often the base of the tree was made of knotty burls that were difficult to cut through, so loggers would raise their cut several feet above the burls, making their task easier.Less
A seasonal treat for park visitors are the spring salmon runs. Each year, ten percent of California's chinook, coho and chum make their way up Papermill Creek toward the ocean, and their squirming and leaping upriver delights many an onlooker.
Papermill Creek draws researchers from around the world to study populations of salmon and other fish, as ... Morewell as other stream ecology. The Coho swimming through here are endangered, and park officials hope that studies of conditions the encourage hatching and survival will help bring up the fish population's numbers.
Dappled sunlight through the forest canopy on Papermill Creek, in Samuel P. Taylor State Park.Less
The Pioneer Tree trail is a pleasant 2.5-mile loop through some of the park's oldest trees, leading to one of its centerpieces. Though the trail is short and easy enough for kids, it offers plenty of scenery and distance to keep adults happy.
Samuel P. Taylor's trees grow along slopes that lead down to a canyon. Many Bay Area redwood groves are... More found on hilly terrain like this, which gives them an ecosystem that's quite different from the floodplains that host some more northern coast redwoods. Fires burn hotter along these slopes, and the trees tend to be less massive.
The park's popular bike path runs just past the Pioneer Tree trail head. The path, paved over old railroad grade, runs along Lagunitas Creek for the length of the park, about 6 miles. On most days, park visitors will find it filled with cyclists, strollers, and even the occasional horseback rider.Less
Redwoods coexist with fire and are, in fact, dependent on it. Fires clear competing plants from the forest floor and burn them into nutrients that nourish young redwood seedlings. A living redwood with its trunk hollowed out by fire is an iconic--and not at all uncommon--image of the tree's adaption to a fire ecology.
This chunk of fallen tree... More trunk along the Pioneer tree trail offers a chance for a close-up look at fire damage. Start your inspection here, at the bottom of the segment...
...or climb to the top and slide down for an inside-the-trunk view. (Just remember to wipe the soot off your bottom when you're done.)Less
Above ground, redwoods have three distinct parts: the greenery at the top is the crown, and the main trunk of the tree is called the bole. Redwoods (and some other trees) possess a special tissue at their base, called burl, which you can tell by its knotty, bumpy appearance.
Burl harbors thousands of buds, which will sprout from the burl if the... More tree is damaged.
These sprouts can grow into new trees, given enough light. They are exact clones of the tree from which they came. Sprouts like these are responsible for "fairy circles," rings of trees that grew up once the tree in the center of them died. You can spot sprouts at the base of many redwood trees along the Pioneer Tree trail.
Occasionally, a burl sprout will grow into an entirely new trunk, running parallel to the original tree, jutting out from its side. These "reiterated trunks" can be up to 15 percent of the total mass of a redwood. For a tree that can weigh up to a million pounds, that's a lot of extra weight to bear.Less
The bark of a redwood is distinctive: it is reddish in color, of course, very fibrous, with deep fissures. Redwood bark is light in oils and heavy in tannins, making it more resistant to fire than most tree barks. Redwoods are also thick-skinned trees; A forest giant may be wrapped in bark over a foot deep.
The bark of old growth Douglas-firs ... More(Pseudotsuga menziesii) can masquerade as redwood bark. This mighty fir has thick bark with deep grooves, looking much like a redwood.
How to tell the two apart? Put your hands on them. Redwood bark will feel fibrous and almost spongy.
Fir bark, on the other hand, will feel much firmer.
Redwood or Douglas-fir? Side by side, the two barks can look strikingly similar.Less
Fallen trees are as important as fire and sunlight to the ecology of a redwood forest. The decaying soft wood and bark--usually an enormous amount of it, because the trees are so massive--provides nutrients for many living things.
An observant hiker will find lots of fungi living on fallen redwoods. Fungi play an important role in the decay cycle, ... Morebreaking down the wood and extracting nutrients from it. Fungi are then, in turn, eaten by a variety of small animals in the forest, who ultimately return those nutrients to the soil.
Some fungi make quite beautiful decorations on old redwood logs. Any idea on what these might be (we're stumped - no pun intended).
Lichens, which are plant-like organisms consisting of a fungus and algae living together, also play a role in nutrient cycling for both redwoods and Douglas-fir.Less
On a sunny day, a hiker visiting Papermill Creek might see mysterious shadows darting around.
A closer look reveals insects called water striders. They get their name from the tiny air-trapping hairs on their legs that allow them to skate on the surface of a body of water. Watch them skate and you'll see they use their middle legs to propel... More themselves, and their back legs to steer.Less
Fire shapes and colors the redwood trees of Samuel P. Taylor, as it does those in any redwood forest. The sloping hillsides of this redwood park (and of others in the Bay Area) create conditions that help fires burn hotter than they do in forests on the flatter coastal plains of northern California.
A favorite feature for redwood hikers are the... More cave-like hollows, called "goose pens," left behind by fires. These openings are so large that, in earlier days, settlers in the West could corral their livestock in them, thus giving the goose pens their name.
Many goose pens and other fire scars are found on the uphill sides of the redwood trees. That's because the slopes and trunks act together as a catch-all for fallen limbs and other debris. This debris, known as "duff," collects at the base of the tree, on its uphill side, and provides fuel for a fire sweeping through.Less
Flowers of Aralia californica , also known as "elk clover" though it is not technically a clover.
The Leaves of the Aralia californica , also known as "elk clover" though it is not technically a clover.
Giant Trillium (Trillium chloropetalum) dots the understory of Samuel P. Taylor State Park.
Some kind of lovely little mint? I.D.... More anyone?Less
Redwoods may be the oldest and most mythological trees in the park, but they are but one tree among several in this ecosystem. Samuel P. Taylor is also home to some majestic old-growth Douglas firs, as well as tan oak, madrone, and other hardwood trees.
Bay laurels, with their pleasantly scented leaves, are found in clusters throughout the redwood ... Moreforest.
Experts at finding their place in the sun, bays can grow an arc across bewildering distances to reach a faraway patch of sunlight.
We believe this to be a species of Alder, but did not get a good I.D. while out on the hike. Anyone?Less
About two-thirds of the way through the trail, the Pioneer Tree stands as a testament to the old growth redwoods that once dominated the land that makes up the park. The Pioneer Tree was probably saved from logging because of a bend in its trunk, making it not quite as straight as what is prefered for lumber.
The tree is actually a cluster of... More trunks, large trees that have, over time, grown together and fused their bark. The opening between trunks invites curious hikers to take a peek inside.
Getting up close, hikers will find an opening wide enough to walk through easily, that seems to go on quite a ways into the darkness.
Once inside, explorers can look up into the cobwebs and guess how far up flames once burned the tree. A flashlight will reveal that the sooty sides extend up about 30 feet.
Indeed, the Pioneer Tree has enough room inside for several people, and even a window to look out on the world.Less