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Samuel P. Taylor State Park Exploration

The 2,882 acres of Samuel P. Taylor State Park wilderness is within easy driving distance of San Francisco.

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Difficulty: Moderate
Length: 2.6 miles
Duration: 1-3 hours
Family Friendly

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 »

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.

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Tips:  The park is 15 miles west of San Rafael on Sir Francis Drake Boulevard.

P.O. Box 251

Lagunitas, CA 94938


... more »

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Points of Interest

1. Getting Started

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

2. Salmon Crossing

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 ... More

3. Start of Pioneer Trail

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

4. First glimpse of fire evidence

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

5. Burl, Bole, Crown

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

6. Redwood Bark

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

7. A Giant Falls

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, ... More

8. Mysterious shadows

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

9. More fire

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

10. Flowers of Aralia californica

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

11. Other trees

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 ... More

12. Pioneer tree

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