“Corte Madera highlights including the Vista Point, plane crash and Tafoni Formation.”
— Tom Robson
River/Creek · Views · Wildlife
You practically can't go wrong in El Corte de Madera. Some trails are steep, some are wider old roads, but they are almost all beautiful. This particular hike hits some of the highlights, but this is a place to explore, so make your hike longer or shorter as desired by using any of the neighboring trails.
Need to Know
This is extremely popular with mountain bikers. Be nice to them and they'll hopefully be courteous in return!
Starting from the Skeggs Point parking lot, head north on Skyline Blvd for 100m or so until you see a trailhead on your left. There should be a gate and park map there. Take the trail on the right side that goes moderately downhill. The road noise fades and instead you hear the sound of trickling water in all but the driest months.
Avoid Fir Trail (Upper)
and stay slight right onto El Corte de Madera Creek Trail
. Shortly after, you'll break left onto Tafoni Trail (Upper)
. With 24 ft of total elevation change over the course of its length, Tafoni (Upper) is a mellow cruise on old logging road. As you can see in the elevation profile, it's high points are at the ends, with a dip near the middle. None of the grades are steep. Lots of foot traffic from users heading to the tafoni sandstone formations on Tafoni Trail (Lower)
Once you've reached a 4-way intersection, turn right onto Tafoni Trail (Lower)
. The Tafoni Trail (Lower)
starts in a wide clearing where the Tafoni Trail (Upper)
and Fir Trail (Upper)
form a junction. Start off with a short downhill and keep an eye out for the right-hand (short out-and-back) detour off Tafoni Trail. Take this footpath to see the ancient sandstone formations. This grouping of large sandstone boulders is rare and fragile, having slowly eroded over the years. An observation deck was built to give a better view and to help protect the formations. Retrace your steps back to the main Tafoni Trail and head right (northeast).
From here it's a lot of downhill, which can be tricky in the fall/winter time after it rains. The trail here is shadowed by oaks and firs. The trail ends at the junction of El Corte de Madera Creek Trail
. Turn left onto Resolution Trail
, a deep, dark, woodsy hillside trail passing near the site of a 1953 plane crash.
The Resolution Trail
is a favorite in the Corte Madera area. Starting from the junction with El Corte de Madera Creek Trail
, ascend steadily out of the dark canyon to the lighter, brighter canopy. Sections of level travel are interspersed with moderate inclines on twisty, narrow trail. The terrain on Resolution changes from dirt trails at the bottom to rocky surfaces at the top, making the last part of the incline more challenging.
At a sharp switchback left, the Resolution Trail
begins to ascend at a somewhat steeper grade. The trail becomes rocky, and one area is stripped of topsoil, leaving a sandstone surface. The sloping chaparral-covered hillside permits a rare view south, to a swath of conifers. The Resolution Trail
ends at a T-junction with Fir Trail (Upper)
and Fir Trail (Lower)
Turn left onto Fir Trail (Upper)
which almost immediately leads to Vista Point
, or a left turn. At approximately 1.2 miles, a path to the west veers off and heads uphill a short distance to the vista point. This small hilltop clearing has views of the distant ocean through trees and a single picnic table. There is also a memorial plaque commemorating the 19 people who lost their lives in the 1953 plane crash in this park. However, the actual spot of the crash is along Resolution Trail
. Retrace your steps back down to the Fir Trail (Upper)
and continue north.
With the exception of a large clearing near the end, this trail is mostly shaded and lined with fir, manzanita and madrone. Fir Trail (Upper)
starts off with a moderate uphill on a wide, old logging road, but then rolls downhill. From the intersection with El Corte de Madera Creek Trail
, turn right and head about 500 feet to the Skeggs Point parking area along Skyline Blvd.
Flora & Fauna
El Corte de Madera visitor will be treated to a mix of evergreen and redwood forests, and special features, such as rare sandstone formations. One of such formations is the Tafoni formation. This grouping of large sandstone boulders is rare and fragile, having slowly eroded over the years.
History & Background
The Resolution Trail
is named after a DC-6 airplane which crashed into the side of this mountain in October 1953. Eight crew members and eleven passengers died in the accident. It was flying a leg of its route from Sydney to Vancouver and was attempting to land in San Francisco in heavy clouds/fog. The crash and fire destroyed the airplane and left debris strewn throughout the forest. Sharp-eyed folks might see a few twisted scraps of metal but it is illegal (and very disrespectful) to remove any artifacts from the site. The crash site is about halfway along the Resolution trail on the west/downhill side.
The Methuselah Trail
is named for an old growth giant redwood located on the east side of Skyline Boulevard, opposite Gate CM-02. A sign indicates that the tree is approximately 1,800 years old. At one time, the tree was 225 feet, but that was before its top broke off!