Trail Report: Sawyer Mill & San Andreas

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For my 17 mile training run, I decided to combine San Francisco’s Sawyer Mill and San Andreas Trails. Both challenging and the perfect length, these two trails offer some great views and a great run – or ride, as these trails are multi-use. During the weekends, these trails can be rather busy. The total distance from the start at Crystal Springs road to San Bruno Boulevard is approximately 17.5 miles. A portion of the trail, between the Sawyer Mill and San Andreas Trails, is a a dirt path, but the rest is shared with bicyclists on a paved trail. Geocaching has several hidden treasures along this route, also. Since this trail follows along the San Francisco watershed, wildlife is protected and you can often find Deer, Bobcats, and other wildlife sharing the path. Starting at Crystal Springs, the route is basically uphill for the first six miles, climbing gradually from 302′ to 600′. Most of this climb occurs from mile 4.5 until mile 6, and can prove a challenge. The trail between the trails is also rather a sharp incline/decline, but nothing too obnoxious. The good news is that from approximately mile 11 until mile 17, everything is basically downhill. For a profile view, you can see my workout from January 3, 2011 by clicking HERE.

Ratings (1 = easy, 5=hard)
Difficulty: **
Location: *****
Views: *****

For a history of the trail, here is the entry from the Government website:

San Andreas Trail
San Andreas trail extends from Cambridge Lane on the north to Hillcrest Blvd. on the south where it connects to the Sawyer Camp Trail. It is probably the second most popular trail in mid-county because a portion of it is paved and heavily used by bicyclists, joggers and hikers. It also has easy access to Skyline Boulevard. The southerly 0.7 mile is gravel-surfaced and not passable by bicycles, which have to detour to the frontage road east of I-280 to get to Sawyer Camp Trail. The trail passes close to San Andreas reservoir in its northerly section, and provides beautiful view points. It is hoped that some day it will connect to the Sweeney Ridge Trail and the San Francisco Bay Discovery Site.

Sawer Camp Trail

Introduction. Sawyer Camp Trail extending from Hillcrest Blvd. on the north to Crystal Springs Road on the south, is probably the best known of the mid-county trails because of its history and its extremely heavy use by bicyclists, hikers, joggers, and equestrians. More people use it, and are aware of it, than all the other trails in the County Park System.

Early Users. For thousands of years, this area was home to the Shalshone Indians. They were considered to be an extremely warlike people, fighting with their neighbors to the north and south.

They seemed to have been friendly enough when, on November 4, 1769, Gaspar de Portola and his men camped north of here, after descending form Sweeney Ridge where they were reputed to be the first white men to view the San Francisco Bay. Portola’s camp is now beneath the waters of San Andreas Lake; a sign at the trail entrance on Hillcrest Boulevard points to it.

In November of 1774, Captain Fernando Rivera, a principal officer of Portola’s, and the first to lead a group to purposely explore the Peninsula, camped near one of the Shalshone villages. It was probably in the meadow near the Jepson Laurel. His chaplain and diarist, Father Francisco Palou, named the area San Andreas, honoring that saint’s feast day.

Sawyer – The Man and The Road
It isn’t really known from whom Leander Sawyer bought the land, but he became active in this area soon after the land was sold (1853). He probably lived in a small adobe built near a natural spring in the hill, just southwest of the Laurel. This was remembered by some very old timers of the area. No trace of it remains today.

The Sawyer Camp Trail was Sawyer’s access to his camp (south of the Laurel tree) where -old timers say- he kept an inn to dispense food to picnickers, and to serve as a lodging place for horsemen traveling through, the area. Later, the trail was used by the stagecoach from Millbrae, which connected with the San Mateo Stageline to Half Moon Bay (Spanish Town).

During the 1850’s and 60’s, Sawyer grazed cattle in the area to keep down the brush and make a better area for incoming wagons.

Sawyer Camp Trail, later called San Andreas Valley Road, or just Valley Road, was once the main highway between San Francisco and Half Moon Bay. Wagons pulled by teams of horses hauled wood over the road. Much of the old road was flooded by the Crystal Springs Reservoir by 1888. When the city of San Francisco took over the watershed lands, narrow winding, Sawyer Camp Trail was then a county road. The Water Department fenced it for the protection of San Francisco’s drinking water.

In 1978, the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors designated the road a non-vehicular recreation trail, and paved it for bicycles with funds provided by the State Department of Parks and Recreation. It also served many hikers, joggers, and equestrians, and is one of the most popular facilities operated by the San Mateo County Parks Department.

The Jepson Laurel
It is one of the most famous land marks along Sawyer Camp Trail, and it has been established to be over 600 years old. It is now the largest Laurel in California.

In 1923, this tree was named in honor of Willis Linn Jepson, one of California’s most noted botanists. At that time, there was only one larger Laurel known in the State. It grew along the Russian River near Cloverdale, but was cut down “because it shaded too much hayfield.”

This vulnerable tree was finally fenced to protect it from soil compacting, which could conceivably weaken its roots. The San Francisco Water Department, on whose property it is located, assumed the tree’s preservation and protection.

In 1981, San Mateo County Parks, on permit from the Water Department, opened the area near the tree and constructed a picnic area. California Laurel (Umbellularia californica), also known as Bay Tree, Pepperwood, and Oregon Myrtle, has a wood which is heavy, hard, fine grained, and exceptionally strong.

SamTrans buses provide service to key destinations throughout San Mateo County and San Francisco, such as work, schools, malls, civic centers and parks. Please visit Samtrans website to find out how you can take one of their buses to this trail.

Trail Rules & General Description

  1. Check with Park Rangers for current information on trail conditions, and to obtain more detailed, up-to-date maps of the specific parks.
  2. On those trails with considerable horse rider usage, runners and hikers should observe a basic rule of conflicting usage. The horses have the right-of-way! Foot Traffic should always stop and stand quietly off the trail until the horse passes. Failure to observe this rule can endanger not only the hiker and runner, but also the horse rider.
  3. Pets are not allowed in any County Park/Trail.
  4. Observe any trail closure signs.
  5. The trails on this site are: a) trails which are safe. Most trails have been recently rebuilt to a standard 4′ width and maximum 10% grade; b) trails which are scenic. The variety ranges from redwood forest, to chaparral, to grassy ridges; c) trails of varied distance.
  6. Always respect the plant and animal life found in these unique communities.

So how do you find this place? Here is information from Bay Area Hiker, a great resource (if out-dated) of some of the hikes around the San Francisco area:

Getting there:
From Interstate 280 in San Mateo County, exit #36 Hayne Road/Black Mountain Road (if you’re approaching northbound, turn left at the end of the exit ramp). Drive south on Skyline Boulevard about 1.3 miles, to the trail entrance on the right (west) side of the road.

Get driving or public transit directions from Transit and Trails:

GPS Coordinates* for Trailhead:
Latitude 37°31’51.34″N
Longitude 122°21’50.78″W
(* based on Google Earth data, shown as degrees, minutes, seconds)

Gas, food, and lodging:
Nothing in the immediate area. No camping.

Trailhead details:
Roadside parking. No entrance or parking fees. Pit toilets just inside the entrance gate, and at several other locations along the trail. Maps available at information signboard near entrance. Pay phone near entrance. Drinking water near the trail’s half-way point, at the Jepson Laurel Area. There are three designated handicapped parking spots, and the trail is wheelchair accessible. You can also access the trail from a northern trailhead, near Hillcrest Boulevard. There is no direct public transportation to this trailhead.