This Uncrowded California State Park Is A Natural Wonderland Full Of Awe-Inspiring Trees

Standing in a grove of majestic redwood trees with sunlight streaming through the canopy and illuminating the forest floor is truly a mystical experience. And the great thing about having this experience in Butano State Park – as opposed to more crowded locations, like Redwood National Park — is that you won't have to share it with hordes of others. Just over an hour drive south of San Francisco and San Jose, the 4,000-acre park is a true hidden gem, beckoning nature lovers with its pristine grasslands, woodlands, forests, and Little Butano Creek. 

While the awe-inspiring coastal redwoods are the stars of the show, Butano is home to a myriad of other trees and plants, including Douglas fir trees, alders, and oaks. Huckleberry and other berry bushes, flowering plants like purple calypso orchids and the delicate three-petaled western wake-robin, and many forms of wildlife thrive here, too. Hoary bats, which are harmless to humans, love the hollowed-out redwood trees. Visitors might also spot deer, ringtails, and gophers, though you'll likely miss the elusive bobcat. Birdwatchers will delight in the park's avian residents, from the melodious songbirds to the majestic birds of prey that soar high above the forest canopy. Welcome to this little piece of paradise nestled in the Northern California wilderness.

Exploring and staying in Butano State Park

A short distance from bustling Northern California cities, Butano State Park offers an array of adventurous family-friendly activities (your furry friends are welcome, too), including 40 miles of hiking trails. Visitors should be aware that due to a wildfire in 2020, some trails remain closed for rehabilitation, but many others are still open (check the park website for the most current information). One standout hike in Butano is the 5-mile Jackson Flats Loop, a moderate route that winds through some of the park's forest and wetland ecosystems and provides some breathtaking ridgeline views. In addition to hiking, Butano State Park is also a great spot for birdwatching, nature photography, and peaceful picnics under the trees. 

Overnight camping may also be possible in Butano between April 1 and November 30 for those who want to extend their stay. When the campground is open, 21 drive-in campsites are available, along with 18 walk-in campsites and eight backcountry campsites tucked in the redwoods. The drive-in sites are equipped with fire pits, picnic tables, food lockers, and access to restroom facilities (but not showers). Make an online reservation as much as six months in advance to secure your camping spot in this tranquil oasis. Please note that the campground closed after the 2020 fire while they were repairing the water system, so please check the park website for a status update before loading up your camping gear and heading out to the park.

Coming, going, and more

You can make day trips to Butano any time of year. Winters aren't very cold in this part of California, and in the summer, the shade of the forest provides a welcome respite from the heat. The park is a joy to visit even on rainy days, when the redwoods are enshrouded in a magical mist. To reach Butano State Park, drive around 50 miles south from San Francisco along Highway 1 and enjoy some of California's most stunning coastal scenery along the way. 

On your way to or from the park, be sure to visit some of the area's beaches, such as Pescadero State Beach, which is only 8 miles from Butano State Park. The mile-long beach is a great place for a stroll, with lots of coves, cliffs, dunes, and tide pools to explore. If it's redwoods you'd like more of, a great way to take them in is on an amazing west coast scenic drive that hits a few of the other clusters. Northern California also offers some of the best destinations for seeing sequoias, the Pacific coast's other giant tree specimens.