Sawyer Camp Trail
Hike, Bike, Rollerblade, Enjoy Nature
This six mile long Sawyer Camp hiking & biking trail runs along Crystal Springs Reservoir between Crystal Springs Rd in San Mateo and Hillcrest Blvd in Millbrae. It is part of the Crystal Springs Regional Trail. See map below.
It is THE most popular trail in San Mateo County, used by some 300,000 people/year to hike, bike, jog, stroll, rollerblade, baby carriage and more. Bike riders like the fact this trail is car free and provides a fairly flat smooth ride along the water and through the woods. Weekends are fairly busy but weekdays are much quieter. Sorry, no dogs are allowed.
Beginners & kids enjoy Sawyer Camp trail because the southern 3 miles is paved and generally flat as it follows along the edge of beautiful Crystal Springs lake and then through some woods. It is very close, parking is always available, the area is safe (much is fenced and you are rarely alone especially on the southern end during weekends), and you can walk as far or as little as you wish before turning around. There are distance markers every 1/2 mile, a few porta-potties, and very few water fountains (so bring your own water).
More serious bikers can take a longer 15.3 mile ride via the following contiguous segments on the Crystal Springs Regional Trail: San Andreas segment (2.6 miles) on the north end, Sawyer Camp segment (6 miles) in the middle, and the Crystal Springs Segment (6.7 miles) on the south end. Some other smaller trails (Ralston Bike trail, Sheep Camp trail and Edgewood trail) connect to it. See this detailed map for an idea of how get between the three trail segments.
Here are some interesting facts:
- Sawyer Creek trail was originally the main highway between San Francisco and Half Moon Bay. It was used by stagecoaches to go to Spanish Town (now Half Moon Bay) and by horse wagon teams hauling wood.
- Crystal Springs is a reservoir holding up to 22 billion gallons of fresh water for San Francisco and northern San Mateo counties. It is fed by the 167 mile gravity-driven Hetchy Hetchy water aqueduct which starts at Yosemite and has a terminus at the Pulgas Water Temple further south on Canada Rd.
- The 23,000-acre Peninsula Watershed around Crystal Springs and to the west is a State Fish and Game Refuge so users are required to stay on the designated trail. But, you may even see a bald eagle flying overhead (see next).
- A 4-5 foot nest complete with bald eagle eaglets has been sighted on watershed property at the far side of northern Crystal Springs Reservoir for the first time in nearly a century. Weekend mornings during nesting, hatching, and fledging season (April-May) Audubon volunteers will help visitors see them. See details at the bottom of this page.
- Crystal Springs Lake, which Sawyer Camp trail runs alongside, lies directly on top of the 1906 San Andreas Fault. The rock formations on either side of the lake are different because they are on completely separate tectonic plates. The long linear valley (caused by the geologic fault) between the two mountain ranges is called a rift valley.
- Crystal Springs Dam, across San Mateo Creek just south of the trailhead, was built in 1888 and survived the great 1906 earthquake and the 1989 Loma Prieta quake with no damage even though located on the San Andreas Fault line. It served as a model for the Hoover Dam. Currently (2013-2016) it is being renovated.
- 3.50 miles north of Crystal Springs Dam is a small grove containing the Jepson Laurel tree . This is California’s largest & oldest bay laurel tree, estimated to be over 600 years old. Early Spanish explorers first camped near this tree in 1774.
For CARS, be aware that the closest direct access from Hwy 280 (i.e., the Bunker Hill exit) has been blocked off from the trailhead by reconstruction of Crystal Springs dam. Therefore, the best way to get there from Hwy 280 is to take the Black Mountain/Hayne Rd exit west off towards Crystal Springs Golf Course. Then head south via Skyline Blvd to the main Sawyer Camp trail entrance at Crystal Springs Rd/Skyline Blvd.
Crystal Springs Road to the trailhead from Downtown San Mateo is the slower more historic way to get there. This used to be the main road from San Mateo to Half Moon Bay before Hwy 92 was built.
You can get to the less popular north end of Sawyer Camp trail from the west end of Hillcrest Blvd exit off Hwy 280 in Millbrae. We recommend you check Google maps for exact details which will also show you the San Andreas trail segment to the north which overlooks San Andreas Lake.
For BIKERS, it is a pleasant ride east from the Sawyer Camp Trailhead, down under the high Hwy 280 bridge, on Crystal Springs Rd to Polhemus Rd. Turn south on Polhemus Rd and ride by the Crystal Springs Shopping Center (we recommend the great gelato or crepes at Tasty Gourmet Treats) and over Hwy 92. Just after you pass Hwy 92, on the west side, is the Ralston Ave Bike Trail which will take you west adjacent Hwy 92 to a bike bridge over Hwy 280 to Canada Rd. From there it is a nice bike ride (see the Canada Rd Sunday Biking page) south to Woodside and beyond. This is a nice route to help you escape a lot of car traffic.
- Crystal Springs Regional Trail and Map – a 15.3 mile trail which includes the San Andreas segment, this Sawyer Camp segment, and a Crystal Springs segment (i.e., Canada Rd Sunday Biking).
- Canada Rd Bicycle Sundays – good beginner/intermediate biking nearby
- Belmont’s Best Parks & Dog Walks
- Skyline Ridge Biking – good advanced biking nearby
- San Francisco Biking – more places to bike near SF
- Crystal Springs Regional Trail – a planned 17.5 trail which will include a San Andreas segment, a Sawyer Camp segment (i.e., Sawyer Camp Trail), and a Crystal Springs segment (i.e., Canada Rd Sunday Biking).
- San Mateo County Parks – Short descriptions of other county trails
- Other San Mateo Things To Do
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