9500 Pescadero Creek Road, Loma Mar 94021 - (650)879-0238
Sam McDonald, a unique and interesting 850-acre facility, is located approximately 3 miles west of La Honda on Pescadero Road. The park actually represents contrast between two separate natural environments. The northwesternly half, near 400 acres between Pescadero Road and Highway 84, is principally a lush growth redwood forest. The 450-acre portion, southeasterly , is primarily open ridge, grassy knolls and patchy brush areas. From this ridge area, vistas of the Butano and Skyline Ridges, and the Pacific Ocean can be seen.
Sam (Emanuel) McDonald, descendent of slaves, was born in Louisiana in 1884. Moving several times, and working at various jobs, he finally settled in Mayfield (South Palo Alto), and in 1903 took employment as a teamster for Stanford University. This was the beginning of a long and pleasant career with Stanford, spanning some 50 years, with Sam eventually becoming Superintendent of Athletic Grounds and Buildings. While working at the "Farm," McDonald took a correspondent course in law and served as Secret Service Agent for the Treasury Department, as Deputy Constable for Pale Alto Township, and as Deputy Sheriff for Santa Clara County.
McDonald began acquiring the La Honda property in 1917, with the purchase of a two-room cabin and some ground along Alpine Creek in the northern portion of the property. Standing 6'4", he became part of the Stanford legend. He probably had a wider acquaintance with students and faculty than any other member of the Stanford family did. Dr. Ray Lyman Wilbur, University President, said on one occasion: "I am glad I do not have to run against Sam for office; I would fear the results.
The Stanford Convalescent Home for Underprivileged Children on campus was one of McDonald's pet projects; he planted large gardens for the children during the war years, and cooked barbecues for them. The home named a "Sam McDonald " in his honor.
When he died in November 1957, he left his La Honda property (400+ acres) to Stanford, which had given him so much in opportunity, friendship and happiness. McDonald specifically requested that his heirs use the land as a park for the benefit of young people. San Mateo County acquired the land in 1958 for $67,000 and dedicated it for public use in 1970. An additional 450 acres were acquired in 1976 from Kendall B. Towne, bringing the total acreage of the park to 867 acres.
Several miles of hiking trails meander throughout the wooded park complex (which includes Pescadero and Memorial Parks) and allow for anything from a casual one-hour stroll to an all-day adventure for the avid hiker. Many trails are also well-suited for equestrian excursions for those lodging at Jack Bruce Horse Camp.
Observe all trail signs and posted speed limits. Bicycles and motorized vehicles are not allowed off designated paved areas. Please respect your fellow trail users and follow the trail etiquette guidelines for safe and courteous trail use.
The following facilities can be found at Sam McDonald County Park:
Horse Camp: Individuals or groups with horses can reserve the Jack Brook Horse Camp for overnight outings between May 1st and November 15th.
Trail Heads: Hikers, joggers and equestrians have access to the extensive trail network (approximately 26 miles spread across the Pescadero Creek, Memorial and Sam McDonald Parks) at the Sam McDonald Ranger Station.
Pay Telephones: These are located at the Sam McDonald Ranger Station and Jack Brook Horse Camp.
Sam McDonald County Park includes the following activities
Bicycling (Allowed only on designated service roads)
Horse Camp (Jack Brook Camp Only) - Individuals with horses can ride the Brook Trail Loop, Butano Ridge Loop, Tarwater Loop, Bear Ridge and Old Haul Road Trails. Check with Rangers for trail conditions prior to riding. Some trails are close during the Winter season. No rental horses are available. Please keep in mind that the trails mentioned above are spread across Pescadero Creek, Memorial and Sam McDonald County Parks.
Days and Hours of Operation
Sam McDonald Park is open every day of the year including all holidays. It opens daily at 8:00 A.M. The closing time varies by time of year. The closing times are:
December - February 5:00 P.M.
March 6:00 P.M. (before Daylight Savings Time starts)
March 7:00 P.M. (after Daylight Savings Time starts)
April - August 8:00 P.M.
September 8:00 P.M. (through Labor Day)
September 7:00 P.M. (beginning the day after Labor Day)
October 7:00 P.M. (first week[s] of October)
October 6:00 P.M. (last three weeks of October)
November 6:00 P.M. (before Daylight Saving Time ends)
November 5:00 P.M. (after Daylight Saving Time ends)
Much of the park is very steep, running from 400 ft. along Alpine Creek to over 1300 ft. at the highest point on Towne Ridge. This wide range of elevation accounts for some rather interesting natural features. In the lower elevations along moist ravines, many fern varieties are to be found, including the graceful five finger fern, sword fern, lady fern, gold back fern, polypody and woodwardia ferns. Also to be found along the moister slopes in great abundance are trillium, redwood violet, red clintonia and wild strawberry. In the more shady areas, carpets of redwood sorrel cover the redwood floor, and during the spring rainy season beautiful mosses and curious mushroom shapes appear throughout the park in glorious array. Even the troublesome poison oak plant is prevalent in many areas of the park, providing food and protection to the wildlife.
Trees common to the redwood forest include the coastal redwood. Douglas fir, various varieties of oak and California bay trees. Trees found on the edge of the redwood forest in drier areas include madrone, California buckeye, and big leaf maple. The drier open areas abound in the springtime with a colorful display of beautiful wildflowers. Some of the prevalent types include sticky monkey flower, wood rose, sun cup and of course California poppy.
Many animal types, although not often seen, make their home in the park. A few include deer, raccoon, fox, opossum, bob-cat, woodpecker, jay, quail, garter and gopher snakes, curious banana slug, and many more.
Prepare for a safe and enjoyable visit to Sam McDonald Park and other San Mateo County Parks by being aware of your natural environment.
Directions to the Park
From 101 or 280: Take Highway #84 (Woodside-La Honda- San Gregorio Road) west to La Honda. Turn left 1/2 mile past village center in La Honda on the Pescadero Road. The park entrance is on Pescadero Road and 6 miles from the turn-off.
From Hwy. #1: Take Pescadero Road turn-off. Go east on Pescadero Road about 11 miles to the park entrance.
Sam McDonald Park has three horse camp areas, Jack Brook Horse Camp Areas #1, #2, and #3, equipped with amenities for horses including a horse wash-rack, horse paddocks and tie posts. For important information about Horse Camping at these sites see the General Horse Camp Rules.
Sam McDonald Park also has three youth camp areas, the Choctaw Area, the Chinook Area, and the Modoc Area. Each area accommodates up to 50 youth and leaders.
The above areas are booked for the entire day. Fees are charged for using these areas. Payment in full, by credit card, is requested at the time that you make the reservation. Vehicle entry fees are charged at the gatehouse.