Sawyer Camp Trail to Orange Park
Updated: Jul 28, 2018
July 22, 2018
Distance: 16.8 miles Time: 5.00 hours Pace: 3.36 mph Elevation Gain: 1483 feet
After driving past the Crystal Springs Reservoir 5-6 times per week since I can remember I decided that it was finally time to hike along the Sawyer Camp Trail, which runs along the lower reservoir and along San Andreas Lake to the north. A fair warning to anyone trying to replicate this hike: parking at the Chen-Valia Meeting Spot (the dirt parking lot where Hwy 92 passes between the lakes) will not give you access to the Sawyer Camp Trail. I had to backtrack about 2 miles after I found myself walking along the southbound guardrail of the Hwy 280, looking several hundred feet down at the correct trail running beneath me.
After a frustrating detour back to my car and to the correct starting point on Skyline Boulevard, I started northbound on the trail just past the Dam (the trail would have been accessible from my original parking spot, but Skyline Blvd is closed in that section for dam(n) construction). The trail itself is completely paved except for a 2-foot strip of dirt that runs along the border of the pavement - a welcome sight for hikers that know the foot pain caused by long road-walks.
I picked a perfect day, so it wasn't surprising to see the trail teeming with bicyclists, joggers, and other walkers that seemed confused about my big pack - but training for a multi-month long distance hike like the PCT requires that I get myself used to the weight. The ample people and mild drone of cars on the freeway overhead didn't seem to scare off wildlife in the area, and I passed a grazing buck with his harem of does a stones throw from the trail.
Although not as "wild" as I typically like in a trail, the views and proximity of the lakes was worth the experience. Along the way are well-marked signs and plaques for historically important landmarks in the area, including the 600-year-old Jepson Laurel Tree and the original Sawyer Camp area.
Leander Sawyer bought the land and was active in this area in 1853. He probably lived in a small adobe built near a natural spring in the hill, just southwest of the Laurel Tree as it 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 he kept an inn to dispense food to picnickers, and to serve as lodging 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.
I continued my hike past the northern terminus of the trail and down Sneath Lane, where I wanted to walk through the Golden Gate National Cemetery, but arrived right at 5pm as the huge iron gates were swinging closed.