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Burleigh-Murray Ranch Park Property

Burleigh-Murray Ranch Trail

To old barn is 2 miles round trip; to trail’s end is 5 miles round trip

Rolling grassland, eucalyptus grove windbreaks, an old barn and a bunkhouse—this is ranch country, not the redwood country more typically associated with the Santa Cruz Mountains. For the hiker, Burleigh-Murray offers a distinct change of pace from the trail systems of other nearby parks, most of which travel to, or within, stands of first- and second-generation redwoods.

Beginning in the 1860s, the valley of Mill Creek and surrounding slopes were used for hay-growing and cattle grazing. The state purchased the land in 1983 and the California state park system has been considering a historical emphasis for the park property. In the meantime, the park property has remained almost completely undeveloped.

The park property’s prized historic structure is an old dairy barn, known as an English bank barn (because it’s built into the hillside to facilitate loading from its upper heights); such barns are extremely rare in the U.S.

Some handsome stonework, rusted farm machinery and a 1930s ranch house (now the park ranger’s residence) add to the rustic scene. The photo opportunities are many on the old ranch.

Meandering through the park property is Mills Creek, named not for the considerable number of Santa Cruz Mountains sawmills, but rather for the Mills family, first owners of the ranch.

The only park trail is the old ranch road that extends from the park entrance on Higgins Purisima Road some two miles northeast. The path follows Mill Creek to the old barn. Beyond the barn, the road narrows to a trail then, beyond some water tanks, fades into oblivion. (The park service has not yet extended the trail to Skyline Boulevard.)

Directions to trailhead: From Highway 1, just south of the town of Half Moon Bay, turn east on Higgins-Purisima Road and follow it 1.5 miles to the small parking lot for Burleigh-Murray Ranch Park property on the north side of the road.

The hike: The flat, brush-lined road follows Mill Creek for a half mile before crossing, then recrossing it. A mile out, the road passes a eucalyptus-shaded picnic site, then angles left past the ranch house-turned-ranger’s residence, crosses a bridge and brings you to the large dilapidated barn.

The route beyond the barn is an ever-narrowing footpath through Mill Creek Canyon. At two miles, it reaches a trio of leaky water tanks, then soon peters out in the thick coastal scrub.

© 2012 The Trailmaster, Inc.
From John McKinney’s
Day Hiker’s Guide to California’s State Parks
Trail descriptions and maps have been reproduced with the permission of the author.  To learn more about The Trailmaster and other related publications please visit their website at