The ocean to the west sends cooling fogs and salt-laden winds and rains into the canyons of the park giving the towering coast redwood and Douglas-fir forest the necessary water throughout the year. When clouds and fog are absent, the sun bakes the hills, especially south-facing slopes covered with knobcone pine and chaparral. The mountainous watershed of Little Butano Creek also sets a dramatic context for the park.

Butano State Park was established in 1957 to further protect California’s native coast redwood habitat as well as provide recreational opportunities for the state’s growing population. The park preserves an environmentally diverse segment of the California coastal landscape.

The developed areas of the park provide camping and visitors' facilities that are comfortable areas for relaxation. The park’s main campground and campfire center are located within a redwood forest where visitors experience the quiet strength of the ancient trees and the plant and animal species beneath them.

Hikers may explore the park on trails that lead up a canyon following Little Butano Creek, or up to the ridges of the mountains above, where the slopes are drier and support chaparral and pines. From the eastern highlands, hikers experience expansive vistas of the rolling terrain below and the ocean in the distance.

A day-use picnic area, located near the entrance kiosk, has twelve parking spaces, eight picnic table sites, six barbeque pits, water faucets, and a disabled-access restroom. Ben Ries Campground has 21 drive-in campsites and 18 walk-in sites. Restrooms with running water are provided. Drinking water is available. There are no showers.. A hike-in trail camp on an inland ridge, 5.5 miles east of the park entrance, has eight campsites, each with a picnic table, food locker, and a tent site. The camp has a restroom facility and a trash receptacle. Water is available only from Butano Creek, a quarter mile from camp.

A Visitor Center by the entrance station provides interpretive exhibits to help park visitors understand the natural and cultural history of the park and to obtain additional park information. Guided nature walks and weekend programs at a campfire center are offered during the summer.

Dogs are permitted in the campground and in developed areas, provided they are controlled at all times with a leash of no more than six feet . Dogs are not permitted on the trails.

Banana slugs and Calypso orchid in Butano State Park. (Photos: © Avis Boutell)

Butano State Park harbors six distinct natural communities, each sheltering a rich diversity of wildlife and allowing an understanding of the inner workings of an ecosystem. The communities are usually named for their most abundant tree or plant.

  • Coastal Grassland can be found around the park entrance.
  • Alder Woodland is the first half mile of Little Butano Creek.
  • Oak Woodland is on the north side of the canyon above the park entrance.
  • Douglas Fir/Redwood Forest covers most of the interior of the canyon.
  • Vernal Wetlands are in two different areas; at Jackson Flat and Goat Hill.
  • Chaparral is found on the ridge tops as softer soils turn into the chalky gravel of the Santa Margarita sandstone.

The varied habitats represented in Butano State Park, combined with the strategic connection at locations along its boundary to Año Nuevo State Park, make this park very important for wildlife. The park’s connectivity to other California State Park units and the nearby extensive system of regional and county parks provides important movement corridors for wildlife between native habitat areas within the Santa Cruz Mountains Bioregion.