A 2.2 mile loop through eucalyptus woods and coastal scrub.
Distance, category, and difficulty:
This 2.2 mile loop hike is easy, with about 640 feet in elevation
change. Trailhead elevation is about 200 feet, and the high point is about
840 feet. If you want a longer hike, you can extend this hike out of the
park and into McNee Ranch State Park (you'll enter the park at about 1400
feet), where the high point is over 1800 feet.
Mix of sun and shade.
1 1/2 hours.
Nice any time; lovely in early spring.
From CA 1 in Pacifica (San Mateo County), turn east onto Linda Mar Boulevard,
drive to the end of the road (about 2 miles), turn right onto Oddstad, and
make the first left into the park.
Get driving or public transit directions from Transit and Trails:
GPS Coordinates* for Trailhead:
(* based on Google Earth
data, shown as degrees, minutes, seconds)
Gas, food, and lodging:
Gas, restaurants, and stores on Linda Mar, about 2 miles west. No camping.
Entrance fee of $6 is charged even when entry kiosk is unstaffed, so bring
exact change for self registration. Lots of parking. Restrooms, pay
phone, and drinking water on site. There's a nice Visitor Center with books
and maps for sale, open on weekends. Maps available at the information
signboard near the start of the Plaskon Nature Trail (just off the south
parking lot). There are designated handicapped parking spots, but this loop
isn't suitable to wheelchairs (the Plaskon Nature Trail and Weiler Ranch
Most of the trails at San Pedro are narrow, and bicycles are permitted only
on wide Weiler Ranch Road. Some trails are designated hiking only, and a
few allow equestrians, but horses are often prohibited when trails are wet.
No dogs. Park is open from 8 a.m. to about sunset (hours vary seasonally).
The Official Story:
San Pedro page.
Park headquarters 650-355-8289
A hike through
San Pedro to the top of Montara Mountain is described and mapped in 60
Hikes within 60 Miles: San Francisco, by Jane Huber (yup, that's me,
the creator of this website). Order
this book from Amazon.com.
Hiking, Bicycling, and Equestrian Trail Map of Pacifica and
Trails of the Coastside and Northern Peninsula are the best map guides
to the park (available from Pease
Afoot and Afield: San Francisco Bay Area, by David Weintraub
this book from Amazon.com) has a great map and descriptions of a Montara
Tom Taber's The Santa Cruz Mountains Trail Book has a simple
map and park descriptions (order
this book from Amazon.com).
Peninsula Trails, by Jean Rusmore, has a simple map and trail
this book from Amazon.com).
View photos from this
Go to Bay Area Hiker Home page
around the bay area during the winter has some ups and downs. The weather is harsh and often rainy, and the trails get
muddy. But cool weather makes strenuous hikes a little easier; without
the sun sapping your strength you may find yourself with increased endurance.
The parks empty out as outdoor lovers find themselves busy with school,
work, and holiday planning. And then there are the waterfalls. Fueled
by winter storms, water cascades down creek beds or sluices sharply off
rocky outcrops, in spectacular displays of water power that only happen
during the wettest months. There are wonderful waterfalls all over
the bay area, but San Pedro Valley Park, just south of San Francisco in
Pacifica, has one of my favorite seasonal waterfalls.
Even if you don't get around to a winter
visit, San Pedro is wonderful any time of the year. Since it is a short
distance from the ocean, you can depend on relatively cool temperatures
in summer. There aren't many foliage plants on display in fall, but the
park makes up for drab autumns with spectacular late winter through spring
wildflowers. The display actually starts around Christmas, when manzanitas
stagger hummingbirds and humans alike with stunning oceans of blossoms
and a delightful sweet smell. Come back in spring for trilliums, currant,
iris, mission bells, milkmaids, and paintbrush.
San Pedro is a small park with
three looping trails. You could hike them consecutively in one visit,
for a 7 mile grand tour. Valley View Trail
is a 1.4 mile path connected by flat Weiler Ranch Road Trail. Valley
View climbs the south facing slope of a hillside, then drops back down
to the valley floor, where deer are abundant. Hazelnut
from Plaskon Nature Trail, climbs through chaparral to a high stand of
eucalyptus, then takes many twists and turns along the contour of
the mountainside before descending to meet up with Weiler Ranch Road Trail. This 4.5 mile loop climbs from about 200 to 1000 feet, but it's not a
hard hike, and can easily be done in either direction. For a true
workout, take Montara Mountain Trail from the trailhead (elevation around
200 feet) all the way to McNee Ranch State Park (elevation as you enter
the park is near 1400 feet), an out and back hike on which you can retrace
your steps if the climbing becomes too strenuous, or hang in there to
the McNee Ranch's boundary and high point, an over 6 mile hike that's
substantially easier than the corresponding route at McNee
The county gets high marks for signage and
maintenance. Every park junction, and even false
trails, are marked with sturdy signs, and the park is impeccably clean.
This is an achievement, considering how many people use San Pedro's picnic
grounds and trails.
I use this park mostly for short hikes,
as the proximity to San Francisco makes it possible to squeeze a 2 or
3 mile jaunt into a spare morning or afternoon. In winter, when rain
is forecast for the afternoon, I can usually make it to the park, hike,
and then make it home in about 3 hours, beating the raindrops. Keep in
mind that San Pedro is not a safe place to get caught in a storm, as winds
and fog can whip in quickly and some of the trails are on exposed ridges,
or under tall eucalyptus trees.
This loop can be walked in either direction.
After visiting many times, I've decided that I prefer the counterclockwise
direction, because you get the best views that way.
Park in the lot to the right after you pass
the entrance kiosk. Look for the yellow fire hydrant near the restrooms; the start of the trail is a few feet to the left of
the hydrant. Start up the trail and almost immediately, at about
210 feet, you'll reach the first signed junction. Turn right onto Montara
Coast live oaks give way to a eucalyptus
forest. Montara Mountain Trail ascends slightly, then at about 0.12 mile,
the trail crosses a paved service road. Continue straight. The
trail begins to climb on a steady and reasonable grade, taking a zigzag
course up the mountain. With the town of Pacifica on the right, sounds
of civilization compete with the creaks and moans of the tall trees swaying
in a breeze. Beneath the eucalyptus you might see ferns, goldenrod
(in summer), poison oak, coyote brush, currant, hazelnut, monkeyflower,
tree-sized toyon, ceanothus, blue elderberry, pitcher sage and creambush.
In late summer, look for shrubs with plump, enticing-looking dark berries.
This is California coffeeberry,
and the berries, while popular with animals, are not edible for humans. Do
not confuse coffeeberry
with the edible huckleberry,
also present in the park, although not found on the lower reaches of this
trail. Montara Mountain Trail switchbacks gently uphill, well shaded by
the tall eucalyptus. Banana slugs are common in the winter. If you are
quiet and observant, you might catch a glimpse of redtail hawks in the
upper reaches of eucalyptus trees. The trail straightens out and leaves
the forest for chaparral. Some of the shrubs, such as coffeeberry and
coyote brush, persist, and some new plants are added to the mix, including
yerba santa. Ceanothus towers overhead on the right side of the trail,
and the hillside drops off to the left, as Montara Mountain Trail angles
across a hillside. Weather (fog) permitting, expect long views to Montara
Mountain. The trail curves left near a damp spot and passes some huckleberry
and chinquapin. Here you might also notice the first of the manzanita.
They are slight and overshadowed by other vegetation, but just a few steps up the trail they completely
overtake everything else.
I had one of my first "nature" experiences
on this stretch of trail. As a beginning hiker, I sometimes felt pretty
scared hiking alone, and my number one fear was an attack by a mountain
lion. I kept hearing this high-pitched buzzing noise, very close to my
head. When I turned around, there would be nothing there. I
continued on, but felt like I was being stalked; what was this buzz? Finally,
after a few tense moments, out of the corner of my eye I caught a glimpse
of a hummingbird, feeding on the manzanita blossoms. There were a
couple of them, and I couldn't see them because they were actually zooming
around above my head, as hummingbirds tend to do. I gave a big sigh
of relief, but I had been spooked and still felt a little scared somehow. The
thicket on the side of the trail was impossible to see through, and I
started obsessing about how a mountain lion could invisibly stalk me from
the other side of the bushes. As I proceeded warily uphill, a squirrel
came running down the trail toward me screaming his little head off. Have
you ever heard a squirrel scream? I know, it's not exactly Silence
of the Lambs, but it's pretty alarming. I figured it was a rabid squirrel
on a kamikaze mission, and as it continued toward me, I stopped dead in
my tracks and screamed right back. The squirrel suddenly veered off
the trail and up a small tree, where it sat a few feet from me, chattering
and shaking. Well, this was not an encouraging sign for me. To my credit,
I decided I would continue on, and face whatever that brave squirrel had
avoided. A few steps more up the trail and I saw an animal cross the trail
about 50 feet ahead of me. When I got to that area, I peered into the
bushes. It was a feral cat, about 10 feet away, and I thought, big deal.
Then it turned, I saw a stubby tail, and my heart jumped -- it was a bobcat!
Now whenever I walk through here, I think of that day and how far I've
come as a hiker.
I miss the hummingbirds in summer, but I know they'll be back in winter when the
manzanitas bloom. Cottontail rabbits live in the park year round, and
are common in this part of the park. Large manzanitas over 6 feet tall
curve gracefully over the trail, creating a natural bower. At 1.22 miles,
Montara Mountain Trail meets Brooks Falls Trail at a signed junction.
This is a good spot to stop and admire the ocean view. Turn left.
(You can extend the hike from this point by continuing on Montara Mountain
Trail. It's another 1 mile to the fire road at McNee Ranch.)
Brooks Falls Trail, downright tiny and lumpy
with tree roots in places, winds easily downhill through manzanita-weighted
chaparral. From the trail the hills to the north and east (Sweeney
Ridge) appear to be a continuous carpet of mottled green. There
are unobstructed views on Montara Mountain as you descend into a very
quiet part of the park. Turning a corner, you might notice the trail surface
taking on a decidedly orange cast, a counterpoint to the vibrant green
the manzanita shrubs lining the way. A bench at 1.64 miles marks my favorite
place to sit and watch the waterfall. Even if there is no water cascading
over 175 feet down off the mountain, it's a dramatic and lovely view across
the canyon to Brooks Falls. On one November morning, I watched a murder
of crows near the falls, and they provided ample entertainment even though
the water wasn't running yet (in fact, crows are common in this area and
you may hear their peculiar calls even if you can't see them). As you
continue downhill, you'll cross a bridge constructed in 2000 to help hikers
avoid a previously soggy stretch of trail. Silktassel, madrone, chinquapin,
and huckleberry thrive among the manzanita. In spring, look for thimbleberries
along the shady parts of the trail. Clinging to the edge of the hillside,
Brooks Falls Trail returns to the eucalyptus forest, where you will probably
hear the roar of Brooks Creek, just downslope to the right but not visible.
At 1.97 miles, you'll reach a signed junction. The trail to the right
returns to the valley floor, so stay to the left, toward the Visitor
Center (the other trail is an option for returning to the trailhead). Just a
few feet later, stay to the left again as an old closed path breaks
off to the right. You'll pass a few young redwoods, then bisect a
grove of pines and a handful of Douglas fir. At 2.18 miles, you'll reach
a previously encountered junction. Turn right and retrace your steps
to the parking lot.
If you have a little more time and want
to explore some more, walk the short Plaskon Nature Trail. This trail,
behind the Visitor Center, follows the South Fork of San Pedro Creek,
where steelhead salmon spawn in winter. The self-guided nature tour
(pamphlet available at the Visitor Center) along the creek features willow,
dogwood, poison oak, thimbleberry, and blackberry bushes. If you are interested
in plant identification, check out the small garden on the side of the
Visitor Center. Many of the plants found in San Pedro Valley have
been planted here, with identification tags. The Berkeley Botanical
Garden it's not, but it's a nice small garden.
Total distance: 2.21 miles
Last hiked: Tuesday, December 24, 2002