McNee Ranch State Park
Last weekend, Christian and I decided to head out towards Half Moon Bay with the intent of finding a trail and hiking it. Sadly, we planned rather poorly and when we finally did arrive in Half Moon Bay, it was only to discover that the tourist office was closed. Luckily, we stopped at a gas station (for essentials like trail mix and windshield wiper fluid) and were told to head north on Route One. We weren’t given a name and on several occasions almost gave up and went to the beach instead, but we eventually saw a sign for a state park and decided to give it ago. The sign for McNee Ranch State Park is barely noticeable (we didn’t spot it until we were practically on top of it) but the marvelous trails and views that it offers are well worth the U-turn it takes to get there. I highly recommend parking in the state beach parking lot several meters south of the actual trailhead as there is a great deal more room there than at McNee Ranch parking lot.
McNee Ranch State Park is part of the Montara State Beach Park. It offers some of the most spectacular views along the already overwhelmingly beautiful Route One. The park extends out towards San Pedro Valley Park on the other side of Montara Mountain and boasts some slightly challenging but stunning trails. These trails mostly consist of fire roads, but the Grey Whale Cove trail that runs along Route One is a foot path that has been carved out of the landscape. The fact that the trails are fire roads in no way hinders their beauty. California sagebrush, coyote brush, fennel and many other plants grow right along the edge of the roads and perfume the air with the heady aroma of the natural world. The fire roads do make the park a favorite of mountain bikers and hikers should be aware that they may come careening around a corner at any moment. There are several trails to choose from but Christian suggested we take the access road that appears at the beginning of the park so we did just that.
We followed North Peak Access Road and then cut over at the summit and went down along Grey Whale Cove Trail which follows Route One along the coast. Surprisingly, the noise from the road is not that audible. At first, I thought it was the cars I was hearing, but soon came to realize that it was actually the breaking of the large waves down on the beach hundreds of feet below us. I couldn’t help feeling that we had suddenly found ourselves on some remote island and that we were out surveying our new surroundings. Of course, I must say this: if you do choose to start out on the North Peak Access Road, be prepared for a steep scramble upwards. The road starts out running alongside Martini Creek, but almost immediately cuts up away from it at a steep grade. Luckily, there’s no need to rush up the mountain, and the incredible views of the ocean behind you as you hike are excuse enough to stop and catch your breath every once in awhile. We were incredibly lucky with the weather; it was brilliantly sunny and a warm breeze flicked about in the sunlight. However, the trail is along the coast and because of this, it is often foggy. When planning on visiting this park, I highly suggest wearing layers, just in case the fog does decide to roll in early. Having said that, the trail is close enough to civilization that if the weather were to suddenly change for the worse, it would be easy enough to get back to your car in one piece and without hypothermia.
Once we reached the Grey Whale Cove trail, we were met with even more spectacular views. It was that time of day when the sunlight doesn’t so much illuminate the world as make everything terrifically gold; the kind of light that photographers love to shoot in, where everything is thrown into utterly perfect detail. We decided to hike up along a deer path that wandered off from the main road and ended up standing on a patch of grass atop a small peak, looking out over the entirety of the Pacific Ocean. It truly was breath taking. If you do happen to find yourself there on a sunny day such as ours was, I highly recommend packing a light picnic and finding a place to sit and feast upon your lunch and the gorgeous views around you.
The way down is rather challenging in that the path is comprised of small, loose pebbles in some places. Try to stay on the grassy bits of path and wear sensible hiking shoes that can handle that sort of terrain. Having said that, it was hard to keep watching my step because all I wanted to do was look out at the marvelous beach that we were hiking down along. The combination of my fascination with the view and the speed at which I moved resulted in my slipping and landing solidly on my rear. I won’t deny, however, that I was happy to sit a moment and gaze unabashedly out at the glittering sea.
Here is a link to McNee Ranch State Park on Google maps:
End note: the image of the state park sign is not mine. It is from the Yelp page that discusses this hike.