May 14, 2011

Estero Bluffs State Park

By the time we got around to hiking Estero Bluffs State Park, we had hiked Montaña de Oro State Park, Los Osos Oaks Reserve, AND kayaked Morro Bay so we really didn't think anything could WOW us at this point in our Morro Bay trip. I pretty much had to drag my family out for more exercise by this 4th day, late afternoon on a very busy trip. I told them, "Let's just drive up to Cayucos, we don't have to get out of the car." I always say that, and we always get out of the car :)

So we drove just north of Cayucos along the Highway 1 to a turnout on the west side of the road across from San Geronimo Road. There is a large windmill and thick grasses identifying this as the state park. Here's what you're looking for: 

This hike turned out to be their favorite of the four we went on, and from the different answers that I'm getting, I guess they liked it best based on the large number of animals that we saw. For me, I liked the combination of the soft grassy walking surface coupled with some beach walking on our return loop. Just make sure you check your tide chart ahead of time or it may be entirely bluff walking for you. We were there about halfway between low and high tide, and we still had a little bit of wet walking down on the beach. Not bad though. You start the trail heading straight through the grasses towards the ocean, and down some short stairs to the beach. On the far right side of the beach is where the creek enters the ocean and there continues the trail up the hill. Here's what you're looking for:

From here, you're following a narrow trail along the bluff, rather close or eroded away at some points, with tall grasses on either side of the trail and meadows of wildflowers so pretty, especially in springtime. A gopher snake slithered by into the grass in front of us and numerous lizards scattered around. You can faintly see Highway 1 to the east from the trail, with people cruising along to Pismo Beach and Hearst Castle and other resort areas along this stretch of the central coast. To me there is such peacefulness along these bluffs, with a break from houses against the beach and just fields of grass, rocks, and ocean. You can keep going for 3.5 miles on this trail, but to do a loop, we found a little area where the bluff had eroded and followed it down to the beach, and then turned left to walk along the beach back to the trailhead. Here, we encountered sea anemones, hermit crabs, sea gulls, a line of pelicans, and even a haul of harbor seals on the rocks right off the coast. It was a beautiful walk.

Length: 2 miles for the loop described
Elevation gain: 50 feet
Time it took us: 2 hours
Dogs: No
Fees: None

Los Osos Oaks State Reserve

We drove by the signs to this preserve several times during our Morro Bay trip, and then we picked up a flyer for it in the Museum of Natural History. Being desert rats, my kids were impressed with the photos of the sprawling oak trees and dense greenery, likening them to an Ewok village. So on our last full day in Morro Bay, we packed some sandwiches and started our late-start morning here at the preserve.

You really want to be paying attention if you're coming from Morro Bay because after making the left turn onto Los Osos Valley Road, the preserve will be on the right, and it is nothing more than a small roadside parking lot that you are looking for. The challenge doesn't stop there because is is also a great place to get lost in. There are numerous side trails that are quite confusing, but luckily they all pretty much join back together at one point or another. We think we've discovered the best way to describe a loop hike after a few turn-arounds and mis-steps. Watch for poison oak!

the clearing of intersecting trails - go right
From the parking lot, you will go over a bridge and come to signage for various trail starts. You will want to go left and follow the Los Osos Creek Trail so you will be making a clockwise loop around the preserve. You will hear Los Osos Valley Road on your left and start the trail heading due east; however, you will continue to veer right at all potential trails. It gets confusing through here, but if you veer left then you will get closer to the road and eventually end up in a bog so you will know that you did not take the appropriate trail for a loop. Just keep going to the right at your trail choices. Do not take these trails too quickly because Los Osos Creek is just at the bottom of the cliff, and there is no warning until HELLO, there is the bottom of the ravine. This part of the trail is a nice place for some photography, and the lichens hang very low on the oaks closer to the water. Soon you will enter an area of newer growth oaks with spindlier branches, before getting to an area where clearly, several trails are intersecting. You will want to turn right here so you can begin the Chumash Loop. The signage is a little confusing, but you will want to take the second Chumash Loop/parking lot sign that you see because ours is the wider loop. Once on the Chumash Loop Trail there is an area of very old oak trees with heavy shade that makes a nice place to pull out a sandwich while sitting on an oak recliner. The parking lot is just a short walk away, and you are about 3/4 through your hike at this point.

Length: 1.2 miles for the loop described
Elevation gain: none
Time it took us: 1.5 hours with a lunch stop
Dogs: No
Fees: None

May 12, 2011

Bluff Trail and Point Buchon Trail in Montaña de Oro State Park

There are many ways to do these two hikes, but because we were doing both of them in one day, and we had already spent a good deal of time at Spooner's Cove looking at tide pools during low tide, this post describes how we combined both of these hikes into one afternoon. I will clarify that the Bluff Trail is in Montaña de Oro State Park. The trailhead starts just south of the visitor center on the west side of the road. Point Buchon Trail is on PG&E land north of the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant, but it is accessed through the southern border of Montaña de Oro State Park at the Coon Creek parking lot.

Bluff Trail looking northeast towards Spooner's Cove and the Visitor Center
This trail is obviously quite scenic, but even on a Thursday afternoon in the middle of May, there were a lot of people out there. I would say that given the two trails: Bluff vs. Point Buchon, I prefer Point Buchon. However, with that being said, the big draw for us, particularly as homeschoolers, was this great little walking guide, by Cal Poly physics professor, Dr. Bob Field. We went as far as "Stop 6" at Corallina Cove, and the guide covered a variety of different topics about the coastal bluffs. From here, we backtracked just a little bit and cut over on the trail through the wildflowers to make an easy loop hike.

Length: 1.3 miles for our loop
Elevation gain: none
Time it took us: 1.5 hours with lots of stops and discussion
Dogs okay: No
Fees: None

Once back in the car after the Bluff Trail, if you continue driving south along Pecho Valley Road through the rest of Montaña de Oro State Park, you will reach the Coon Creek parking lot in just a matter of minutes. There are some tables here so we ate our lunch, and there are also bathrooms here. To the south of the parking lot there is a large gate that says "Trail Open," but it looks like you can't get through. Don't be fooled since there is an opening on the left side (photo below):

Here's where you are entering PG&E land. There is a very steep quarter mile down and up walk to the security sign-in station. The PG&E employee was very nice and also quite knowledgeable about the trail sites. Just an FYI: the trail is closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and you have to be back to the sign-in station by 4:45. We started our hike around 2:30, and we had no problem getting back to the sign-in station by 4:45 for my loop described, even with our leisurely pace and many photo stops. They also limit the trail to 275 hikers per day, but the nice PG&E employee said they've only reached that number on holiday weekends. You will sign in all members of your party and sign a liability waiver. Really, it was no big deal. This hike is really gorgeous, has many more wildflowers than the Bluff Trail, and we only passed one other party of hikers. The loop hike also takes you to a sea cave, a sink hole, to a very friendly heron, through fields of poppies (in spring), and up close and personal with grazing cows! Here are some of our sights on this short hike:

Sea Cave at Coon Creek Beach    

Heron in Wildflowers
Grazing Cows . . . not bothered by hikers!
Go through here to make the loop hike:
You will be entering cow terrain . . .

Length: 1.5 miles for loop from Coon Creek parking lot
Elevation gain: 100 feet
Time it took us: 2 hours with stops and Coon Creek Beach time
Dogs okay: No
Fees: None