Alamere Falls via the Coastal Trail

On Saturday we unknowingly ventured along a northern portion of the same Coastal Trail that you can follow along Muir Beach to Rodeo Beach, this time starting 10 miles north of Stinson Beach. Alamere Falls has made a name for itself as a beautiful and popular Bay Area getaway spot. From San Francisco, it takes about 1.5 hours, mostly due to the scenic winding of Highway 1.

This hike was similar to other seaside trails around The Bay; soft ground, exposed with little shade, and extremely populated by the early afternoon. As we’d been warned, we had to park out car about a quarter mile down the road from the trailhead since the parking lot was full by noon. I didn’t include a time estimation below, because we were with a group of 7 and took our time making our way through the trail, stopping to picnic at Bass Lake and spending a while at the turnaround spot: Alamere Falls.

Bass Lake

Bass Lake

The last few miles to the falls open up on another ocean view, and that’s when you’ll want to look out for an old trail sign on your left covered in graffiti that serves as the cutoff to Alamere Falls. At this point, you will have gone about 3.75 miles and only have .4 left on a narrow trail that takes you straight to the oceanside.

The falls drops a couple hundred feet down to the beach, which will be even more crowded than the upper areas of the trail. And even though California is full-force in its drought, the falls were still running with plenty of water. Speaking of water, our group grossly misestimated the heat of the day and we were without water the last couple miles of our trek – which should serve as an easy reminder for next time. I noticed that most hikers brought swimsuits and towels to take full advantage of their beach destination.

The long, dusty walk back to the car was eased with more views of the ocean. I’ll be returning here soon to try a trail run, a little earlier in the day, and with more water.

QUICK STATS

  • Length: 8.3 miles
  • Elevation gain: < 1000k ft.

Montara Mountain from Graywhale Cove State Beach

This weekend I ventured to a popular seaside trail that’s just 20 minutes south of San Francisco. Leaving the city using I-280, I took the Highway 1 exit for just about 10 miles to one of the northern-most trail entrances. There are actually four different routes you can take up to the peak of Montara Mountain, depending on which trailhead you choose to park at:

  • 3.5 miles from San Pedro Valley County Park trailhead.
  • 3.9 miles from Mc Nee Ranch trailhead.
  • 4.1 miles from Farralone Cutoff, Montara.
  • 4.8 miles from Graywhale Cove SB.

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This parking lot will get full as the day goes on – this is what it looked like at 10:30 am. The first quarter-mile of the hike climbs upwards and then slopes out into a flat trail that continues around the hills. This trail makes for a very popular and crowded place for day hikers, trail runners, and cyclists.

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Follow the path south, until it turns inward. Within a half mile the trail will fork into two directions: A steep upward slope to your left (an unofficial “shortcut” that will take 1.5 miles off), or continuing to the right, where the trail makes a slow, windy ascent through some shade on a fire road.

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On the fire road, looking up a few miles and about 2,000 vertical feet to the top of Montara Mountain.

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At the top of this forested section, the fire road runs into the end of the shortcut before continuing up incredibly steep, exposed, dusty slopes. There’s no shade for the last few miles here, so you’ll want to bring some kind of sun protection.

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This dusty, rocky trail continues up a few more miles to the summit. Along the way are cutoffs to other trails, and I ran into a lot of other hikers and runners who had joined up near the top from different directions around the mountain.

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At the top, you’ll enjoy valley views as well as a stretched-out look at Pacifica and its popular beaches. Since this was a pretty grueling incline without any place to hide from the sun, I promise you’ll enjoy the way down much more than the ascent!

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QUICK STATS

  • Length: 9.6 miles
  • Elevation gain: ~2,000 ft.
  • Time: 2 hours

Mt. Diablo Base to Summit

As isolated as it is impressive, Mt. Diablo has the second largest visual prominence in the world, behind Mt. Kilimanjaro. That means from its summit you can see the Sierra Nevadas to the east and even Mt. Lassen, 181 miles north. It’s truly one of the most demanding peaks in the Bay Area, and makes for a hell of a day hike.

Starting up Eagle Creek Trail with the summit in clear view ahead of us.

Starting up Eagle Creek Trail with the summit in clear view ahead of us

I’d been up Diablo three years ago and decided to do the opposite loop from that time. This way was much more scenic, forested, and less crowded than taking the fire road up, albeit much more challenging. Here’s the distance breakdown:

  • Oak Road (fire road): 0.3 miles
  • Eagle Peak Trail: 3.1 miles
  • Bald Ridge Trail: 1.5 miles
  • North Peak Trail: 0.9 miles
  • Summit Trail: 0.7 miles (up to Visitor Center & Lookout)
  • Juniper Trail: 1.4 miles
  • Deer Flat Roadd (fire road): 1.6 miles
  • Mitchell Canyon Road (fire road): 3.7 miles
  • Total: 13.2 miles

    Taking a break before heading up Bald Ridge Trail.

    Taking a break before heading up Bald Ridge Trail.

    The steep ascent up Eagle Peak Trail was without a doubt, the most challenging of the day. Still, we made incredible time. We’d been warned – and expected – to have a 6 to 8 hour day ahead of us, but we reached the summit after only 2.5 hours of hiking. Descending took almost as long, probably because by the end of the day we were all exhausted and dragging our feet down the hills. Still, we were all in all very happy with our route choice and end time.

    Partway up Bald Ridge Trail… yet the summit still seems so far away.

    Clear views of the valley on the final ascent up the Summit Trail.

    Clear views of the valley on the final ascent up the Summit Trail.

    Corner of the lookout from the Mt. Diablo Visitor Center.

    Corner of the lookout from the Mt. Diablo Visitor Center.

    The one thing I remembered most about this hike from completing it years before was the anticlimactic feeling of arriving at the summit surrounded by people who had driven up. Still, there was a number of hikers who looked as rugged and worn out as we’d felt, lined up at the summit water spigot. Both the Visitor Center and lookout platform offer great 360 degree views and is lined with binoculars for far-off views on clear days.

Like I’d mentioned before, our route down was much less scenic, following a wide fire road for the entire journey. We saw larger groups of people ascending this direction, or stopping partway at scattered picnic tables. This road really drags on, and since it’s a couple miles longer (but less steep), than the way up – we were more than ready to throw down our packs and call it a day once we’d reached the car.

Beginning of a long, windy descent down the Deer Flat fire road to the Mitchell Canyon fire road.

Beginning of a long, windy descent down the Deer Flat fire road to the Mitchell Canyon fire road.

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    QUICK STATS

  • Length: 13.2 miles
  • Elevation gain: 3.2k ft.
  • Time: 5 hours

Purisima Creek Redwoods: Hiking over Half Moon Bay

My office is in a unique location; at the intersection of El Camino Real and Highway Bridge 92, which stretches from Hayward through San Mateo and over into Half Moon Bay. It’s easy for commuters to head north or south on the Peninsula, or even over to the East Bay, but the Half Moon Bay hills and endless trails along Skyline remain largely undiscovered. So, I took advantage of an early Friday afternoon to visit one of my favorite parks.

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Descending, still towards the top, along the Whittemore Gulch Trail

The main parking lot is right off of Skyline, which means the first half of the hike goes across the hills and into a valley, where it follows along the Purisima Creek. The route I chose circles the entire park counter-clockwise and is the longest circuit available in this open space. Here’s how the distance breaks down:

  • North Ridge Trail: 1.2 miles
  • Whittemore Gulch Trail: 2.2 miles
  • Purisima Creek Trail: 2.3 miles
  • Craig Britton Trail: 2.6 miles
  • Harkins Ridge Trail: 1.2 miles
Redwoods along Purisima Creek

Redwoods along Purisima Creek

The first two trails wind along the upper, exposed part of the hills for quite a while before dipping into the forest. Even then, it’s gradual, I had barely realized I’d entered the forest before I was surrounded by redwoods and had reached the valley floor; Purisima Creek.

There’s another major trailhead and parking area where Whittemore Gulch meets the Purisima Creek Trail, at the bridge to cross the creek. This trail becomes wider, flatter, and smoother, perfect for trail runners. I half-ran and half-hiked, slowing down over some of the ruttier areas that have been dug out by horses and cyclists. There are a lot of roots and rocks to look out for on these trails too, and areas on the Whittemore Gulch and Craig Britton can be tricky with slanting, steep slopes.

Sleep slopes along the Craig Britton Trail

Sleep slopes along the Craig Britton Trail

Craig Britton continues at a relatively flat elevation through the thick, forested redwoods until it intersects with Harkins Ridge Trail. The scenery changes as this trail goes up, redwoods falling away to thinner trees that let in more sunlight. By the time I reached the Harkins Ridge Trail and trudged up its dusty steep hills, I’d almost forgotten the entire first third of my day that had been like this – I was so used to the thick forest and tall trees.

The final views before the parking lot really reminded me how much this open space has to offer; completely different landscapes, wildlife, and ecosystems scattered between the dense valley floor and the top of the Skyline hills.

Final view over Half Moon Bay before the last stretch to the trailhead parking lot

Final view over Half Moon Bay before the last stretch to the trailhead parking lot

QUICK STATS

  • Length: 9.5 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1.8k
  • Time: 2.5 hours