California's rugged, coast-hugging Highway One evokes many images, most of which involve sun, surf, and sand. But on my most recent coastal excursion, I detoured away from the tempting blue Pacific and headed inland.
With news that the Peninsula Open Space Trust recently sold an expansive piece of land to the Golden Gate National Recreational Area (GGNRA), I set out to explore the new parks and trails that will help to eventually connect all of the national parklands of the San Francisco Bay Area.
Rancho Corral de Tierra
Administered by the National Park Service, the GGNRA is one of the largest urban parks in the world and includes open space and national monuments surrounding the San Francisco Bay Area. The GGNRA is both vast and diverse, stretching from Muir Woods and the Marin Headlands in the north, to San Francisco's Presidio, Fort Baker, and Alcatraz. Now, with the acquisition of a property called Rancho Corral de Tierra, the GGNRA expands southward into coastal San Mateo County.
Rancho Corral de Tierra covers 3,800 acres that connect the Bay Area Ridge Trail -- the greater Bay Area's largest stretch of public trails -- with the California Coastal Trail, which runs from Oregon to San Diego. Starting at Montara State Beach, these new parklands reach northwest into the northern spine of the Santa Cruz Mountain range, and border McNee Ranch State Park and San Pedro Valley County Park. For a detailed view, check out this map.
The transfer of Rancho Corral de Tierra to the GGNRA represents a victory for the preservation of open space in California. Back in 2000, the land was at risk of being turned into a housing development project. Now the National Park Service will protect it from development and keep it accessible to outdoor enthusiasts for years to come.
Rancho Corral de Tierra is home to native wildlife and vegetation, and the landscape boasts spectacular ocean and mountain views. Some of the trails within Rancho Corral de Tierra are open to cyclists, dogs, and horses, while others are just for hikers. But whether you're on two legs or two wheels, the newly incorporated land is open for your enjoyment thanks to the efforts of POST and the GGRNA.
Hitting the trail
New trailheads and more detailed signs are coming soon -- the GGNRA only obtained full rights to the land in December -- but, eager to see what this Rancho Corral de Tierra was all about, I found myself a helpful map and hit the trails anyway.
There are a few access points to Rancho Corral de Tierra, the easiest of which is just off Highway One near Devil's Slide. However, I decided to enter via San Pedro Valley County Park (7 miles from the Point Montara Lighthouse Hostel).
There are several trails that you can take from the San Pedro Valley access point, including loop trails that run along the creek (perfect for a quick, less intense hike) as well as higher elevation trails with steep inclines and spectacular views.
I chose the Montara Mountain Trail that connects San Pedro Valley and McNee Ranch and leads you either up to the peak of Montara Mountain or down to Montara State Beach (less than a mile from the hostel). It's a long stretch and there's a pretty steep incline on the way back, but the views are breathtaking (and I mean that literally, especially if you don't hike often).
Hiking all the way to the beach on a gorgeous day was a wonderful adventure, particularly for a city dwelling 9-to-5er. Breathing the air out there is like taking a sip of fresh water -- crisp, clean, and pure. There was almost no one on the trail, which allowed me to be fully aware of the natural surroundings -- the soothing sound of the creek, the crack of twigs under my feet, the warmth of the sun, the majestic curve of the mountain, and the tiny footprints left by tiny creatures.
Things to know before you go
As someone who spends a lot of time lost, I'm somewhat of a cartography connoisseur and Pease Press makes an exceptionally good map of the coastside trails in the northern peninsula area. They're sold online and at the San Pedro Valley Visitor Center and, for serious hikers with a seriously bad sense of direction, are totally worth the $6 price tag.
There aren't many water fountains along the trail, so bring plenty of water, and a snack is never a bad idea.
If you intend to take public transportation at all, download the SamTrans Linda Del Mar bus schedule and take note of their irregular weekend hours. The bus can be handy because a lot of the best trails don't loop around, meaning that a pleasant 4.5-mile hike downhill to the beach turns into a (potentially brutal) 4.5-mile uphill crawl back to your car.
While the transfer of Rancho Corral de Tierra from POST to the GGNRA has officially happened, the process of creating new signs, opening up more trails to public access, and informing the community about any changes to the existing trails is still underway. The GGNRA has published several helpful resources on their website to answer questions, such as what trails allow dogs or where to access parking facilities. Look for more information about changes to the trails in the coming months.
This story was written by Allison Doyle, the marketing and communications coordinator for Hostelling International’s eight Northern California hostels. Allison is a proud Bay Area native, and when not at work she can be found doing yoga, hiking in lipgloss, trying new restaurants, or writing one of her many blogs.