Cowell Ranch Beach,
California State Parks,
San Mateo County
In brief:
1.2 mile out and back across a bluff to an ocean viewpoint.

Distance, category, and difficulty
This is a very easy 1.2 mile out and back hike.The single trail is nearly flat. Steps descend to the beach (optional).

Completely exposed.

Trail traffic

Trail surfaces
Dirt fire road and steps to sandy beach.

Hiking time
Under an hour.

Nice any time.

Getting there
From CA 1 in Half Moon Bay (San Mateo County), drive 0.5 mile south of Miramonte Point Road, then turn right into the park.

Get driving or public transit directions from Transit and Trails:

GPS Coordinates* for Trailhead
Latitude 3725'19.83"N
(* based on Google Earth data, shown as degrees, minutes, seconds)

Gas, food, and lodging:
Gas, pay phones, stores, and restaurants north in Half Moon Bay. No camping here; nearest coastal camping at Half Moon Bay State Beach.

Trailhead details:
No parking or entrance fees. Small dirt parking lot, with room for about 12 vehicles. There are 2 designated handicapped parking spots, and wheelchairs should be able to navigate the single dirt and gravel trail, conditions permitting. No maps or drinking water, but there is a portable toilet at the trailhead, and another near the end of the trail. There is no direct public transportation to this trailhead. SamTrans buses stop in Half Moon Bay weekdays only, but it's a prohibitive distance to this trailhead.

Park is open from 8 a.m. to sunset. Hikers and horses are permitted on the trail. No dogs.

The Official Story:
There is no information about Cowell Ranch Beach on the state's website yet .

Map Choices/More Info:
• Use AAA's San Francisco Bay Region map to get there.
Trails of the Coastside and Northern Peninsula (map) is a great guide (available from Pease Press).
Peninsula Trails, by Jean Rusmore, (order this book from has a simple map and descriptions of the park.

Cowell Ranch Beach in a nutshell -- a printable, text-only guide to the hike.

View photos from this hike.

Go to Bay Area Hiker Home page

The bay area is blessed with miles of publicly held coastline, Trailheadand sand and surf lovers can walk for hours on dozens of state beaches in Sonoma, Marin, San Francisco, San Mateo, and Santa Cruz Counties. With the exception of the Point Reyes Peninsula, where there are quite a few long hikes to beaches, most of our coastline access is just steps from paved parking lots. Easy access delights tourists, elderly folks, and families with little kids, but what do you do if you want some solitude? Where do you go when you want to walk to the beach? Well, if you happen to be on the San Mateo County coast, you can go to Cowell Ranch Beach.Trail
     This little-known park consists of a single trail running between a farm easement and private property, a sandy beach, and a separate harbor seal preserve. Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST) purchased the land in late 1980's, and it's now part of the state park system. The trailhead is a stone's-throw from the Half Moon Bay city limits, but the 1 mile out-and-back walk to the point and beach is a tranquil journey. Packed in under 100 acres there are interesting and beautiful plants in bloom along the trail, a sheltered sandy beach, and views from the bluff to colonies of sleek harbor seals. Cowell Ranch Beach is a model of conservation, preservation, and accessible open space.Steps to beach
      Start at the yellow-gated trail entrance. A wide flat dirt and gravel trail heads west, through a mixture of coyote brush, thistles, dock, poison hemlock, wild radish, and mustard. Although the property to the left (south) is a farm easement, land on the north of the trail is privately held. You may catch a glimpse of the Ritz Carlton Hotel up the coast to the right. Interpretive panels along the trail refer to the history of the area, and commonly spotted plants and animals. Hawks sweep over the fields, looking for easy prey. As the trail bends south, you may see a variety of wildflowers in summer, from standards such as buckwheat, beeplant, tarweed, and coyote mint to the more unusual blossoms bog orchid, boisduvalia, and centaury. At 0.48 mile, steps depart on the right, heading down to the beach (an optional trip, or a fine day-long destination). Continue straight.View south to the harbor seal preserve
     The end is in sight, as the trail runs out of real estate at 0.58 mile. Two benches set back a few feet from the partly-fenced bluff edge offer spectacular views south to the harbor seal preserve, as well as north. Seals may be spotted generally from about February-May, hauled up on the beach or swimming near the shore. Pups are born from March-April -- note that the preserve is off limits to people year round, even when no seals are in view. If you've arrived during seal season without binoculars but still want a better look, there's a coin operated scope on the right. When you're ready, retrace your steps back to the trailhead.

Total distance: 1.16 miles
Last hiked: Monday, July 29, 2002