Infamous Devil's Slide (the road) has become incredible Devil's Slide (the trail).
Distance, category, and difficulty:
This 2.6 mile out and back hike is easy, with mostly gradual elevation
change, although some short stretches of trail are mildly steep. Trailhead elevation is 246 feet and the trail's highest point is 472 feet.
2 hours or less.
Nice any time.
From southbound CA1 in Pacifica: from the junction of
CA1 and Linda Mar Boulevard (the southernmost traffic light in Pacifica), continue south on CA1 for 1 mile, then just before the bridge approach to the tunnel, bear right into the parking area. There are two small lots, one after the other. Note that although this trailhead is only 1 mile from public parking in Pacifica, the walk along the side of CA 1 is unsafe and highly discouraged.
From northbound CA1 in San Mateo County: from the junction of CA92 and CA1 in Half Moon Bay, drive north on CA1 for 9 miles, then at the traffic light just before the Tom Lantos Tunnels, turn left. There are two small parking lots here: one to the left and one a short distance down an access road to the right. Note that traveling northbound you cannot turn left into the northern trailhead
(on the far side of the tunnel).
Public transit option:
If you're going on a weekend, consider the free Pacifica shuttle.
GPS Coordinates* for Trailheads:
(* based on Google Earth
data, shown as degrees, minutes, seconds)
Gas, food, and lodging:
Pay phone, gas, stores, and restaurants north in Pacifica. No camping.
No parking or entrance fees. Small parking lots at both ends of the trail.
Pit toilets and water fountains at both trailheads. There is designated handicapped parking and the trail is wheelchair accessible. No paper maps at the trailhead, but you don't really need one.
The trail is open 24/7, but the parking lots open at 8am and close around sunset (exact time varies by season). Dogs on leash and bikes are permitted.
The Official Story:
SMCP's Devil's Slide page
Trail contact: 650-355-8289
Map Choices/More Info:
Use AAA's San Francisco Bay Region map to get there.
brochure (including map) from SMCP
Go to Bay Area Hiker Home page
At the start of my Devil's Slide Trail walk, I noticed everyone finishing their excursions had big smiles. And when I left I did too! This is a cheerful trail for locals and tourists alike.
I've driven this stretch of pavement hundreds of times, but walking the trail is an entirely new experience. I got to marvel at granite, smell the ceanothus, and stand and look out to sea. What a vast improvement over the white-knuckled drives of the past.
Devil's Slide has a complicated and interesting history. These 1.3 miles of pavement vexed drivers and Caltrans for many years. The roadway edges along a narrow shelf above the ocean, with steep cliffs ascending and descending on both sides. The cliffs here are comprised of two different types of soil -- granite and shale/sandstone. This unstable mix is a poor foundation for a road, and during winter months landslides were common. In 1995 the stretch was closed for 5 months, greatly inconveniencing and isolating the towns of Pacifica and Montara. When the road was open, accidents regularly sent cars and trucks tumbling down the cliff. After years of debate, a bypass tunnel was built through Montara Mountain, and Devil's Slide, the roadway, was closed to vehicles. In 2014, Devil's Slide reopened as a multi-use trail. It has been an immediate smash and is quickly becoming a must-visit for tourists.
When I arrived on a Monday morning, all the parking spots were full. I turned off the car and queued for about 5 minutes -- expect long waits in summer and weekends, and consider public transit (Pacifica offers a shuttle on weekends). There are two trailheads, one on the south side of the tunnel and one on the north. Both trailheads offer the same amenities -- pit toilets, drinking water, and small parking lots. I started from the south because I prefer to start the walk from south to north.
Once out of the parking lot, begin walking on the multi-use trail (bikes use the right side; walkers the left). Immediately I was stunned by the narrow trail width. We drove here? Yow. Examine the cliff face to the right (watch for bikes) -- the sparkly stuff is granite. The trail ascends just slightly, squeezing through the cliffs. Interpretive panels along the trail offer a wealth of information regarding wildlife, history, and more. On my visit birders had just seen a peregrine falcon on the cliff to the left.
The trail sweeps right and continues to climb, still at a gentle grade. The old structure on the hilltop here to the left was a base-end station, part of a coastal defense network. Literally ever time I drove south I wanted to stop at just this spot, and surely you will savor the spectacular views. The three rocks jutting up out of the water just off the coast here are collectively called Egg Rock. If you've brought binoculars see if you can spot cormorants or common murres on the rocks. Lucky searchers may get glimpses of whales or seals in the ocean. On clear days, views stretch north past the Pedro Point Headlands all the way to Mount Tamalpais and Point Reyes in Marin County. The cliffs on the right are nearly vertical and mostly bare, but patches of native vegetation thrive amongst non-native interlopers, mostly pampas grass and sweet alyssum. In winter after heavy rains, small waterfalls drop down off the cliff, and near those damp areas look for coyote brush, sagebrush, and ceanothus. In spring when ceanothus is blooming their heavenly scent mixes delightfully with the fresh ocean air. The grade picks up a bit, but at the 1 mile mark Devil's Slide Trail crests. Enjoy lovely views from the Northern Overlook. If you want to continue exploring the remaining 0.3 mile of trail, follow the path down to the northern trailhead (trailside vegetation is more diverse and lush along this stretch). Otherwise, you may opt to have the overlook be the turnaround point. When ready, retrace your steps back to the trailhead.
Total distance: 2.6 miles (or 2 miles if you turn around at the overlook)
Last hiked: April 7, 2014