Pescadero Marsh Natural Preserve,
California State Parks,
San Mateo County
In brief:
2.7 miles out and back through Pescadero Marsh.

Distance, category, and difficulty:
This 2.7 mile out and back hike is very easy, although trail surfaces can be uneven, and part of this hike is through loose sand.

Mostlly exposed, with some pockets of shade.

Trail traffic:

Trail surfaces:
Dirt trail and sandy beach.

Hiking time:
2 hours or less.

Nice any time, but very colorful in summer.

Getting there:
From CA 1 in San Mateo County, south of Half Moon Bay and CA 84, turn west into the Pescadero Beach parking lot -- driving south it's the second parking lot, just after the bridge (if you get to Pescadero Road you've gone too far). Driving north it's 0.3 mile north of Pescadero Road.

Get driving or public transit directions from Transit and Trails:

GPS Coordinates* for Trailhead:
Latitude 3715'55.34"N
(* based on Google Earth data, shown as degrees, minutes, seconds)

Gas, food, and lodging:
Gas, stores, restaurants, and pay phone a few miles east in Pescadero. Duarte's is a great choice for a casual lunch (their soups are great), or pick up a loaf of artichoke bread and picnic fixings at Arcangeli Grocery. No camping.

Trailhead details:
No parking or entrance fees. 30 spots in a paved lot, with 1 designated handicapped spot. Unfortunately, there is no wheelchair access to the marsh. No drinking water or maps. There is one pit toilet at the parking lot. There is no public transportation to the preserve.

Hiking only. No dogs on the trail.

The Official Story:
CSP's Pescadero Marsh page

Map choices:
• Use AAA's San Francisco Bay Region map to get there.
Map from CSP
• Tom Taber's Santa Cruz Mountains Trail Book (order this book from has a simple map.
Peninsula Trails, by Jean Rusmore, (order this book from has a simple map and descriptions of the preserve and trails.
• 101 Great Hikes of the San Francisco Bay Area, by Ann Marie Brown (order this book from has a simple map and featured hike.

View photos from this hike.

Go to Bay Area Hiker Home page

Pescadero Marsh drifts east from a typically gorgeous San MateoTrailhead County beach, spreading out from the shores of Pescadero Creek. Three separate, not contiguous trails depart from four trailheads: one at the northernmost Pescadero Beach parking lot, one from the middle beach parking lot, and one from a small dirt lot on Pescadero Road. All the trails are short, and you could easily take a complete tour through the marsh in one visit. An alternative is to combine a hike on Sequoia Audubon Trail, in the middle of the marsh, with a picnic and walk along the beach.
     I like to start hikes at the middle Pescadero Beach parking lot trailhead, which provides convoluted but safe access to the heart of the marsh, an excellent bird-watching zone. This easy out-and-back hike nicely combines a trudge through loose sand Driftwood along the shore of Pescadero Creekand an easy walk through Pescadero Marsh.
     Bird-watching at Pescadero Marsh perhaps reaches its zenith in winter, but spring and summer feature a broad spectrum of wildflowers, and warm beach-friendly temperatures. When I visited once in late July there was so much vegetation choking Sequoia Nature Trail that I had to turn back before the end of the trail.
     Start at the south end of the parking lot. Follow a sign pointing down a short flight of steps to "beach and marsh access." When you reach CA 1, turn left and walk along the road, thankfully buffered by a guardrail. You'll cross Pescadero Creek on a bridge, and at 0.19 mile, turn left, descend a few steps, and reach the beach. A trail sign points south, so walk to the left through the sand, then cross under the highway bridge.
     Driftwood is spreadSequoia Audubon Trail  throughout the sand along the north shore of Pescadero Creek, and when the water level is low it's hard to locate the route. Look for a distant trail sign to the east, at the edge of the vegetation, and make your way to it. The signed hiking only Sequoia Audubon Trail winds through a mix of coastal plants, including beach primrose, buckwheat, sea fig, and yellow bush lupine. At 0.45 mile, the trail forks at an undersigned junction. Bear left. The narrow trail keeps a level course along a slight levee. Mustard, wild radish, paintbrush, Nutall's milkvetch, yarrow, and lizardtail all bloom along the path well into summer months. At 0.50 mile, North Pond Trail departs over a walkway to the left, marked by a signpost. Continue straight on Sequoia Audubon Trail.
     The trail passes over a small arm of the creek, where you might see ducks. Blackberry, Overgrown trailthistles, dock, coffeeberry, and poison hemlock crowd the trail. At 0.70 mile, a eucalyptus sprawls like an octopus, off the right side of the trail. When I visited in July 2002, the trail was not passable after this point -- but when I returned in 2014, it was clear. Be sure to take a moment and gaze north to a heron rookery tree in the eucalyptus grove just north of the marsh. With binoculars you might see great blue herons and great egrets, typically nesting from March to July. Look for an unmarked path heading a few feet off to the right. Here, under some eucalyptus, you'll find a peaceful bench on the edge of the creek.
     The trail becomes less sandy as it enters a shaded lush stretch, with a few huge woodrat nests visible in the bushes. Poison oak muscles its way into a mixture of willow and twinberry, then nearly takes over as the trail steps out into coastal scrub. A short uphill zigzag ends at a bench and the trail stops at a wall of thick coyote brush. There are lovely views back to the west. When you're ready, retrace your steps back to the trailhead.

Total distance: 2.7 miles
Last hiked: July 17, 2014
Previous visit: July 29, 2002