Pillar Point Bluff,
San Mateo County Parks,
San Mateo County
In brief:
This 1.3 mile hike loops along on a grassy bluff overlooking the ocean.

Distance, category, and difficulty:
This 1.3 mile loop hike is easy, with minimal elevation change.

Completely exposed.

Trail traffic:

Trail surfaces:
Dirt trails.

Hiking time:
1 hour or less.

Nice any time.

Getting there:
From southbound CA 1 in Moss Beach (San Mateo County), turn west (right) onto Cypress. Drive about 1.2 miles (where Cypress dead-ends, bear left onto Airport), then turn right into the parking lot.

From northbound CA 1 in Princeton, turn left onto Capistrano. From Capistrano, turn left onto Prospect, right onto California (which turns into Cornell), then right on Airport. After 0.7 mile (just past a small industrial park) turn left into the parking lot.

Get driving or public transit directions from Transit and Trails:
There's a SamTrans bus stop at Airport and Los Banos, which is walking distance to the trailhead.

GPS Coordinates* for Trailhead:
Latitude 3731'26.93"N
(* based on Google Earth data, shown as degrees, minutes, seconds)

Gas, food, and lodging:
Pay phone, gas, stores, and restaurants in Moss Beach and Princeton. No camping.

Trailhead details:
No parking or entrance fees. Small dirt lot. Pit toilets at the edge of the parking lot, but no water. There is designated handicapped parking and trails are wheelchair accessible. No paper maps the the trailhead.

Reserve hours vary seasonally, but in general it is open from 8 a.m. to sunset. Dogs are permitted on leash.

The Official Story:
SMCP's Pillar Point page
Park office (at Fitzgerald Reserve) 650-728-3584

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).
Map from SMCP

Go to Bay Area Hiker Home page

The Bay Area draws vacationerstrailhead  from all over the world and many arrive with hiking boots. When the best-known trails are overtaken with non-natives, it's nice to have some secret spots known only to the locals. Pillar Point Bluff is just such a place.
      Tucked between Pillar Point and Moss Beach, the bluff offers folks from nearby neighborhoods a pleasant option for dogwalking and daily exercise. This is not a "destination" hike (and note that there is no beach access), but Pillar Point Bluff is a great choice for a quiet walk or picnic.
     The trailhead is barely-signed and easy to miss. Coming north from Princeton, look for the dirt driveway just past a small housing development and a tiny industrial park. Southbound, if you reach the junction with Cornell, you've missed it. Begin walking on a wide flat path where mustard is prominent in spring. A boardwalk bisects a damp area where you might see raccoon prints in the mud. Soon, at 0.1 mile, the trail splits (either way is an option -- if it's your first visit consider following this description, as it gives a better orientation). Turn right.trail
     At a gentle grade, the trail climbs along the edge of a sloping coastal scrub-covered hillside. On an April hike, I was lucky to watch a great horned owl perched in a toyon along the trail. The owl swiveled its head to watch a scrub jay, then turned back toward me and blinked its long lashes. I was enchanted. The meadow on the right is a flat and vacant prelude to a view of Half Moon Bay Airport. As the trail climbs, the vista expands east to include Montara Mountain's foothills and high ridges. Traffic noise from CA 1 begins to fade as the trail bends left. At about 0.5 mile, you'll reach an obvious junction. Bear left.great horned owl
     Still ascending but very gently, the trail travels through a landscape of grassland and sagebrush, coffeeberry, and coyote brush shrubs occasionally punctuated with young pine, where I saw quite a few spotted towhees flitting about. The trail meets another path which doubles back toward Moss Beach -- continue straight.
     As the trail edges along a hillside dropping steeply on the right, there are spectacular ocean views. I spotted seals bobbing at the water's edge (there were baby seals beached north of Pillar Point Bluff at Fitzgerald Marine Reserve that day). The trail is level here, and makes for easy walking, but be cautious of the unfenced edges. At the next split, stay to the right. trail
     The trail rambles nearly to the bluff edge, then sweeps left and lingers near the rim. These are the best ocean views at Pillar Point Bluff, and as the trail continues south the Pillar Point Air Force Station is visible, as is the Mavericks surf break. At the property boundary, signs warn that the sidepaths heading on (toward Pillar Point) lead to private lands. Continue on the main trail, veering east, and shortly you will reach a junction. The path left leads back to the north. Turn right.
     Almost immediately the path begins to descend. I saw rabbits hopping through the coastal scrub here. At 1.20 miles, you'll reach a junction, again. Turn right and retrace your steps back to the trailhead.

Total distance: 1.30 miles
Last hiked: Wednesday, April 24, 2013