Posted by: James Wapotich | August 29, 2016

Trail Quest: Montaña de Oro

Located just two hours north of Santa Barbara, Montaña de Oro State Park offers a variety of trails to explore. The park is along the coast, south of Morro Bay, and features year round camping with surprisingly no day use fees, making it a great destination for a weekend get away.

The 8,000-acre park has over 65 miles of trails, more than can be visited in a single day. Fortunately, there are 47 car camping sites at the campground plus another four environmental, or walk-in, sites. For reservations, pricing and availability go to www.parks.ca.gov. Camping is also available at nearby Morro Bay State Park.

Of the different hikes within in the park, Bluff Trail, Coon Creek Trail, and Valencia Peak are three hikes that provide a good sampling of the park’s scenery. Bluff Trail follows the coastline and is about four miles roundtrip. Coon Creek Trail, which follows a rich riparian corridor, is around five miles round trip. And the hike to Valencia Peak, which offers some of the best views of the park, is also roughly five miles roundtrip. A loop hike combining all three of these hikes is about 11 miles.

Bluff Trail Montaña de Oro beach cove hike

Scenery along Bluff Trail

Valencia peak bluff trail hike Montaña de oro

Valencia Peak is seen from Bluff Trail

To reach the park from Santa Barbara, take Highway 101 north towards San Luis Obispo and exit at Los Osos Valley Road. Follow Los Osos Valley Road west and continue through the town of Los Osos. As the road turns southward it becomes Pecho Valley Road and continues to the park.

A good starting point to orient yourself to the park is Spooner Ranch House, which is just across from Spooner’s Cove, along Pecho Valley Road. A brochure with a map of the trails can be found at the ranch house, as well as online at www.parks.ca.gov/pages/592/files/MDO-Brochure-lr.pdf. Parking can be found at the ranch house and at the cove, as well as on the bluff overlooking the cove. Past the ranch house, Pecho Valley Road continues another mile and a half, passing a number of trailheads and pullouts, before arriving at the end of the road and the Coon Creek Trailhead parking area.

In 1892, Alden B. Spooner II began leasing a portion of the land around Islay Creek that would become Montaña de Oro. He established a dairy farm and raised hogs and in 1902, purchased the land he had been leasing. By 1917, he owned more than 9,000 acres along the coast and had built a ranch house, creamery, several barns, and even a dam across the creek creating a small reservoir.

Corallina Cove Bluff Trail Montaña de oro

Corallina Cove

Spooner passed away in 1926, and in 1942, the Spooner family sold the land to Oliver C. Field. 10 years later Field sold it to Irene McAllister, who placed the land in a corporation called Rancho Montaña de Oro. Three years later the corporation went into bankruptcy. In 1965, the State of California purchased the land for use as a state park, keeping McAllister’s name for the land, which translates as mountain of gold, a reference to the golden wildflowers that grow there in the spring.

Bluff Trail starts just past the ranch house on the bluff overlooking Spooner’s Cove, across from the Valencia Peak trailhead, and follows the coastline south. Unlike much of the coastline in Santa Barbara, the coast here runs north-south. The trail leads through a mix of low brush and grasses including California sagebrush, coyote bush, golden yarrow, dudleya, and poison oak. Although not worry, the trail ADA accessible trail is wide enough to keep you clear of the poison oak.

The trail offers views across Spooner’s Cove, and as it continues along the coast offers views of the dramatically sculptured coastline. Over the millennia the sea has eroded the underlying Monterey shale, creating pocket beaches and outcroppings of rock. At about the half-mile mark, the trail arrives at Corallina Cove; here, stairs provide access down to a small beach. Continuing along Bluff Trail, a half-mile further is Quarry Cove and another coastal access point.

Point Buchon Montaña de Oro

Scenery near Pt. Buchon

At about the 1.5-mile mark the trail arrives at the end of the State Park property, overlooking Coon Creek Beach. Here, the trail turns inland and continues a half-mile towards Pecho Valley Road and Coon Creek parking area. For additional hiking one can explore Coon Creek Trail or to see more of the coast visit Point Buchon.

Point Buchon is part of the land owned by Pacific Gas and Electric, further south on the property is Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant. The hike along Point Buchon Trail to end of the trail and back is about 6.5 miles roundtrip. A short loop hike just to the point and back is one mile.

To visit the point, starting from the Coon Creek parking area, continue on foot south along Pecho Valley Road through the locked access gate. The road arrives at a check-in station, where you need to sign in and back out for the hike. From here, Point Buchon Trail continues along the south side of Coon Creek Canyon. The trail provides access down to Coon Creek Beach, and then continues along the coast to Point Buchon. Just past the point the trail branches for the shorter loop back to the check-in station. Point Buchon Trail is open Thursday through Monday from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

Coon Creek Beach Point Buchon Trail Montaña de oro

Coon Creek Beach is seen from Point Buchon Trail

For the hike along Coon Creek Trail, which can also be used to create a loop hike to Valencia Peak, make your way to the Coon Creek parking area. From the parking area the trail continues over to Coon Creek, passing through coastal sage scrub. Here, one finds coyote bush, California sagebrush, black sage, monkey flower, poison oak, and the occasional toyon and coffee berry.

The trail then arrives at the creek, which is flowing intermittently. Along the creek is a mix of riparian plants including arroyo willow, blackberry, mugwort and horsetail. Also along the trail are plants not commonly found in Santa Barbara County, such as dogwood, thimbleberry, and bane berry.

Coon Creek Trail hike montaña de oro

Scenery along Coon Creek Trail

Oats Peak Trail Montaña de oro

Scenery along Oats Peak Trail

Coon Creek Trail follows the creek upstream, and at about the 2.25-mile mark from the trailhead arrives at Oats Peak Trail. From here, Coon Creek Trail continues another quarter of a mile and ends at a small stand of cypress trees.

For the Valencia Peak loop, continue on Oats Peak Trail. Oats Peak Trail continues up a side canyon passing through oak woodland, before transitioning into chaparral as it continues up towards Oats Peak and the ridgeline separating the Coon Creek and Islay Creek drainages.

At the top, about a mile from Coon Creek Trail, the trail meets Alan Peak Trail. Alan Peak Trail leads 2.5 miles east to Alan Peak (1,649’) passing through a stand of Bishop pines along the way. The trail starts out in generally good condition, but becomes more overgrown the further one goes, with the final segment being brushy and choked with poison oak.

Alan Peak Trail Montaña de Oro hik Coon Creek Valencia Peak Oats

A view towards Alan Peak from the trail

Morro Bay Valencia Peak Montaña de oro

Morro Bay is seen from Valencia Peak

To reach Valencia Peak, from the trail juncture with Alan Peak Trail, turn left and continue on Oats Peak Trail. The trail soon arrives at Oats Peak (1,373’). Past the peak, the trail follows the ridgeline west and about a mile later arrives at the turnoff to Valencia Peak. From here the trail follows an old road cut that meets up with Valencia Peak Trail and leads to the top of the peak.

From Valencia Peak (1.347’) one is treated to great views out across the coast, as well as north towards Morro Bay. From here, Valencia Peak Trail leads west, down from the peak, where it intersects Oats Peak Trail and Badger Trail. From this intersection, Oats Peak Trail winds its way down toward the campground behind the ranch house. Valencia Peak Trail leads down to Pecho Valley Road, just across from the beginning of Bluff Trail to complete the 11-mile loop. And Badger Trail connects over to Rattlesnake Flats Trail, which can be used to reach Pecho Valley Road a half-mile north of Coon Creek parking area for a shorter loop to the peak from the Coon Creek Trailhead of about 9.5 miles.

Regardless of how far you hike you’ll get to see some of the unique scenery along our California coast.

This article originally appeared in section A of the July 25th, 2016 edition of Santa Barbara News-Press.

Bluff Trail hike montaña de oro

Scenery along Bluff Trail


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