California Central Coast - Ten Easy Day Hikes
by Joseph A. Sprince - Photography by Gerald B. Allen
On our recent visit to the California central coast, we focused on
easy day hikes to beautiful and interesting areas which are less well
known to the public. We offer capsules of ten hikes, one from Monterey
County and the rest from the San Luis Obispo area. Most are in the lush
oak woodlands just inland from the ocean.
Salmon Creek Falls, Monterey County
This hike originates from the section of Pacific Coast Highway (California Highway 1)
hugging the cliffs high above the Big Sur coast. The huge ocean cliffs garner the attention here
but a short hike on the far side of the road leads to the unbelievably
spectacular Salmon Creek Falls. The stream pours over a 100 foot rock alcove
into a beautiful pool at the head of a narrows. The pool is accessible with
some moderate rock hopping. The main trail continues around the falls and
offers access to a lush wilderness area. (Note: Photography is very
difficult in the morning when the fog is lifting!)
Bob Jones City to the Sea, Avila Canyon
An "urban" hike through beautiful Avila Canyon, the trail starts as a
paved bicycle path through the dense riparian growth along San Luis
Obispo Creek. The path merges into a service road where the canyon widens
and follows alongside a golf course with beautiful canyon vistas. The
trail ends at the main road in Avila Beach. A short walk then reaches
the Avila Beach Pier with very scenic views at the end of the pier.
Very nice variety of scenery for one hike.
Elfin Forest Natural Area, Baywood Park
This short hike follows a boardwalk through a beautiful area of coastal
scrub and riparian woodland on the edge of the Morro Bay Tidal Estuary.
Featured here are stands of 500 year old pygmy oak trees. The tiny, gnarled
trees are covered with mosses and lichens. Also, two elevated overlooks
with excellent views of the tidal estuary.
Sweet Springs Nature Preserve, Los Osos
The preserve is a small wetland sanctuary for nesting and migrating
birds, owned by the local Audubon Society. The short trail goes through
a fragrant eucalyptus grove, passes a serene freshwater pond, and then
follows a saltwater marsh for a short distance. We observed turtles in
the pond and a group of herons in the marsh as well as a solitary pelican.
Little Falls Trail, Santa Lucia Wilderness, San Luis Obispo
Gorgeous hiking in a rugged, unspoiled wilderness area east of San Luis Obispo.
The trail follows Little Falls Creek, alternatively following the stream
through lush forest and then climbing bluffs above the stream bed with
spectacular views of the canyon. Also, a side trail to Little Falls, a thin
fifty foot fall emptying into a large swimming hole. The access road is also
quite exciting, crossing the flowing stream eight times in the last 1.5 miles.
Reservoir Canyon, San Luis Obispo
A short but scenic hike no more than ten minutes from downtown. The trail
follows the lush riparian canyon bottom of this perennial stream. A short
spur trail goes to a small area of cascades on the stream. The trail ends
in a very pretty glade shaded by large oaks - an ideal picnic spot.
Poly Canyon Design Village, Cal Poly Campus, San Luis Obispo
A bizarre hike which starts out at the campus of Cal Poly University. A dirt
road follows a riparian creek bed for about a mile upstream, and the canyon
then opens up into an area of rolling hills with scenic mountain backdrops.
On one hillside is a collection of artistic structures assembled by the
school's engineering department in the early 1970's. It was their idea of
"futuristic" architecture which now seems almost humorous. Entry is through
the stone arch (photo, left). You may then see such things as the geodesic
dome, the "energy-efficient" shell house, the pyramid, and more. The area
appears to have been abandoned for years so it feels a lot more like
"archaeology" than "architecture".
Bluff Trail, Montana de Oro State Park
Montana de Oro offers some of California's finest ocean scenery.
The popular Bluff Trail follows along the edge of a grassy terrace
with outstanding views of the eroding cliffs below. The terrace has
spectacular wildflower displays in spring and early summer. Especially
impressive is the heavy surf pounding the rocky promontories. The pocket
beach at Quarry Cove has interesting tidal pools.
The tiny and very private cove in the photo, right, can be reached by
a short but strenuous trail.
Coon Creek Trail, Montana de Oro State Park
Perhaps the finest of the ten hikes listed here, the trail follows the lush
bottom of Coon Creek Canyon. The combination of a year-round stream and a
foggy, damp climate produces a spectacularly lush riparian area. The
profusion of moss-laden trees and heavy brush creates a jungle-like
environment. Blackberry canes with ripe fruit are everywhere. Wildflowers
are everywhere, including beauties like morning glory, monkeyflower, and
Note that the area does favor snakes. We observed two, including a rattlesnake
in the brush adjacent to the trail.
Felsman Loop, Bishop Peak Open Area, San Luis Obispo
Another scenic hike no more than ten minutes from downtown. The trail
loops around the eastern flank of Bishop Peak, one of the nine volcanic
peaks (known locally as the Nine Sisters) which hug the coast from
San Luis Obispo to Morro Bay. The trail varies from open grassland
with outstanding views of the surrounding areas to lush oak glens.
More spectacular views are available to those who climb to the top of the peak.
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