Is it really hiking if you aren’t dripping sweat and gasping for air? Hiking in Colorado leads to spectacular destinations but usually involves serious physical exertion, either because the trails are steep, or long, or rocky, or all of the above. And not to mention the ‘I can barely walk’ sore muscles that linger for days afterwards.
We had a somewhat different experience in California. Don’t get me wrong – there are plenty of opportunities for epic treks, but casual hikers (like us) can access many cool places with a leisurely stroll on a forgiving path. Just wear a good pair of walking shoes, use sunscreen, and carry water.
We did both – hiking and strolling – during our visit to the Morro Bay area. I hope you enjoy reading about and seeing a few photos of the places we walked.
Valencia Peak Trail
Hike #1 was in Montaña de Oro State Park, an 8,000-acre open space with seven miles of shoreline and a sand bar that stretches for four miles. Only about a 20 minute drive from Morro Bay, we made several visits but experienced just a tiny portion of the park’s offerings.
The Valencia Peak Trail had a moderate elevation gain of 1,300 feet spread over 2.1 miles, with spectacular 360 degree views at the top – a nice reward for our efforts.
Also located in Montaña de Oro State Park, hike #2 followed the Pacific Ocean shoreline for several miles and featured beautiful views of the bluffs and the water.
Harmony Headlands State Park
Located about 20 minutes north of Morro Bay, we nearly missed the turnoff from highway 1 that leads to this park. Just one minuscule sign. The parking lot could accommodate ten vehicles, and we snagged the last spot. That’s one way to cut down on the number of visitors!
Much smaller than Montaña de Oro, this 750-acre park has only one trail, the Headlands Trail, which was hike #3 for us. It was neither long nor particularly difficult but also not very scenic for most of the way, unless you are fond of the bone-dry California grassland look.
So perhaps that’s why the views that greeted us when we arrived at the coast seemed especially nice – we weren’t expecting to see such rugged beauty. We meandered along the coast for awhile before heading back – a most enjoyable hike.
Los Osos Oaks Reserve
Years ago, coast live oak trees were widespread along the coast of California but gradually disappeared due to clearing, grazing, firewood cutting, and development. This 90-acre grove of dwarfed live oaks – an island surrounded by residential neighborhoods in the town of Los Osos – has been protected since 1972. The multi-trunk trees with seriously gnarled branches are around 800 years old and average 20-25 feet in height.
We strolled along the trail that meanders through this ancient forest. It was a short, easy hike, so we had plenty of time to examine the trees and take photos. And we walked slowly for another reason – it was an unusually hot day with temperatures in the 90’s and no ocean breeze to keep us cool. Ugh!
Moonstone Beach, located just outside Cambria, is part of Hearst San Simeon State Park. A boardwalk on the bluff runs the length of the beach and features lovely views of the rocks, tide pools, and ocean waves.
This leisurely walk was stroll #2, with frequent stops just to gaze at the scenery and savor the sunshine. Long time friend Marlene was my companion for this excursion, and we were in no rush to leave.
Sadly, this is the final post from our month in Morro Bay. We enjoyed a few excursions that I omitted, such as area wineries and restaurants – fun for us but probably not that interesting to others.
All in all, we can’t say enough good things about our visit to California’s Central Coast, but it’s time to move on. Next stop – Death Valley National Park!