McNee Ranch Montara Hike

View of Montara Beach from McNee Ranch

View of Montara Beach from McNee Ranch

McNee Ranch State Park contains several beautiful trails that begin from Highway One (Coast Highway) and lead back towards San Pedro Valley County Park to the East. The trails in this review begin at parking lots near Montara Beach and Gray Whale Cove State Beach with exact GPS coordinates below:

  • McNee Ranch Parking Lot trailhead (nearest to Montara Beach lot, very small)
    N 37°33.233′
    W 122°30.742′
    Elevation 79 ft
  • Gray Whale Cove State Beach Lot trailhead (larger lot)
    N 37°33.777′
    W 122°30.754′
    Elevation 137 ft
Map of the two parking lots along HWY One

Map of the two parking lots along HWY One

Often referred to as simply the Montara Hike, these trails branch out all over the valleys and hills ascending up from the Montara cliffs and Pacific Ocean below. Starting off from the smaller McNee Ranch parking lot trailhead to the South, there are two paths to consider. A foot trail that goes left and takes you directly up onto the hills overlooking the ocean, or a broader less steep fire-access road that goes straight and is better for mountain bikes and horses. This broader trail leads back into San Pedro Valley Park and there are several waterfalls to be seen along the way during the winter and wetter times of year. As a hiker, this wider trail is less fun and avoiding bikes is a bit annoying on the weekends however, if you prefer less steep terrain it may be the best bet. The broader path goes back ~8 miles while the narrower one breaks off into many winding adventures that connect to Gray Whale Cove and ultimately climb up and over the valley Southward to Old Pedro Mountain Road and Montara Mountain Top. If you begin from the Gray Whale Cove parking lot you will only have access to the smaller footpaths and will not encounter the fire roads or bikers unless you hike pretty far back in. Mountain bikers are best served using the smaller lot or parking across the street at Montara Beach then walking across Highway One, here are the GPS coordinates for Montara Beach.

Take note, while hiking in McNee Ranch State Park, be wary of poison oak on the trail and consider wearing long pants. Try to stay on wider footpaths to be safe. There are no restrooms at either trailhead and the lots are fairly uneven and unpaved, if you have a fancy low riding car, use the larger Gray Whale Cove lot. Consider bringing binoculars for whale, shark, seal, and surfer watching from the cliffs above. The nearest restrooms are at Taco Bell (or one of the other restaurants) in Linda Mar just North on Highway One.

My preference while hiking in the McNee Ranch area is to take the small footpaths from either parking lot and climb up for the amazing views of Montara Beach and Gray Whale Cove below. This is a great date spot as the sunset is magnificent here. Despite its beauty however, the weather can change quickly so come prepared for wind, fog, and temperature changes. All along the way there are benches facing the ocean and while the trails aren’t very official feeling, often duplicating themselves and full of erosion spots, the views seem to make up for trail quality. Towards the top of the second set of hills 20-30 minutes in, as your views open to the North and South, you can see bits of San Francisco and Half Moon Bay. In the images below you can see the radar bubble at Maverics in HMB.

Trails are steep and eroded as mentioned above, they don’t really incorporate switchbacks and often ascend directly up the steepest most exposed faces of the hill. This makes climbing a lot of work, though very direct and quick. Wear good shoes and consider high tops to protect your ankles from rolling on the way down. Coming down can be a bit hard on the knees and is sketchy when the ground is wet. All in all it’s more about views than anything else. You can literally park, spend 15 minutes hiking up a ways, take in the view and air, skip down in 10 minutes and be off within an hour. However, if you’re looking for more exercise you can certainly find it winding South over the mountains.

Related posts:

  1. Hiking Montara Beach
  2. Arastradero Preserve Trail
  3. Mendocino Waterfall Loop Trail
  4. Linda Mar & Rockaway Trail
  5. Hiking at the Googleplex