After we were done traipsing around the desert in California, it was time to head west – right for the coast!
When we initially crafted this Achievement, we had hoped to re-visit the Bluff Trail, a nature walk we had done last year in less-than-ideal conditions.
But because we are overachievers, we decided the easy Bluff Trail was not challenging enough for us. It’s flat all the way around (unless you choose to descend one of several sets of steps to the ocean – see above photo of tide cascading over husband’s sneakers), and great for any level of fitness.
But we wanted a challenge. Because we hate ourselves, and love struggling.
Both trails are located in Montano de Oro State Park. This is a great little park north of SLO proper, and just a short drive from my favorite volcanic plug of all, Morro Rock. The trailheads to both the Bluff Trail and Valencia Peak share a parking lot, just up the hill from the Ranch House, a visitor center where you can buy souvenirs and maps.
It’s also in an area where, apparently, disaster might strike. There are a few of these Siren Warning signs posted around the park, which made me just the tiniest bit nervous. What were we supposed to do if we were 1300 feet in the air and a siren went off? (Panic. Panic and run for cover, were the two best options I could come up with.)
But since it was a seasonable, sunny day, with no siren threat looming over us, we took off. The view is a little underwhelming as you begin the hike. There’s a lot of plant coverage blocking the really scenic views.
The hike is about 4.5 miles round trip, give or take a bit if you wander off the trail. At this sign, there’s about a mile to go to the Valencia Peak sign, and then you still have a bit more climbing to do to get to the actual top.
And it’s about a mile completely uphill. Yes, there are switchbacks, but they are very far into the hike, so be prepared for steep, rocky terrain. (I do mean ROCKY. I wear Vibram FiveFingers exclusively for fitness, and I have honestly never had an issue hiking trails in them until this point. The rocks are small and pointy, so you have to really be careful with foot placement, especially on the downhill.)
If you can make the trek, you are rewarded with this awesome sign showing the elevation. And that’s legit – since you start at the beach, you’re starting at sea level. (Well, 14 feet above sea level, according to my Garmin stats.)
This photo shows the most accurate depiction of the rockiness of the trail, I think. It’s like that the whole way up (and down). Plan for this hike to take longer than your usual steep trail hike, just because you have to be so careful where you land.
There is a picnic table at the top (which was someone’s Eagle Scout project! I know all about those, thanks to my awesome cousin who completed his!), so if the weather holds, you can bring a lunch or snack to enjoy before you descend. It was less than 70 degrees on our hike, and the peak is WINDY, so we just took some photos and then headed back. But on a warm day, this would be a dreamy lunch spot!
So, final stats on the trail:
- Elevation: 1299ft. (come on Garmin, give us that extra foot!)
- Total distance: 4.8 miles (because I was running around at the top dancing and stuff)
- Average moving pace: 24 minutes per mile.
If you are looking for a great, but strenuous, hike in the SLO area, please give Valencia Peak a try! It’s a great spot if you have people of various hiking experience levels in your group, because less-experienced hikers can hit the Bluff Trail while the more adventurous hikers climb the Peak. You can also camp in the area if you are so inclined, and you are just a short drive from Morro Bay if you’re in the mood for breakfast or lunch after your hike (which we, of course, were).