California Coast Hiking in Pismo, Avila and Montana De Oro
This past weekend brought an unexpected trip to the Central California Coast. I do not get over to the coast very often, but as soon as I got there I realized that I missed it. I am not normally a coastal person. I prefer the mountain ranges to the coastal breezes, but after so many years of staying away, I am realizing that the coast might have a lot more to offer than I remembered. That being said, I might even plan an official trip with the whole family in the near future. What?!?!? Chana at the beach??? No way! Well, now I say Yes, way!!!
This unexpected trip was brought to us because of a death in the family. David's aunt had passed away and we were going to pay our respects at the funeral. As we get older funerals become more common. It is sad to see the ones we love pass on, but at the same time it does bring those of us that are still alive together during a time when a lot of people are just too busy to get together, myself included. It was really nice meeting a lot of David's family for the first time and also spending time with the family members that I had met before. Times like these you try and look at your life knowing it will not last forever and reevaluate what is important. What changes should I make? Who should I spend more time with? What do I still want to do and see in life? So many questions and reflection that death brings upon us.
Coastal Access Trail at Pismo Beach
As a part of our reflection and coming together, most of those in attendance to the funeral decided to go on a sunset hike on the Pismo Beach Coastal Access Trail. We met up at the start of the trail which is located at Grover Beach right before sunset. The hike was super easy and level with a wooden boardwalk running along the length of the beach. We did not hike the full trail which in total is 4.8 miles, but we did make it to the Monarch Butterfly Grove which I had been to before. If you have not been, it is a must visit location during the winter months when you will see the most butterflies. So amazing! We just missed the butterfly season, but we did see a few that were a bit early to the show.
Ontario Ridge to Shell Beach Bluff Trail Loop - 2.8 miles
The next morning we headed out on a hike with David's sister and her family out in Avila on the Ontario Ridge to Shell Beach Bluff Trail Loop. I will not lie... When David and I drove up and saw the first part of the hike, we were a bit scared. The first ascent is pretty steep, in what I would call moon dust. There is not much to hold onto and not a lot of grip for your shoes, so you just have to take it slow and be strategic in your foot path. That being said, even though it is intimidating, concurring the large hill first is the best way to go. You get the hardest part over with first and you avoid having to slide down the hill on your butt going down. This was especially difficult for David since he did not wear his hiking boots. Note to self (and David)... Do not hike in bald shoes (kind of like not driving on bald tires). We made it to the top though and boy was the view beautiful! At the top you have lots of shady locations with moss dripping trees and swings that cast out over the beautiful ocean view. Of course we had to take a break on the swing. We were just a bunch of big kids swinging and climbing in the trees. After a break on the swing we headed back out again. The rest of the hike has a few bumpy areas with elevation change, but nothing compared to the first climb up. AllTrails rates this hike as moderate... although I would classify that first part as hard. The rest of the hike is very enjoyable though and the second half is what I would classify as easy. It is possible to only hike the second half by coming from the opposite side where there is another parking lot, but instead of a loop you will end up with an out and back hike. The second half of the hike runs along beautiful multi-million dollar homes that apparently do not like you to walk on their street. Stay on the path happy hikers! This part of the trail also overlooks Pirates Cove which appeared to me at the time to be a nudist beach. I do not know if this is true all of the time, but at the time of our hike it was. All I have to say is that I am glad my eyesight is not all that good. Haha! At the end of the trail there is a bench you can rest on to take in the view, or you can continue on another trail down to Pirates Cove and the cave via the Cave Landing Road. Don't forget to grab that Geocache. Yep, I'm a Geocache nerd. Gotta love it!
Camping and Hiking In Montana De Oro
That night we were supposed to stay at Cerro Alto which is more inland, but we were crossing our fingers that the first come first serve sites would have an opening. Unfortunately they did not, so on to plan B. What?... Plan B?... I do not have a Plan B. Note to self... always have a plan B. At first we thought about stealth camping. David was not too keen on leaving our car out on the highway to stealth camp though. Next we looked up other campsites. There were not a lot of options though and the odds of there being an opening are slim on the weekend. In the end we decided to make one last ditch effort to find a place to stay. If it did not work out we were just going to head home. We opted to drive over to Montana De Oro since David really wanted to see the place he remembered visiting a lot in his teenage years. He would have bonfires and run down the dunes towards the beach at a place they called Cables. Well we drove over there and the location was beautiful. We again thought about stealth camping, but there were a million signs that said you could not park in the area overnight. Hmmmm... that killed that idea. Then we saw the Islay Creek Campground. Slim chances they had anything available... but THEY DID! Yes! I was so excited! Then came the bad news. You need cash to pay for the site. Gah! Who carries cash these days? So we drove all the way back to town to get cash and then all the way back. What a day of driving! There were two sites available because of a last minute cancellation. We took the one closest to a tree so we could hammock camp. It was not quite up to forest regulations since we had to pull off of our parking spot, but the host said it would be ok for one night. In order to make our hammocks work, we strung up one half of our hammocks to the tree and the other half to our car. It worked out perfect! We were not as fast with the new setup, but it worked and that is all that matters. It was nice being at a campsite with water, a bathroom and a table to cook dinner. We even saw deer run through and a family of racoons that found peanuts next to our table. They kind of scared me hearing a rustle by our table in the dark. The last camper must have left the food in the storage box. After dinner we went to sleep. I was spent!
The night was a little difficult. The cold fall winds had just blown in and boy was it cold. Cold for me anyways. I know you will laugh, but I piled on 3 pairs of fleece lined stretch pants, a pair of sweat pants, a pair of fluffy socks, a tank top, a wool long sleeve shirt, a cotton long sleeve shirt, a flannel long sleeve shirt with hood, a fleece jacket and a beanie. I also had a leather jacket that I placed under my butt. Overkill? I think not. Haha! It really did help and made me wish that my new hammock with awesome underquilt were here. Oh Superior Hammock where art thou? I made it through the night though and ready to hike the next morning.
The next morning I let David sleep in as usual. I am a morning person and he is a night person. I made myself some oatmeal and some hot tea. Yum! I then got dressed and headed out on the trail. I was not really sure where I was going to go. My phone died, so I could not look up a trail, but I did know of a trail head, so I just headed that way. Note to self... I need a backup battery. It never fails that I am freezing in the beginning, so I suited up with pants, tank top, long sleeve shirt, beanie and jacket... but five minutes in I strip everything off and wondered why I am not wearing shorts. Gah! One day I will learn. No worries though. It was a beautiful day and there was a coastal breeze, so it felt great outside. I started off on the Reservoir Flats Trail, which lead me to the Valencia Peak Trail, where I later meandered off onto the Rattlesnake Flats Trail. I did not really have a plan or anywhere in particular I wanted to go. I just went... and that was nice. Where this trek brought me was amazing though! I headed up a path that was a little steep up a hill and then saw a tent overlooking the ocean. What?!?! At first I thought they just pitched a tent wherever they wanted to, but then I noticed it was an actual campsite with a camp table and a nearby restroom. I just have to stay here! I feel bad that I interrupted their quiet morning enjoying the view, but I had to get the details on how to rent this site. We are definitely bringing the kids here! Just so you know... this was the Environmental Primitive Campsite #3. I could not wait to tell David about the spot, so I started my trek back to our campsite. He was already up having breakfast and getting ready for the day, so we packed up and headed out. First stop was to drive over to the cool lookout campsite. We hiked up and he agreed that it was a perfect spot. He blessed it by taking a crap in the toilet and then we hiked back to our car.
Our next stop before heading home was Hazard Canyon Reef. From the parking lot you hike down a trail that leads you to the top of the dunes which overlook the ocean. As a kid David would come here with his parents and run down the very steep dunes to the edge of the beach. As a teenager he came with friends to light bonfires in the wee hours of the night. Great memories I am sure and I would love to bring our kids here one day as well. To one side we saw a singing YouTuber. Down below we saw an older couple relaxing and fishing. Later a family came with their little girls that squealed as they ran into and away from the approaching waves. Other than that we had the beach to ourselves. It was a beautiful day for some beauty, peace and quiet. I thought for a moment or two about climbing the dunes and running down, but I think I will save that for next time when the kids are here. They will really enjoy that for sure! For now we have to head home and return to reality, so we started our trek back to the car. On our way I stopped to take a photo of a grouping of daisies that I saw on the trail when off to the side I noticed a very light path that lead into a grove of trees. Hmmmm... that looks interesting. I stopped David so I could take a look and what I found was amazing! This hidden paradise was clear of brush, with a perfect bed of leaves and dapples of light that made everything look magical. This was the spot we had been looking for! It was perfect for hammock camping! Maybe not with the kids, but by ourselves it would be perfect. This spot is going on our list! We will be back!
Have any of you been to Montana De Oro or hiked any of the trails that we hiked on this past weekend? Do you know of any other amazing hikes that you would recommend? I would love to know so we can add them to our list when we come back. Until then, hike on Happy Hikers! There is so much beauty to see!