With tangled trails and unmarked spurs lawlessly winding up the rugged 1,898-foot Montara Mountain, McNee Ranch State Park feels like the Wild West Coast. Even wilder? Its endless combinations of long coastal climbs to the top. Cool off and take advantage of summer days on an 8-mile loop from sea to summit via the Gray Whale Cove Trail—a scenic stunner that curves high above Highway 1 and the crashing Pacific shoreline.
Handfuls of yellow and fuchsia wildflowers punctuate the first mile past a bluff-top bench to the intersection with Pedro Mountain Road (a good turnaround point for hikers seeking something less strenuous). Thigh burners unite from here! Pedro Mountain Road carves a gentle ascent through cypress and pine for 2 miles to a fork. Veer right onto North Peak Access Road for a gut-busting 2-mile finish up the mountain’s steep sides. The payoff is worth it. Mount Tam and the San Francisco skyline frame the north, Mount Diablo reigns over the east, the Farallon Islands fade into the west, and the Santa Cruz Mountains sprawl to the south.
Park for free in the large lot at Gray Whale Cove Trailhead, one mile south of Devil’s Slide on the east side of Hwy. 1. Follow Gray Whale Cove Trail 1 mile to the junction with Pedro Mountain Rd. Turn left and wind along the trail for 2 miles to a fork. Veer right onto North Peak Access Rd. and follow it for 2 miles to Montara’s summit. Return the way you came, continuing straight down to the trailhead just after rejoining Pedro Mountain Rd. instead of curving left, for a shorter 3-mile descent. Dogs allowed on Gray Whale Cove Trail only.