Just south of Half Moon Bay, the Cowell-Purisima Trail stretches for 3 sea-breezy miles along high coastal bluffs (you can thank the Peninsula Open Space Trust and State Coastal Conservancy). The wide gravel-and-dirt trail gently rolls along the edge of the continent: to the east is farmland and to the west is a 100-foot cliff dropping off to uninterrupted views of the roiling Pacific. Fall is a busy time on the coast: watch for harbor seals swimming or lounging on rocks, their only natural predator being the great white sharks that share these waters. Giant brown pelicans and red-tail hawks cruise overhead. The trail is mostly flat, with only one real up-and-down at Purisima Creek, which was home to an Ohlone village thousands of years ago. The trail ends at Cowell Ranch Beach—a fantastic crescent hike-in (or bike-in) respite tucked away from the rest of the world by hulking cliffs. Enjoy the ocean air, keep on the lookout for passing gray whales, and return the way you came.
Drive south on Hwy. 1, passing the turn-off for the Ritz Carlton. In less than a mile you’ll see the parking area for Cowell Ranch Beach. We recommend continuing south on Hwy. 1 for 3 miles and starting at the southern parking area. Park and ride the trail for 3.5 miles to Cowell Ranch Beach. No dogs.