Pools of Gold

Exploring the Tide Pools of Montaña de Oro State Park

Montaña de Oro: The name means mountain of gold, but the real treasures here lie underwater. Luckily you don’t have to venture into the ocean to see all the cool creatures. Plenty of them are hanging out in readily accessible tide pools.

Start your visit at the Spooner Ranch House visitor center to get current tide info and pick up a trail map. Before heading to the tide pools, take the stairs down from the parking lot to check out Spooner’s Cove (the main beach area of the park), where you can climb around on impressive rock formations or just relax and enjoy watching the pounding surf. Then hop back in your car to drive to the tide pools. Follow the main road back toward the park entrance until you see the Hazard Reef trailhead on your left. It’s easy to miss; there’s no designated parking lot, just a small sign. Carefully park along the road and then follow the approximately .75-mile (one-way) Hazard Reef Trail until it ends at the beach. Feel the cool sea breezes blow as the trail passes through forested canyons filled with eucalyptus trees before winding its way along wildflower-covered bluffs overlooking the wild coast.

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The trail ends at the rocky shore, which is composed of Miguelito shale, 5- to 6-million-year-old rock that was once part of the sea floor. Countless tide pools form here during low tide. Watch your step as you explore the pools—lots of crabs are crawling around, and they blend in with the rocks. Anemones, sea stars, mollusks, crabs … these pools are a veritable Sea World! Use caution on slippery rocks and watch out for sneaker waves. Bonus: On a clear day, you can see towering Morro Rock to the north. In other words, look down, look up, and all around—treasures are everywhere at Montaña de Oro.

From US-101 in San Luis Obispo County, take exit 200A onto Los Osos Valley Rd. and head west for 9.8 miles. Take a slight left onto Pecho Valley Rd. and continue 3.8 miles to the park. Day-use hours are 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. For camping information, visit Reserve California. No dogs, except on Spooner’s Cove Beach.  

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