Lingering wildflowers and sweeping Pacifica views … this 1,900-foot peak hike up Pacifica’s Montara Mountain has it all, including a beach ending! Start at the Gray Whale Cove trailhead on the southeast side of its namesake parking lot (arrive early, parking fills quickly here). About a quarter mile in, you’ll get to an unsigned junction.
Head left up a steep path, then left again once you reach the top. The trail opens up onto the car-free N. Peak Access Road, which goes all the way to the summit. At 3 miles you’ll approach a fork leading to Montara’s oddly iconic radio towers, which mark the apex. Take the trail to the right and continue up the last 0.2 mile to the peak. Soak in the near-360-degree Bay Area panorama. On clear days, you can see the vast expanse of the rocky Pacific coastline and all the way to the two towers of the Golden Gate Bridge peeking above San Francisco’s dotted hillsides.
Follow your steps back down N. Peak Access Road towards Montara Highway One (named this way on the signage), then down on the Gray Whale Cove Trail. At 2.7 miles into the descent, you’ll again be at the top of the unmarked junction of the steep trail you originally came up. You can take this steep trail down, retracing your steps back to the parking lot, for a 6.4-mile (round-trip) hike. Or for an easier downhill option, stay left and continue down the trail for a 7.1-mile (round-trip) hike. End the day by (carefully) crossing Highway 1 on foot, then walking down to Gray Whale Cove beach, where dolphins and whales are regularly spotted.
From 1-280 South, take exit 47B for CA-1 South towards Pacifica. Continue on Hwy. 1 for 9.8 miles, then turn left for the Gray Whale Cove parking lot. From I-280 North, get off on exit 41 for Skyline Blvd. (CA-35) towards Pacifica. Continue 3.5 miles, then take a left onto Sharp Park Rd. In 2.1 miles turn right on Francisco Blvd. towards CA-1 South, then immediately take a right to merge onto CA-1 South towards Half Moon Bay/Santa Cruz. Continue on CA-1 for 5.3 miles, then turn left for the Gray Whale Cove parking lot. Free Parking. Beware of poison oak! Dog-friendly!