Montara Mountain is one of my go-to trails for hot summer days when every other trail in the Bay Area is too hot to hike. The most popular route up the mountain is the North Peak Access Road, a bright white sandy road that cuts through brilliant green coastal scrub under bright blue skies, with pretty coastal views and cool air. The road is quite busy, with a group every 1 or 2 minutes on a nice day.
The relatively new Alta Vista Trail makes a loop hike possible. The trail is ridiculously steep and difficult, but I think it makes loop immensely more enjoyable and rewarding and is really what makes this hike great. Nonetheless, if you’re not up for a steep, gravelly climb, just hike hike out and back on North Peak Access Road.
The Alta Vista Trail is part of Rancho Corral de Tierra, one of the more recent additions to the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. There are other trails in this area, mostly between Montara and El Granada, but they tend to look like unofficial tracks and are much more overgrown.
The hike can be started from the Grey Whale Cove parking lot off Highway 1, but the little lot often fills up, so it’s easier to start from the quieter entrance on San Pedro Mountain Road. The latter option also puts the suburban street walking at the start of the loop so it doesn’t break up the hike.
Park at the end of Pedro Mountain Road in Montara, in the shade of the big trees. Walk back down San Pedro Mountain Road and take Drake Steet to Alta Vista Road. The road climbs past some houses, then the pavement ends. The dirt road continues to climb.
The real climbing, however, starts at the boundary of Rancho Corral de Tierra, where the dirt road turns into singletrack. The trail is so steep that in places it’s difficult to keep your footing on the sandy trail. There are some helpful steps, but they don’t cover all the steep parts. The trail is somewhat overgrown and there are occasional sprigs of poison oak.
There are views of Montara and Pillar Point as the trail climbs.
Finally the trail reaches the ridgetop, where there’s a short spur to a nice viewpoint. The official trail ends at this point, but there’s a network of unofficial tracks leading to the North Peak Access Road. The best route is to avoid the shortcuts and stay on top of a minor ridge.
To the right, the North Peak Access Road continues for another half-mile to two mountaintop antenna farms; this stretch of the road can be skipped, since it’s much less scenic than the rest of the road and doesn’t have any great views.
Instead, turn left. The road descends gently for a while with some nice views of Linda Mar. Even when there aren’t any views, though, it’s a really pretty road, a wide strip of white sand surrounded by brilliant green scrub. The descent gets increasingly steep.
Just after the road becomes paved, turn right onto the Grey Whale Cove Trail. This is the shortest and by far the most scenic of the three possible routes, with the best coastal views of the hike. The trail gets busier at this point, since a lot of people start at Highway One and just hike a little way up the Grey Whale Cove Trail before turning back.
Unfortunately the trail is rough and appears to be unmaintained, with a short stretch near the beginning that’s so overgrown with poison oak that it’s sometimes impossible to get by without touching it. If there’s too much poison oak, turn back and take one of the other routes, which have no views to speak of.
The rest of the hike is nice and easy, as the trail cuts across the flats and past some horse stables. There are a lot of side trails, but just follow the paved road to get back to where you parked. This stretch isn’t as interesting as the rest of the loop, but it’s still a pretty area, and after all the hills the easy paved road makes a nice end to the hike.
© 2018, 2020 David Baselt