Mussel Rock Park Tour
ElevationAscent: 310' 95 m
Descent: -310' -94 m
High: 282' 86 m
Low: 31' 10 m
GradeAvg Grade: 5% (3°)
Max Grade: 17% (10°)
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“Spectacular views, rock formations, waves, historic tunnel, wildflowers, paragliders, and access to a long, lonely beach”— Lee Watts
South of the parking lot, there are several trails of use that are narrow and sometimes very difficult. One goes all the way down to the beach south of Mussel Rocks. North of the parking lot, in the main part of the park, there are several gravely roads leading to various locations and trails of use that go almost everywhere. None of the trails have official names.
The park is a popular paragliding site in the area. On a good day, there may be a dozen or more gliders in the air at the same time. There are five common launch sites; the most popular of which is less than 200 yards from the entrance. As you run near or around these areas be sure to stay out of the way of launching and landing pilots and restrain your dogs from chasing them.
The main Mussel Rock and its numerous adjacent rocks have arches, caves and tunnels. When the surf is high, this is one of the best places to watch waves crashing on the rocks. During low tides, there is also a small, but beautiful, tide pool just beyond the end of the road. Beyond that are the remains of the oldest "highway" tunnel in California, now called Tobin's Folly. It was built in 1874 by Richard Tobin as part of a plan to provide a beach level route from the Cliff House to his country beach at Pedro Point. The route was abandoned, after the first winter storms.
The Mussel Rock Trail starts from a parking lot, 200 feet in elevation above Mussel Rocks, and ends at the rocks themselves, almost directly below the starting point. After you pass through the gate at the northern end of the parking lot, look at the houses high on the cliffs above. They have incredible views, but the cliffs are related to the San Andreas fault which reaches the ocean at this point. Also, the cliffs are soft and have major problems with erosion.
The trail drops a little farther to the most popular paraglider take-off site. When the conditions are right, there may be a dozen or more gliders in the air.
Take the fork in the road that leads down to Mussel Rocks. Mussel Rocks is one of the best places in the area to watch waves crashing on the rocks, especially when the surf is high. Beyond the end of the road, you can see the tunnel called Tobin's Folly. Its historical background is explained in the description for the Mussel Rock Trail. During low tide, it is possible to enter the tunnel, but it is never possible to run to the beaches on the other side. When the tide is low, there is also a small but beautiful tide pool between the end of the road and the tunnel.
From Mussel Rock turn back north and take the Shore Trail, a road which crosses the park close to the sights and sounds of the surf, only 10 to 30 feet above the water line. There are a few good-sized rocks off-shore. The waves sometimes splash over these or high in the air. The shoreline below the road is lined with boulders to prevent erosion. There is little sand.
Near the mid-point of the trail, there is a small, unique rock shelter with wooden benches. It is a nice, shady place from which to watch the surf.
The road ends above colorful boulders at the edge of a long sandy beach. At low tide, the beach extends all the way to Fort Funston. Volunteers have built a short trail down to the sand. It is solid, but difficult and narrow. On a warm summer day, there may be a few people on the beach, but even then, you'll probably not have to go far to have a huge section of beach all to yourself.
From the beach overlook, run back south for about 150 yards and take the first road (Connector Road) leading up the hill. Then turn left at the first road you come and take it up past a wide triangular intersection to the road that heads north up the hill. As you run along, you'll notice a series of six parallel drainage ditches designed to slow the hill's erosion. At the point where the trail switches back towards the south, there is another flowery road/path that branches north for about a quarter mile to a viewpoint that overlooks the beach, the Marin Headlands, and Tamalpais. This path ends at a major landslide. Be careful not to run out onto unstable land.
The High Trail continues climbing past a high paragliding launch site and on up to where a lot of construction has been done to drain water out of the cliffs and slow their collapse. Pipes have been drilled into the cliff. There is a large catch basin that fills with water after rains and a long pipe that runs down from this to take the water farther away from the cliffs.
From the higher parts of this trail, you have views over the entire Mussel Rock Park, the cliffs above and the ocean below.
If you look at the hillside to the north, you can see a small trail zigzagging through the brush up to the top. This trail is extremely steep, slippery, and becomes dangerous near the top. I'm not sure why it is there.
From the High Trail, it is easy to see how to return to the parking lot.
Through the 1960s, Mussel Rock Park was the site of a trash landfill, but I personally have never seen any remnant trash or noticed any smells. It does explain some of the gravelly roads crossing the part, but they have probably been maintained for all of the drainage construction designed to slow erosion and the collapse of the high cliffs above. This site is where the San Andreas Fault meets the ocean, and it is the closest spot to the epicenter of the 1906 earthquake.
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Land Manager: Daly City Parks