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Pedro Point Headlands Loop

Difficult
  5.0 ( 1 ) Favorite

Trail

2.3 mile 3.7 kilometer point to point
83% Runnable
Difficult

Elevation

Ascent: 481' 147 m
Descent: -481' -147 m
High: 630' 192 m
Low: 274' 84 m

Grade

Avg Grade: 8% (5°)
Max Grade: 24% (13°)

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Trail shared by Lee Watts

Park has 246 acres of wilderness with spectacular views, a wide variety of birds and plants, and 3 miles of trails.

Lee Watts

Features Views · Wildflowers · Wildlife

Currently, the only access to the park is from the Devil's Slide parking lot, which is very small and often full. If you wait 5-10 minutes, someone may leave. Gates are open from 8 AM to 7 PM. There are no fees. Future plans call for opening a multi-access trail from Pacifica.

Currently, no bikes are allowed.

Overview

Pedro Point Headlands consists of 246 acres of wildlands between Pacifica and Devil's Slide. It is bounded on the east and south by the Coast Highway, which climbs to over 400 feet at the Devil's Slide parking lot. From the east side, the hills slope up from Eucalyptus forest to coastal prairie near the top of the bluffs. The west side consists of steep bluffs that drop 5-600 feet to the ocean. The park offers extraordinary views and a wide variety of birds and wildflowers.

The 2.3 mile loop described here covers most of the features and trails in the park, with the exception of the spectacular San Pedro Rock. San Pedro Rock can only be reached at very low tide via a run from Linda Mar Beach to San Pedro. The highlight of the park is the Bluff Trail, with its gorgeous views of headland cliffs, San Pedro Rock, and the Pacific coastline, which on clear days extends as far as Tamalpais and Point Reyes.

The route described here goes up the South Ridge Trail, continues to the far end of the Bluff Trail, and returns via the Middle Ridge and Arroyo Trail. A good alternative is to take Arroyo Trail up to the Bluff Trail. The Arroyo Trail is mostly a steady climb, but it is not as steep as the others. Between the junction and Pedro Summit, the Bluff Trail has some very steep sections, but they are fairly short.

Need to Know

The tail is rated as difficult because some grades are greater the 15%, but there is no danger and it is a fine trail for anyone who can run up and down steep hills, even children.

The only toilets, garbage cans, and water are at the Devil's Slide parking lot.

Description

Start at the Devil's Slide parking lot and head east, parallel to the coast highway, up the gently sloping concrete ramp above the bus stop. At the end of the ramp, there is welcome sign and the beginning of a dirt trail that leads up to a flat clearing, where there is a small indigenous plant nursery and the main park kiosk.

From the kiosk, the South Ridge Trail climbs steeply climbs up above the pastures and trails of Shamrock Ranch and the Devil's Slide tunnels. It passes through a few tall Monterey pines. At the higher levels you are able to look over the Middle Ridge for views of the ocean and the Pacific coastline. Just before the summit, from a few feet north of the trail, there is a good view of the entire park.

A very visible, but unofficial, trail leads to a vantage point about 100 yards south, where there are better views of ocean below. However, poison oak may be a problem. Perhaps someday this will be widened and become an official trail.

From the high point, the trail drops steeply down to the junction with the Arroyo and Bluff Trail. Then it climbs up to a summit at the junction with the Middle Ridge Trail. As you descend from this junction, you have great views of the 600 foot cliff that forms the south side of Pedro Summit and of San Pedro Rock, a spectacular island immediately adjacent to Pedro Point. The island has clearly visible layers of sedimentary rock have been tilted almost vertically by tectonic forces.

Much closer on the coast below, the same vertical layers can be seen on the two small rocky points with black tips. Although you cannot see it from here, when you look just beyond these two points from the Devil's Slide Trail, you can clearly see what appears to be a giant storm drain or cave. This is actually an illusion created by a shallow alcove of black rock surrounded by light rock.

Just before the junction with the Middle Ridge Trail, a small trail heads down towards the coast below. After a short distance, it becomes very narrow and difficult and the poison oak is hard to avoid. Some years ago, I was able the climb all the way down to the coast, but by the next year, erosion had made the final section impossible without rope.

The Bluff Trail ends at top of Pedro Summit, with its gorgeous 360 degree views of San Pedro Rock, Shelter Cove, Pacifica, and the surrounding coast and hills.

From the top, there is an interesting trail of use that heads down the ridge in the direction of San Pedro Rock. It is not possible to climb down to the coast from here, and poison oak becomes more of a problem as spring progresses.

Return back from the Bluff Trail. Do not take the first road that you see, which is the North Ridge Trail. That road runs just below the north ridge and ends at private property. Instead, continue down to the junction with the Middle Ridge trail, which is marked with a sign post.

The Middle Ridge Trail runs half-way down the top of the ridge and then switches back to follow an old road down to the Arroyo Trail. Most of the trail along the ridge is wide and reconstructed in the same manner as the South Ridge and Bluff Trail. Shortly after the trail narrows, the path cuts back down the hill. Do not try to continue on down the middle ridge itself. You won't get very far before the path becomes heavily overgrown and has a lot of poison oak. The descent to the Arroyo Trail is narrow and somewhat rough, but it should be no problem for a healthy runner.

Head down the Arroyo Trail between dense greenery and flowers. During the rainy season, a small stream runs down the arroyo. Shortly after rains, the trail can be muddy, but the mud doesn't stick to your boots. When you reach a road that runs under a eucalyptus forest, turn right. The left fork currently ends at a gate that is marked "No Trespassing." Run up among the trees and flowers, back to the main park kiosk, and on back to the parking lot.

Flora & Fauna

Hundreds of species of wildflowers grow here. A few flowers begin to bloom in February. In wet years, the peak bloom is in June. In dryer years, the peak will be a month or two sooner. After the peak, the flowers rapidly dry up. In 2019, only a few flower species were blooming in March, but the display should be great in May and June. Find lists of the most common plants and flowers here.

Coyotes, bobcats, foxes, and raccoons live here, but they are not often seen. The most commonly seen animals are brush rabbits and gray squirrels. A wide variety of birds can be found here. Gray whales migrate south in December/January and north in March/April.

History & Background

In 1970 Pedro Point Headlands was leased to the Pacifica Motorcycle Association. As offroad motocycle riding became a local sport, trails were carved throughout the property. This led to wide-spread erosion and general ecological damage, until the area was taken over by the Pacifica Land Trust in 1995. The park remained quiet and fairly unknown for many years. In 2005, I hiked the area on a number of clear week-end days and rarely saw anyone.

In 2009 a grassroots group, the Pedro Point Headlands Stewardship Project, was started and sponsored by the Pacifica Land Trust and the California Coastal Conservancy. Over the past few years, aidded by a $1.5 million Restoration and Trail fund, hundreds of volunteers have worked to restore the park, including filling and eliminating gullies caused by OHVs, re-establishing the natural topography, removing invasive species and helping to promote the growth native plants. Ownership is in the process of being transferred to San Mateo County Park

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Photos

Pacifica Beach is beautiful from the Pedro Point Highlands.
Jun 4, 2017 near Pacifica, CA
The highest point of the trail is marked by this post.
Jun 4, 2017 near Pacifica, CA
Bluff Trail to Pedro Point with San Pedro Rock below.
Mar 21, 2019 near Pacifica, CA
South Ridge Trail, June 2005. Trail is a lot wider now.
Mar 26, 2019 near Pacifica, CA
Montara Mountain and Shamrock Ranch
Mar 26, 2019 near Pacifica, CA
Shelter Cove, Pedro Point, Linda Mar and up the coast to Mori Point, Pacifica, and beyond
Mar 23, 2019 near Pacifica, CA

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