Use this link to pinpoint the parking lot for Gray Whale Cove State Beach and McNee Ranch State Park -- off Highway 1 just south of Devil's Slide: http://bit.ly/VGya8F
There are only two approaches:
From the north: From Highway 280 in San Francisco/Daly City, exit at Highway 1, drive through Pacifica and past both soon-to-open tunnel openings for Devil's Slide. Parking lot will be on left.
From the south: Where Highway 92 meets the coast in Half Moon Bay, drive north on Highway 1 through Half Moon Bay, Moss Beach and Montara. Parking lot will be on right.
NOTE: THIS IS NOT Montara State Beach, will lies further to south on Highway 1.
The Circle of Trust & Beer is all about the breathtaking hike, literally and otherwise: The hills that tap your lungs; the panoramas that inspire your soul.
But this time, we’re turning a page on history.
In January, the infamous Devil’s Slide stretch of Highway 1 (south of Pacifica and north of Moss Beach) will be closed, permanently, to automobile traffic. It’ll be bypassed by a two-way tunnel which punches through San Pedro Mountain, completing a project that went on the drawing board 30 years ago.
It’s an engineering feat that will go down as the most impressive of our generation: The new 4,200-foot tunnel – the second-longest in California, behind Yosemite's Wawona Tunnel – will end the epic winter closures of Highway 1, like the one that buried the highway for five months in 1995.
But the Devil’s Slide Project also closes (for cars) the Bay Area’s most stunning stretch of Highway 1 -- a dizzying, serpentine route perched atop three jagged cliffs which rivals the world-class vistas of Big Sur.
So what in the name of Jeebus does that have to do with our hike? Montara Mountain, part of McNee Ranch State Park, towers above Devil’s Slide. Anyone driving to the hike from its
north approach will be among the last to travel this stunning stretch of Highway 1.
But Montara isn't on our list merely because of the historic event poised to unfold at its base. This is a a hike that should be on every Bay Area hiker's rotation.
Rising above Gray Whale Cove and its nude beach (skinnydipping in December, anyone?), Montara climbs steadily above the Pacific Ocean between Pacifica and Moss Beach, at first on a well-graded, crumbling ranch road, then, when the mountain reaches its steepest stretch, along a wide fire road. It’s here that you’ll be encountered, up-close and personal, by hawks, seabirds and the occasional condor.
Although it's a bit less likely to come into play at this time of year than in the summer, fog is a trademark of Montara. Here's hoping we get at least a taste of it, because fog on Montara is dramatic and swift, moving at speeds that can be disconcerting and exhilarating -- making hikers feel as if they've taken wing.
Circle of Trust & Beer hikes are usually of the loop variety, but this one's an out out-and-back -– although I’ll introduce the group to a downhill shortcut that will divert from our climbing route.
Like our last hike at Wildcat Canyon, Montara is fully exposed. It's an unusual hike because the ascent time -- about two hours, in our case -- can be radically longer than the descent. All in all, we'll cover about 7 miles and climb 1,700 feet (Montara is consistently mis-calibrated ... most guides erroneously list the peak as several hundred feet higher). The entire route consists of jaw-dropping oceanic views, but the peak, straddled by a chain-fenced power plant, is a bit anti-climatic.
But no hike puts me in the Yule spirit like Montara, a traditional late-December trek for me.
As for the beer part: our destination lies just south on Highway 1. The Moss Beach Distiller overlooks the wild waters of the aforementioned Mavericks. Even cooler, Moss Beach Distillery is haunted ... Mark, one of our veteran (and most entertaining) Trustees, has also recommended Half Moon Bay Brewing Company, which is about 3 miles further south. Majority rules ... but you have to show up for the hike to get a vote!