Brian Head…that other Utah ski resort

Brian Head slope

It always seems odd seeing billboards for Brian Head Resort along Interstate 395 on the way to Mammoth Mountain. Why on earth would someone detour to a dinky no-name ski area in southern Utah en route to a place that truly lives up to its name: Mammoth is more than five times the size of Brian Head, and the number of express lifts alone outnumber the total number at the Utah resort.

Brian Head condo view
The snowy view from our condo near the base of Navajo Mountain.

Um, well a couple reasons, first and foremost: price. It’s $35 for a weekday lift ticket at Brian Head, while costing a whopping three times more to ski at Mammoth. That’s for a regular season, single day ticket; both resorts offer a bit of a break for multiday tickets. We also got a great deal on a condo at Brian Head, a comfy ski in/ski out place right near the base of Navajo Mountain.

We viewed some amazing sunsets from our condo’s balcony:

Sunset from condo

Reasons 2, 3 and 4: We pretty much had the place to ourselves and rarely waited in lift lines. It was snowing when we arrived and conditions were optimal, with about six inches of fresh powder. Our only complaint was the visibility on our first day, or more like invisibility, due to fog and snow.

Fog:Brian Head

But the next few days we encountered cloudless bluebird days and, I’d have to say the grooming at Brian Head rivals Wasatch uber-resort Deer Valley. Ahhh, corduroy, how I love you so.

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Brian Head consists of two mountains: the beginner-friendly Navajo Mountain and the adjacent and more challenging slopes of Brian Head Peak. We did laps on the Giant Steps Express lift to an elevation of 10,920 feet, just below 11,307-foot Brian Head Peak, which is accessed only through backcountry gates. We stuck to the inbounds runs, which were nicely pitched and loads of fun.

That’s another thing about Brian Head: at 9,600 feet, the base elevation is the highest of any Utah ski resort. Take that, Park City (elevation 6,900 feet)! This keeps things nice and cold, perfect ingredients for powdery snow.

View of Brian Head Peak from run on Navajo Mountain.
View of Brian Head Peak from a run on Navajo Mountain.

I will say that navigating between the two mountains takes a bit of strategy in order to avoid having to take the free shuttles. But the trails are well-marked and we figured it out fairly quickly. We did lots of laps on Bear Paw from the Giant Steps chair and Ute was a favorite run from Chair 1 on the Navajo Mountain side.

On our day off from skiing, we planned to snowshoe at Cedar Breaks National Monument, just two miles south of Brian Head. A snowshoe malfunction nixed that activity, so we made it a photo outing instead. With snow piled high, access to the monument isn’t easy, but there’s a pullout along Highway 143 with a small parking lot and short trail to the North View Overlook.

Cedar Breaks view
View of Cedar Breaks Amphitheater from North View Overlook.

Gazing into the 2,000-foot deep Cedar Breaks Amphitheater is awe-inspiring. The three-mile-diameter canyon was created by erosion from rain, ice and wind, the same forces that created Grand Canyon, Zion Canyon and Bryce Amphitheater. You’ll see alot of dead trees in this part of Dixie National Forest. These are Engelmann spruce that have been decimated in recent years by spruce bark beetles.

We went back to the overlook to catch another amazing sunset:

Cedar Breaks sunset

It’s true that for most SoCalers, it takes a few more hours of driving to get to Brian Head compared to Mammoth, but I think it’s worth the drive. You can even hit Vegas (not sure that’s a good thing) and Zion National Park on the way. Just be sure to stock up on groceries in St. George or Cedar City on the way there. There’s no town to speak of once you get there, except for what locals call “the Mall,” a small strip mall near the ski resort that consists of a cafe and general store. We were glad to find Pizanos Pizzeria, a surprisingly good pie in the middle of nowhere.

Which is precisely the point: good, cheap skiing and pizza in a scenic spot in the middle of nowhere.

Paddling Alamitos Bay

Alamitos Bay pelican

Living in Southern California, you’d think finding a decent place to kayak would be a no-brainer. Ah, but not necessarily so, grasshopper!

Water, water everywhere, but oh so little safe and easy access. We usually paddle at Newport Beach’s Back Bay, which has an ecological reserve and is no slouch. But the subdivision views and near-constant traffic from John Wayne Airport get a bit tiresome.

So, we recently decided to take a chance on paddling Alamitos Bay in Long Beach. What a pleasant surprise. Even with the nearby ports — the busiest and most polluted on the West Coast — Alamitos Bay is something of a gem.

Pulling up to park near the intersection of Ocean Blvd. and Bayshore Ave., we were stunned that there was a nearly-empty parking lot and free street parking… and best of all, the put-in was mere feet from the car. Even on MLK Day (albeit in the middle of winter, such is life in sunny SoCal).

Steve kayak:canal

After finding a map online, we decided to make a loop through the canal around Naples Island, which was directly across from our put-in. It’s a pleasant paddle next to picturesque homes along the canal, but our loop ended abruptly when we were blocked by yellow construction floats.

Canal deadend

Unbeknownst to us, the seawalls that line the canal were getting a facelift. The city of Long Beach declared six years ago that the walls “were found to be in a significant state of disrepair” and after studying, and more studying, construction finally began in November and will continue until June.

So we headed back out to the bay’s main channel and paddled north, passing several restaurants and even a Ralphs supermarket along the way. There were other kayakers, some SUPers, and even people on some kind of bicycle-paddling contraptions.:

Bikes on bay

Thanks to that online map, we knew there’d be a waterski-only canal to avoid, and it was pretty obvious when we saw someone skiing donuts at full speed. We stayed far away and continued on to the “wetlands,” a generous term given to an area adjacent to field upon field of oil rigs. The array of seabirds was impressive — gulls, pelicans, cormorants, surf scoters, terns and egrets. But all that wildlife amidst the oil-industrial complex was jarring, to say the least.

Alamitos-egret

After snapping a bunch of photos, we headed back to our starting point. Next time we’ll check out the moon jellies in Spinnaker Bay Canal, which is where the Long Beach Aquarium apparently gets its supply for its touch tanks. We’ll definitely pack the fly rods and hope for some halibut. And complete our Naples Canal loop, with its nifty new seawalls.

 

Bishop Peak: Green slopes in SLO

View of Cerro San Luis from Bishop Peak Trail.
View of Cerro San Luis from Bishop Peak Trail.

After many trips to the Central Coast over the years, in early December we finally hiked to the top of Bishop Peak — one of the Nine Sisters, the scenic volcanic morros spread out between Morro Bay and San Luis Obispo. Recent rains (finally!) have left the hillsides carpeted in green, foreshadowing a (hopefully) early spring, and contributing to stunning  views from the trail. At 1,559 feet, Bishop Peak is the highest of the morros, the lowest being Morro Rock at 576 feet. These are volcanic plugs that haven’t been active for 20 million years. The hike is 3.5 miles round-trip, with 950 feet of gain. The trailhead is right in the middle of San Luis Obispo, but finding it was a bit of a challenge — every hiking site I checked seemed to have different directions. We took the route that starts at Highland Drive (see the end of this post for our trailhead directions). The trail at first passes through a lush oak woodland. A little less than a mile in, we shimmied through a gate that points the way to Bishop Peak. One way to add miles (about 2.5) is to go right and do the Felsman Loop Trail.

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Continuing on to Bishop Peak, the trail eventually opens up to widespread views. Along the way, we encountered rock climbers roped to Bishop’s rocky flanks.

Bishop Peak climber

The trail ascends gradually, with clear views of SLO, and rising just beyond town, green Cerro San Luis (1,292 feet), another of the Nine Sisters.

Blue:Bishop Peak trail

A series of switchbacks leads to two benches just  below the summit, which is basically several piles of rocks which can be scrambled over to get even better views.

Bishop Peak trail view

If Blue misbehaved — even tho she’s female and not human — we threatened to take her to the California Men’s Colony, which was prominent in the landscape below:

View of Calif. Men's Colony

The trail is pretty exposed, so I wouldn’t want to hike it in summer. Even in early December, the sun was warm and Blue took a nap once we got to the summit.

Blue/Bishop Peak summit

To the west were pastoral views of Los Osos Valley, where turkey vultures soared.

Birds/Bishop Peak

We hung around the summit, then retraced our steps, enjoying views of SLO 1,500 feet below us, and encountering a lot of hikers, undoubtedly heading up to enjoy an early-winter sunset.

SLO view/Bishop peak

To find out more about the Central Coast’s Nine Sisters and hiking them, check out the Sierra Club Santa Lucia Chapter’s site. The way we got to the trailhead was to take Highland Drive from Highway 1, and follow Highland until it ends in a cul-de-sac. Park on the street and pick up the trail on the left side of the street, along a fence. Our trail track from the MotionX GPS  app is below.

Bishop Peak track

Angeles hike near Station Fire origin

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What better way to spend Turkey Day than hiking through habitat burned by one of the largest wildfires in California? No. 12 on the list, to be exact.

We’ve hiked this fire road (ahem) in the Angeles National Forest several times now, and can count on one hand the number of people on the trail. The trailhead is at the Angeles Crest Station, for which the fire was named. And today — more than five years after the fire consumed 161,000 acres — blackened trees still remain.

Five years after the Station Fire, dead trees remain along the trail.
Five years after the Station Fire, dead trees remain along the trail.

Google Earth calls this Mt. Lukens Truck Trail. I’ve never seen this hike listed in any trail guide. It isn’t one of the premier hikes in the San Gabriel Mountains — the trail sign at the start lists destination trails rather than the name of the trail you’re on — but it does lead (seven miles in) to Grizzly Flats and eventually Mt. Lukens, at 5,074 feet the highest point in the city of L.A.

Simply put, this is an easy trail only a few miles up Angeles Crest Highway from La Cañada, and a great hike to do on a clear day, with views stretching to the Pacific. We hiked only about 2.5 miles in and were treated to some great views on T-Day.

Some pix from the hike:

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Fall color AND wildflowers on the same hike. You gotta love winter in SoCal.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA One of the brief, rare moments Blue was off-leash:

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Love this old sign at the trailhead:

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Whaddya mean I have to stay on-leash?

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More dead trees. Thankfully, no dreaded poodledog bush on this trail:

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The path we took, minus a section where I forgot to restart my MotionX app, oops:

Angeles Crest track

A more modern (but not much) sign at the trailhead:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWant to know more about the Station Fire? It was “human-caused” BTW, and the arsonist was never caught. The GAO did a report here, and the interactive map on p. 10 is worth checking out.

 

Last of the SoCal fall color….and a great wildlife sighting

Blue Ridge trail leaves

Better late than never. After skipping our annual fall color trip to the Eastern Sierra, we instead squeaked in a short trek in the Angeles National Forest in late October. Fall color in the San Gabriel Mountains is a sad substitute for blazing aspens in the Sierra, but you gotta take what you can get. And for all you non-SoCal doubters: yes, there are trees with leaves that change color here.

We headed into the Angeles High Country to hike the Blue Ridge Trail, an easy 4.4-mile roundtrip right near Mountain High Ski Resort (doubters: yes, there are ski resorts in Southern California. See the runs in the Google Earth image below?) that provides some of the best views in the San Gabriels. And, for those who think SoCal’s only wildlife is black bears lounging in suburban swimming pools, keep reading.

Blue Ridge trail

Sandwiched between Mountain High East and West, the trailhead is across the Angeles Crest Highway from the forest’s Big Pines Visitor Center — which is usually closed due to budget constraints.

The path winds along a slope covered with oaks and Jeffrey pines, which transitions to white fir and lodgepole pine as you climb higher. It’s an easy hike, but you’ll notice the 7,000-foot elevation.

A bench marks the halfway point of the trail:

Blue/Blue Ridge bench

The ground was littered with leaves that had already fallen, but some shrubs and oaks still held color. Two miles and 950 feet of gain later, the trail ends at a campground where it bisects the Pacific Crest Trail. A stroll along the fire road leads to one of Mountain High’s lifts, and you’re treated to glorious views of Mt. Baldy and Mt. Baden-Powell.

Top of Blue Ridge Trail
View towards Mt. Baldy, from the top of the Blue Ridge Trail.
Blue/Blue Ridge summit
The view toward Mt. Baden-Powell, at the top of the Blue Ridge Trail.
Blue/Mt. High lift
Some of us can’t wait to get a paw on the chairlift at Mountain High.

But the best part of our day in the Angeles happened on the way home. We’ve always wondered why so many rocks litter Angeles Crest Highway at this far eastern end of the forest, and now we know. As we passed Dawson Saddle, we were treated to two bighorn sheep skittering down a near-vertical slope, which rained loose rock onto the road.

We’d heard there’s a good chance of seeing these guys in that area, but had never seen them until then. At one time, the San Gabriel population of desert bighorn numbered 740, the largest in California. They took a big hit from mountain lion predation, along with other stresses, and now number about 400. The two we saw appeared to be a male and female, who trotted back up the slope when they saw us, then back down over a ridge, across Highway 2, over the guard rail and onto the next canyon.

A nice sunset with fog moving in completed our happy fall day in the Angeles:

Angeles fog

 

 

 

San Gabriel Mountains National Monument: The big cave-in

The Bridge to Nowhere spanning the East Fork San Gabriel River. Photo courtesy of http://www.stevescamera.com/2012/11/the-infamous-bridge-to-nowhere-along.html
The Bridge to Nowhere spanning the East Fork San Gabriel River. Photo courtesy of http://www.stevescamera.com/2012/11/the-infamous-bridge-to-nowhere-along.html

I”m not sure that’ll be the new monument’s official title, but the word on the street is that when President Obama is in SoCal on Friday, before or after breaking bread with Gwyneth Paltrow, he’ll be declaring part of the San Gabriel Mountains a national monument. Wait a minute — what happened to making them part of a national recreation area??

Here’s what happened: because the national recreation area designation would require congressional approval — which at the rate they’re going could take the better part of a century — Congresswoman Judy Chu (D-El Monte), who drafted the recreation area proposal, decided to take the easier route and shoot for national monument status.

Problem with the monument alternative is the mountains would remain under the auspices of the U.S. Forest Service, not the National Park Service, as it would have been if it received the national recreation area designation. And any user of the Angeles National Forest knows what a bang-up job the USFS has done. Sure, the forest is strapped for dough, especially having to fork over truckloads of cash to fight fires. And a 700,000-acre forest with 3 million visitors a year isn’t easy to care for. But both the East and West Forks of the San Gabriel River are pretty disgraceful, to give just one example.

Local flyfishing group the Pasadena Casting Club has been pushing for Wild & Scenic River designation for the West Fork and its tributaries, and is against the national monument, unlike other conservation groups like Trout Unlimited. They point out that while Rep. Chu will still seek a national recreation area bill, national monument status in the meantime is an inferior alternative. Funding will be at a much lower level and would not result in new recreation services or lighten the pressure of the overused forest, since the USFS is chronically short of funds and what it does get goes to fighting fires.

Don’t get me wrong — there are many fabulous trails and vistas in the San Gabriels, especially at the western end. And hopefully the San Gabriel River will get Wild & Scenic protection at some point. It’s just unclear exactly how creating a national monument would make a lick of difference. Is the graffiti and trash in the East Fork area all of a sudden going to disappear? Truly a monumental challenge.

Calling all fisher folk: Upgrade your gear at Orvis!

Actually, from 2012. What appears to be a hybrid golden trout near Johnston Lake.
What appears to be a hybrid golden trout near Johnston Lake near Mammoth Lakes, 2012.

Here’s a great deal for all you SoCal fly fishers out there…donate your old, useable fly fishing equipment (rods, reels, waders, boots) and get a 20% discount on new fishing products at the Pasadena Orvis store’s Upgrade Your Gear Night….tonight! Time to trade up to that new Helios rod!

The event is tonight, Sept. 25, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Another great deal: donate a canned good and receive a 20% discount on full-priced clothing. Folks, that includes those gorgeous Barbour jackets and the new women’s line of Prana clothing. Meow.

Donations will benefit the Southwest Council Federation of Fly Fishers, and a local homeless shelter. The Southwest Council has done a lot of good for fly fishing and conservation — stream cleanups and surveys in the L.A. area and Eastern Sierra, education, and working with disabled veterans and wounded active duty military.

For the gear swap, the equipment has to be useable. No fractured fly rods, like the ones I demolished last year. Upcycle those to hold up your tomatoes.

The Orvis Pasadena store is at 345 South Lake Avenue, at the corner of Lake and Del Mar. Happy swapping!

Grizzly’s return to California’s Sierra?

Grizzly bear photo courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Grizzly bear photo courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

As the keeper of a blog about the western U.S., West-centric would be remiss to ignore the recent hubbub over a proposal to reintroduce grizzly bears to California’s Sierra Nevada, among other spots in the West. I don’t have a strong opinion either way. Frankly, I think it would be kind of cool to have another apex predator in the state, and boy would it clear out the most popular trails…in a big way!

However, what I’d like to say to the Center for Biological Diversity, which came up with the plan, is….really? It’s such an outrageous idea that I frankly think it’s just a way for the nonprofit conservation group to draw attention to U.S. Fish & Wildlife’s recovery plan for the grizz, which the Center thinks isn’t doing enough to protect the bears and expand their range.

Grizz sticker

Yes, grizzlies were abundant in California at one time — some estimate as many as 10,000 in the state’s early days — and the last one was killed in Tulare County in 1922. One still ambles across the state flag.

But the state is far more populated now, with scads of recreation lovers hiking and fishing the Sierra. Can you imagine hiking the John Muir Trail, or fishing the Kern River, and needing to carry bear spray? Or something even more powerful? I did recently see someone on the trail between Horseshoe Lake and McLeod Lake in the Mammoth Lakes basin carrying a bear spray canister, which was odd. Maybe he saw the Center’s proposal and was getting a head start.

The Sierra isn’t the only area of the West where the Center for Biological Diversity hopes to reintroduce ursus arctos horribilis. In its legal petition proposing to return grizzlies to their original range, the group identifies 110,000 square miles of potential grizzly habitat in Arizona, New Mexico and Utah. Once abundant in those spots, grizzlies were gone by the 1940s.

Current grizzly populations are a fraction of what they once were — from 100,000 in their heyday to a mere 1,500 or so today, and only in five areas: the Yellowstone, Northern Continental Divide, Cabinet-Yaak, Selkirk and Northern Cascades ecosystems.

With such shrunken range and fragmented habitat, more clearly needs to be done to protect these magnificent predators. And as admirable as the grizzly proposal is, I just don’t think it’s practical in a place like California. And I don’t know which grizzly species is intended for reintroduction, since the California sub-species ursus californicus, which roamed valleys and foothills rather than high elevations, is extinct.

Anyone who’s spent time in the outdoors in places like Glacier National Park knows what it’s like to hike and fish in grizzly country. Want an investment tip? Bear spray canister companies. You can’t bring them on airplanes, so that canister you bought for a dayhike in Montana or Wyoming is staying behind. And the consequences can be serious: a researcher from Utah in Wyoming’s Wind Rivers was recently killed by a bear, possibly a grizzly.

Wildlife reintroduction is a pretty fascinating topic. Living among large predators like bears and wolves is what makes the West such a special place, after all. But can we all safely co-exist? Interested in joining the conversation? The online forums Yosemite News and High Sierra Topix have both addressed the grizzly issue.

Sierra backpack to East Lake

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Casting near camp at East Lake

Weary of watching lawns turn brown and flowers wilt, we decided in mid-August that it was time to hit the Sierra. But, worried about how California’s mega drought had affected the high country, we wondered: Would our beloved streams and lakes be too low to fish, or even dried up?

I’m happy to report that there was plenty of green grass, blue water and even some wildflowers in the Hoover Wilderness backcountry, especially above 10,000 feet. No doubt the monsoon-season storms earlier in the month helped.

This was our second backpack to the Hoover, which borders the northeast part of Yosemite National Park and rises from the Great Basin to the crest of the Sierra. With a new dog in tow — our rescue pit mix Blue, who undoubtedly had never camped under the stars — we decided on a short backpack along the Green Creek Trail to East Lake, about 4.5 miles from the trailhead.

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Blue prepares to hit the trail

So on a warm mid-week day, we headed out from the trailhead, located at the end of nine miles of the bumpy dirt that is Green Creek Road, off Interstate 395, about five miles south of Bridgeport. Blue was happy to hit the trail, not at all seeming to mind toting some cooking supplies — and two cans of beer — in her doggie backpack.

The trail climbs gradually and is very rocky in spots, something to keep in mind when hiking with canines. We brought dog booties but Blue was a trouper and didn’t need them. We ascended to Green Lake at just over two miles, right after a turnoff to West Lake — a less-frequently visited destination 1.5 steep miles away that we’ll save for another trip.

We kept going another 2.5 miles to East Lake, and the trail was alternately sunny and shaded by pine, hemlock and aspen. With so much aspen, especially at the start of the trail, I think this would be a great day hike in the fall. The trail crosses Green Creek several times, which was easy going with the water so low.

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Blue contemplating her shadow at East Lake campsite

Without much intel on where to camp at East Lake — and no obvious spots to pitch a tent when we arrived — finding a site was a bit of a challenge. Luckily we ran into backpackers who were coming out and tipped us off to a peninsula on the northeast end of the lake. The site we eventually chose had great views of the lake and Epidote (10,951 feet) and Park Peaks.

Getting to and from the site from the trail took a bit of rockhopping and was a navigation challenge, but lake access and views made it worth it. At 9,462 feet, campfires aren’t allowed at East Lake (no fires over 9,000 feet), so we had to stick to the camping stove — but we saw plenty of abandoned illegal fire rings. We ended up moving to a more choice — tho windy — spot after the first night, spending two more nights with open-sky views and even better water access. At night we were treated to the tail end of the Perseid meteor shower, with the Milky Way spreading across the entire sky.

We took a day hike to small but scenic Nutter Lake, a short distance from East, where I caught (but was unable photograph, darn) and released a 14-inch rainbow on a size 16 ant fly fished just below the surface…first fish on my brand-new Orvis Battenkill III reel. The next day we trekked three miles to Summit Lake, a beauty at 10,184 feet, on the boundary of Yosemite.

Hoover Lakes
The trail to Summit Lake passes the Hoover Lakes

Wildflowers lined the trail, but I got the sense that we were about a month too late for the full bloom — which happened early this year because of the drought. Still, we saw spotty clumps that included Indian paintbrush, larkspur, purple aster, lupine and owl’s clover, among others. The extremely scenic hike to Summit passes Nutter, Gilman and Hoover Lakes — where it was windy and small brook trout were abundant.

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Hoover Lake brookie

Summit Lake was also windy — but beautiful — and the fishing was fruitless. We scanned the hillsides for bighorn sheep, which are apparently fairly common here, but didn’t see any.

Summit Lake
Not a fish in sight at windy Summit Lake

We stopped at the sign marking the entrance to Yosemite National Park at the west end of Summit Lake, but didn’t go any further since dogs aren’t allowed. Which was fine with Blue, who enjoyed a nice sit and a roll:

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On the hike back to camp, we were treated to great-light afternoon views, including nice reflections on Gilman Lake:

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We headed out on day four, all in all a great trip, with no complaints: lighter packs, no bear encounters, one mosquito bite between the two of us (I can’t speak for Blue) and one worn-out but happy pooch.

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For conditions and how to obtain a wilderness permit, contact the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest at (760) 932-7070.

 

A trio of Central Coast hikes

Fiscalini:flowers
View from the Bluff Trail at Fiscalini Ranch Preserve

One of these days we’ll hike to the top of Bishop Peak or one of the other volcanic morros near San Luis Obispo. But our recent Central Coast visits kept us closer to the water, and there’s plenty of hiking there too. Here are three that are super easy, and two are dog-friendly: 1. Fiscalini Ranch Preserve, Cambria: It doesn’t get much easier or scenic than the 11 trails winding through this former ranchland owned for a century by the Fiscalini family. The ranch was eventually sold — thankfully spared from development — and turned into a preserve. Just look at the homes around this biologically diverse open space to see what could have been. I don’t (usually) begrudge anyone a seaside residence, but enough was enough in this case. The most popular trails are the unbelievably view-filled Bluff Trail, which, fittingly, runs a mile along the bluff and allows leashed dogs. Marine Terrace Trail parallels it on the inland side (and allows dogs off-leash, but they must not disturb wildlife), so a nice loop hike is to enter from Windsor Boulevard, take the Bluff Trail, and return on Marine Terrace. Trail maps and more info are available at the Friends of the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve web site. Here are some photos to whet your appetite: Several cool benches are located along the Bluff Trail:

Fiscalini bench1 Fiscalini bench2

Bluff Trail views are truly amazing. See what they mean by marine terrace?:

Fiscalini bluff

Blue at Fiscalini

2. Harmony Headlands State Park: Drive north on Highway 1 from Morro Bay and you’ve likely whizzed right past this small state park located about eight miles north of Cayucos. A small parking area on the ocean side of the highway is easy to miss but the park is signed so you’ll know you’re in the right place. The one-mile Headlands Trail leads across grasslands, past an old bunkhouse and eventually to Pacific views. In spring, the hills are vibrant.

Harmony Headlands

Like so much of the open space along the Central Coast, the headlands were once a rancho, eventually sold to cattle ranchers, and yet again the American Land Conservancy intervened to help eventually preserve the land as state park. The park is still surrounded by cattle ranching tho, as hikers are reminded by trail signs. We saw some clumps of California poppies, and in wetter years the hills are awash in wildflowers. I wish I had photos of the ocean views but unfortunately on a trek here last spring I had to cut my hike short in order to check on our Lab who we had to leave in the car (he was fine). Even though it was a cloudy day, it was warm, and, being a state park, dogs aren’t allowed on the trail, so keep that in mind if Fido is along. A map and brochure are available online at the park’s website.

Harmony sign

3. Estero Bluffs State Park: Another easy-to-miss spot just north of Cayucos and west of Highway 1, the Estero Bluffs are a great way to get sweeping views all the way to Morro Bay. You won’t see the sign for this trail until you pull off the highway. The park preserves coastal terraces and intertidal areas, and a seasonal stream bisects an informal trail along the bluff. Dogs are allowed on-leash south of the creek. We saw elephant seals along pocket beaches here, likely stragglers from the Piedras Blancas colony further north. A dead seal attracted a flock of turkey vultures as well. Beware of ticks; our dog Blue (check out her buns of steel below) picked one up here and fortunately we nabbed it before it did any damage. A brochure and trail map can be found here. Snaps from Estero Bluffs:

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