Gray Whale Cove Trail Review - Montara, CA
Gray Whale Cove Trail Review - Montara, CA
Flat, breezy, and with expansive views of the Pacific coastline, the Gray Whale Cove trail set between Pacifica and Half Moon Bay on Highway 1 just south of San Francisco is a great starter hike or gentle stroll for an aging dog. The trail is set uphill and inland from Highway 1 so there's a bit of noise from the traffic and there's very little flora of note, but you can't beat the panoramic vistas and you're also likely to encounter a number of rabbits along the trail. It's even an easy drive from San Francisco! This is just a great hike.
Still not convinced? February through April is when the Gray Whales migrate northward up the California coast, so if you stop along the trail and watch the sea you might get lucky with a whale spotting.
- Easy difficulty; it's out-and-back rather than a loop trail, and if you take it all the way to the southern parking area in Montara the round-trip will total up to 4 miles, though there's a variety of different paths you can take to add distance (and elevation change).
- Gray Whale Cove is an on-leash trail. It can be pretty steep on either side of the wide trail, so you won't want to let your dog off leash. Did I mention all the rabbits along the trail that your dog might try to chase after?
- There's no potable water sources along the trail, so come prepared -- while the oceanside setting means the trail stays breezy cool, there is no shade.
- There are trashcans at the trailhead, but no poop bags or bathrooms -- plan accordingly. You can stop on the way to the trail in Pacifica if you're coming from the north or Montara if you're coming from the south.
- It's a very sunny trail but it stays cool and breezy, so this can be a better hike for more temperature-sensitive dogs.
How to Get There
If you're coming from San Francisco, there's a parking area at the northern end of the trail (Google Maps) not much past Pacifica going south on Highway 1. If you're coming from the direction of Half Moon Bay there's a parking area at the southern end of the trail (with actually a number of other trails starting in that area too -- Google Maps) just before 2nd Street in Montara (just before you get to La Costanera restaurant). You'll have to cross Highway 1 and walk a short distance through Montara to get to the actual trailhead at the end of Kanoff Street. The trail will be marked as the Farallone Cutoff trail.
- If you're coming from the south (through Half Moon Bay), to get to the trailhead you'll cross Highway 1 at 2nd St; follow 2nd St a short distance and take your first left onto Farallone Ave. At that point, you won't start out on the Gray Whale Cove Trail proper -- you'll have to meander for over a half-mile until you'll find something actually labeled the Gray Whale Cove trail. The easiest way to find it is to just take a bunch of lefts at the trail junctions (start on the Farallone Junction trail, left on the Pedro Mountain Road trail, left on N Peak Access Rd and then a quick right onto the Gray Whale Cove trail).
- It's much easier from the north (approaching through Pacifica) -- the parking area is at the trailhead for the Gray Whale Cove trail, and to stay on the trail just take any forks that stay on the ocean side of the hill (rather than going up the hill). The Gray Whale Cove trail dead ends at the N Peak Access Rd, where you can continue onward by going left, and then staying right to go onto the Pedro Mountain Road trail and right again onto the Farallone Cutoff trail to pop out in Montara.
- It's a well-maintained trail, but ruts from rain carving through the hard-packed trail can be a bit of a nuisance so just keep an eye on your footing to avoid turning an ankle.
- When we hiked this trail, Chelsea got stung through her leggings by either a plant or a bug which caused pain and swelling for a few days. Nothing calamine and antihistamines couldn't clear up, but it's worth calling out -- wear pants! Hiking pants or jeans are great, and I personally wear gym shorts over leggings to avoid exactly these kinds of happenings.
- Rabbits. Rabbits ABOUND on this trail. On the trail, just off the trail, you (and your dog) will see those things bouncing around all over the place. If your dog is anything like Grammar, they'll have a ball trying to chase the rabbits off the trail so keep a tight leash, especially since "off the trail" sometimes means down a steep hillside on this trail.
Area Resources and Recommended Equipment
- The trails are well maintained so you can get by with tennis/ walking shoes, though if you have tender ankles you may want something with better ankle support for the more rain-rutted stretches. There's no shade, so don't forget to wear sunscreen (even on overcast days!!) -- sunglasses can help too though hats might have trouble with the constant breezes. Being next to the ocean it can get cool even when sunny, so you may want to bring a light jacket. And as always, bring poop bags.
- The most convenient nearby grocery store for the northern trailhead is the Safeway in Linda Mar (Google Maps) where you can get everything you'll need, though if you want something with a more local feel (albeit with a more limited selection) check out Sun Valley Fine Food a few minutes into Linda Mar (Google Maps); neither store is dog-friendly though. The grocery situation is definitely spottier for those coming from the south.
- There's plenty of dog friendly restaurants in Linda Mar near the northern trailhead -- High Tide Creperie is a great all-day place, and Beach Monkey Organic Cafe (website, Yelp) offers a full menu including healthier options like juices and acai bowls as well as vegan/ vegetarian and gluten-free items.
- Need to wet your whistle? If you're at the southern trailhead, Moss Beach Distillery (website, Yelp) goes so far as to even offer a doggie menu for patrons on their dog friendly patio. They also have a ghost there apparently, if that's your thing. From the northern trailhead, Devil's Slide Taproom (website, Yelp) in Linda Mar is a dog friendly beer bar with a full menu, and the nearby A Grape in the Fog (website, Yelp) is a wine bar with a dog friendly patio.
- Pacifica is pretty cool in its own right, with a great dog friendly beach (for walking, less great for sunbathing) and open views of the ocean and surrounding hills. There's hiking trails (many of them dog friendly hiking trails) on both sides of Highway 1 around Pacifica, and even a few (like Sweeney Ridge) that cut across the ridge separating San Bruno on the bay side of the peninsula and Pacifica on the ocean.
- In case an emergency arises on the trail, Linda Mar Veterinary Hospital (Google Maps) is the closest animal hospital, only 7 minutes (4 miles) north on Highway 1 in Linda Mar, though they are only open until 4pm on weekends (7pm on weekdays).
- The nearest 24-hour vet clinic is NorCal Veterinary Hospital in Daly City (Google Maps), which is about 20 minutes north (12 miles) and easy to get to via Highway 1 to the I-280 freeway. We've actually taken Grammar to NorCal for an ultrasound and I can't speak highly enough of the staff here -- honestly I'd recommend this be your primary animal hospital if you live near one of the freeways in San Francisco. Just a fantastic facility, and a much better option than the other hospitals we've used in the city.
Similar trails: Montara Mountain North Peak Loop (Montara, CA).
Other trails in this area: Pearson-Arastradero Preserve (Palo Alto, CA), Montara Mountain North Peak Loop (Montara, CA), Sweeney Ridge (San Bruno, CA).