Getting Out: A most underrated mountain

Majestic views from atop Montara Mountain are endless on

I had heard of Montara Mountain. I knew that it rose above
Pacifica at the north end of the peninsula hills but not much more.
Since it sits right on the coast, and the topography to the north
drops quickly away, I assumed views would be fabulous. I decided to
go see.
Of all the hills that surround San Francisco Bay, we know only a few by name. Mount Tamalpais, Mount Diablo and Mount Hamilton are the most significant.

I had heard of Montara Mountain. I knew that it rose above Pacifica at the north end of the peninsula hills but not much more. Since it sits right on the coast, and the topography to the north drops quickly away, I assumed views would be fabulous. I decided to go see.

Pacifica and Montara, a small burg south of Pacifica, are separated by the infamous Devil’s Slide area of U.S. Highway 1. Devil’s Slide is actually a massive road cut in San Pedro Mountain, which is nothing more than a spur of Montara Mountain that drops steeply to the shore. Two different parks flank Montara Mountain: McNee Ranch, which faces the ocean and rises from Montara State Beach to the southwest, and San Pedro Valley County Park in Pacifica on the mountain’s north side.

Stormy days hide distant views, but they wash the air clean for the days that follow. A friend and I picked a clear day in between recent storms to hike to the top of Montara Mountain and see the sights. One can reach the summit from either side, but we chose to climb from San Pedro Valley since it was shorter, an easier gradient and followed a footpath most of the way rather than a dirt road. Mama didn’t raise no dummies.

Find your way to Pacifica, then look for Linda Mar Boulevard that turns inland off of Highway 1 at the south end of Pacifica. At the end of Linda Mar, turn right into the park entrance. Pay the current day use fee ($5, no pets) and park to the right near the bottom of the Montara Mountain Trail.

The park is a tucked-in recess protected from the desiccating coastal winds that rake the other side of the mountain. Two forks of San Pedro Creek are born on the slopes above and meet here in the valley floor. From Gaspar de Portola’s camp on this spot in November 1769, a party of scouts climbed nearby Sweeney Ridge for the first view of San Francisco Bay by European explorers.

The lower portion of Montara Mountain Trail switches back and forth through dense eucalyptus groves with little undergrowth – but poison oak. Finally, the trail emerges into dense coastal scrub and views open up north along the San Francisco coast toward Mount Tamalpais in Marin County.

The spring display was just beginning. Bobbing bell-like blossoms covered the Manzanita bushes. Blue ceanothus, red-flowering currant bushes and even a few irises decorated the trailside. Looking up or looking down, the show was getting good.

After 2 1/2 miles of easy but steady climbing, the trail connects with Montara Mountain Road coming up from the beach. Here is your first ocean view to the west. Notice the striking contrast between the nearly naked windswept side of the mountain and the thick foliage of the protected leeward side you have just climbed.

A mile more and you are at the 1,898-foot summit. Sweeney Ridge and San Bruno Mountain obscure views toward San Francisco and Oakland to the east, but the view north sings. The Sunset and Richmond Districts of San Francisco are a foreground to Mount Tamalpais and Point Reyes beyond. Instead of sitting on the horizon as they do when seen on clear days down below, from this height, the Farallon Islands float on a sea that stretches far beyond.

If you choose not to conquer Montara Mountain, take a hike with shorter climbs to great views or just stroll up Weiler Ranch Trail along the lower reaches of San Pedro Creek.

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