There’s a trail you can see from highway 101 when you’re driving northbound towards San Luis Obispo that clambers straight up the spine of the ridge of a hill that separates Shell Beach from Avila Beach. I’ve looked at it for years but never ventured up it. I guess I was waiting for someone to give me the grand tour. Well last week I had dinner with my friend and kayaker Beth and we talked about checking it out. I decided that today on my lunch I would run a little recon mission up the hill to see what it’s all about and get a grip on things before the two of us take it on.
I drove out to Shell Beach and found a place to park. The main street down on that end of town has no street parking so it can be a little tough to find somewhere to drop the truck. Once settled I put actual shoes on which is odd for me, but for what it’s worth they’re very minimalist shoes :) I brought my Camelbak but just packed a water bottle instead of the whole reservoir and used the rest of the room to hold my keys, phone, etc.
I went around to the start up the trail and looked up the mountain and wondered how much I wanted to do this. Turns out I had a previously undiagnosed apprehension toward heights. The first section of trail is very strait up and would flatten briefly every so often. I’d stop at each flat spot and wonder what the hell I was doing. The trail is basically on the edge of the ridge and covered in loose flaky rock. I kept thinking about falling to my right. A trip and fall to my left, no big deal I’d just roll through some brush until I hit a rust wire fence. If I took a tumble the other way I would just ramble down a very steep rocky wall. Oh boy.
I was very excited to get past that first part of the hike and come to a much less precarious piece of trail. Unexpectedly the actual hiking got harder as you kept climbing. It was hot up there too. I saw a lot of fog on my drive out but it was extremely clear on the north end of Shell Beach into Avila. I kept plodding along knowing that I had to get to the other side of the ridge because there was no way I was coming back down the same way I came, haha! There were some nice shady pockets here and there and I stopped in one to drink some water and enjoy the view. It’s spectacular. I could see way towards SLO and south to Pismo.
The trail continues to roll up and down for a while and eventually you get to a point where you can see Avila as well. The whole San Luis Bay is laid out nice and clean for you to observe from above. All the piers, the buoys, the breakwater set against a deep blue ocean. Worth the walk I guess :)
After a little while I came to a weird radio equipment station of some sort. All the gear was fenced up and had all kinds of warning signs on it. I also had all bars possible on my cell phone. Maybe these things are related? Hmm. Once you pass that the trail widens into more of a dirt road. A shitty dirt road I would never drive a vehicle up, but I’m pretty sure it was intending to be a road.
Soon after you cross paths with another trail and things start to move down the hill towards the parking lot above Pirates Cove. The descent is pretty steep and it was very slow going for me to avoid slipping and falling. Lots of tiny steps and lots of pressure on my knees and ankles holding me upright.
Eventually the trail dumps you out on the street near the dirt parking lot for Pirates Cove. If you follow it to the left you hit a little gate that blocks a road that isn’t really there anymore. Duck around it and there’s a much flatter trail that will run you back to Shell Beach. It starts out as a dirt path that’s a little overgrown in spots but eventually you hit busted up pavement. Go a little further and it’s a full blown fancy walkway that runs in front of some amazing looking houses. I followed the pathway out until it hit the street and then walked through a neighborhood back to my car. Apparently there’s a trail that goes behind those house that would have dropped me off a bit closer but I didn’t see the entrance and took a slightly longer route. Now that I’ve gone back and looked at some satellite maps I think I know how to do it right the next time around now.
After about and hour and a half or so I was back at my truck. I measured it out to about 4.5km, I’ll have to take one of my GPSs next time to get a solid number. Overall not a super long hike but challenging. There’s a lot of climbing, some of it very steep. The views are incredible. If you do it make sure you hit a clear day so you can see everything. My only real cautions I can think of are pass if it’s very windy, that initial ascent would be really sketchy under a heavy wind, and pass if it’s been raining a lot. That steep decline to the parking lot at Pirates Cove would be an awful muddy slip and slide of doom when rain saturated. For more info I would check out Hikespeak.com, that’s where I researched the route before hiking the trail and it’s a great site for figuring out how to go about these things in advance.