The Hidden National Park - Rancho Corral de Tierra

Have you ever heard of Rancho Corral de Tierra?

Well there it is, Peak Mountain at Rancho Corral de Tierra, part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (National Park Service) in my San Francisco Bay Area backyard, a National Park that I did not know about and I bet a lot of Bay Area residents don't know about it too.  A few months ago we were driving down Highway 1 from San Francisco and I saw trails above Montara (south of Pacifica)and told my husband, "I want to hike there!".  I pulled out my phone to find out what park that was but it didn't show the "green area" which designates a park other than McNee Ranch State Park, which was next to the area I wanted to hike in.  I thought it must be private property and forgot about it.

Labor Day Weekend was coming up and my husband had seen an article on an addition to the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Rancho Corral de Tierra only to find out it was where I was wanted to hike a few months earlier.  I started researching for hiking trails, seen if anyone else had written a post or been up there with toddlers but I couldn't find anything in the particular section we wanted to hike.  Only a very rough "trail map" by the National Park Service with a warning about steep, eroded trails.

"Rancho Corral de Tierra", Map., July 2013.,  National Park Service. Web. 12 Sep. 2013.

If you haven't noticed by now, we like adventure and when we figured out that this was a "rarely visited", underdeveloped park we were immediately intrigued.  Before I even start writing about our hike, I would like to state that we knew this was NOT a kid-friendly hike and I would not encourage beginner family hikers to hike this mountain.  With that said I know our abilities, my husband and I are strong hikers/backpackers (for years) as well as my children's limitations. We felt that we were capable of doing this hike with our children.

Rancho Corral de Tierra Farallon Trailhead

Finding the trailhead was a little difficult, I kind of eyeballed it and we decided to meet up with our friends, Eliu, Lorena and Esdras at Montara State Beach.  Then we drove a few blocks across Highway 1 to 2nd Street and Farallon/Kanoff Street.  Low and behold we found the trailhead and the end of Kanoff Street.

I normally don't put our GPS information at the beginning of a post but it is needed as a point of reference as you read about our this hike.  The Farallon Trailhead is where the black arrow is located. 

We started our hike (red line) heading northeast from the trailhead towards McNee Ranch State Park, on Farallon Trail. That is the last trail name that will be written because there were no more named trails in this park! If we continued on Farallon Trail it would have taken us to McNee Ranch State Park.  

Peak Mountain shrouded in Fog

The beginning portion of the trail was dried up grass fields and low lying coastal plants. 90% of the trail was uphill until we reached Peak Mountain.  I guess I knew that it was going to be all up hill but the fog had rolled in so we couldn't see HOW much of the trail was uphill.  We made it to the top of our first hill and took a break to figure out where in the world to go next.

Not even THE steep hill!

Siri, Where are we?

With no trail markers, we weren't lost but we really didn't know where to go next, my husband pulled his GPS, I inspected my phone and we still couldn't figure out with certainty where to go so we made and educated guess and headed east down the hill. But before we left the top of our first hill we saw our first and only wildlife during the trip.  I believe it was a Garter Snake, the specifics I would not know but if you can identify this snake please leave me a comment!

Garter Snake?

In the picture below, the trail is visible but at the time we didn't know where we were going. The trail eventually started on the right middle side of the picture, followed the ridge to the pine trees, followed the ridge and to the left you can see a faint trail going in between some power lines to Peak Mountain on the left side of the picture.

Looking for the trail.

But before we actually reached the first ridge, we came down this hill and walked into a forest of pine trees that reminded me of scenery at

Point Reyes National Seashore

.  We found an illegal "campground" or a dump site...a fire ring with broken mattresses, recliners, tires, trash, remnants of illegal fireworks and last but not least condoms hanging in the trees....thanks people who probably don't love the environment.

From Left to Right: Esdras, Lorena and Eliu

All of our hiking buddies were our musician friends from church.  From the right we have Eliu who plays and makes guitars, Lorena (who has hiked with me before at Tilden Regional Park) is a great singer, and Esdras (on the left, who plays almost every instrument) is a piano player and our worship leader.  We had Mexicans, Salvadoreans, Peruvians and my husband who is an "Honorary Latino" (he's Caucasian) hiking and exploring at an unknown National Park, Fantastic!

Lorena, where's the trail?

We followed what we thought was a trail but ended up turned around in some tall grass bushes and decided to turn back to where the had trail split off.  If you look at the map above, we turned back in the middle of the trail (red line) where there is a tiny loop and headed south through the forest.  I pulled out my phone again to check out Google Earth, to see if we could find our way to the "actual" Rancho Corral de Tierra.  I don't know if at this point we were on private or county land but we continued on through the pine forest.  My husband was the first to emerge from the forest and he started laughing and says, "Come and look at this!" and this is what we saw....

Up we went....


This was the steepest trail we've ever done with our children, I've never had to actually use my hiking poles to jam into the ground so I could pull myself up mountain.  I did that quite often on this hike!  My son was having a blast, crawling on all fours at some points saying, "Mommy, I'm rock climbing!", not really buddy but ok!  The circled area is this steep section, a 50% grade (pictured below).

We all survived the steep section and relieved to find a flat trail/fire road at the top, still not knowing if we were going the correct way (trespassing signs were around us) we headed north on the trail and we were finally happy to see that our efforts had paid off and we had found the elusive Rancho Corral de Tierra!!!

It took us a little while to find the actual entrance with possible trespassing, but we were determined to find it and we did.  I felt like I could finally relax and enjoy the steep hike!  The hike went along the ridge line along the tall grassy bushes, by the pine trees, and followed the ridge.  During sections of the hike Lorena and Esdras would race up the trail and I'd though to myself, "Is that how much energy I had when we didn't have kids?" Hah! I told them they would pay for it later with being sore...

My daughter was being carried most of the time since the trail was too steep for her but steep trails seem to energize my son, until he actually gets tired from hiking straight up a mountain.  We still didn't know where we were going exactly but at some point I turned to my husband and said, "I think we are going up that mountain between the power lines...".  My husband said, "I think we are too..."

It took us four hours reach the top of Peak Mountain at 1,825 ft from sea level.  The last half mile, my husband had to come back from the peak because my son was too "tired".  When we reached the peak, my son ran around like a wild mountain child...he wasn't tired and hike most of the way down the mountain.  We had amazing views of the Bay Area, from Point Reyes National Seashore, Golden Gate Bridge, Mount Tamalpais, Mount Diablo, Mission Peak, Half Moon Bay and of course the Pacific Ocean. (View pictured at the beginning of the post).

We had a Curry Chicken Wrap (without Curry) or as my husband dubbed them on this trip, "Mountain Tacos", Trader Joe's Salami, Cheese and Banana Chips for lunch and took our glamour shots on Peak Mountain!

Photo Courtesy of Lorena Armas

We could see the other peaks and the actual trails from McNee Ranch State Park that had many hikers on it.  We did not see any hikers on this side of the mountain until we were hiking back and saw a couple of hikers on their way up to Peak Mountain.  After lunch, we packed up and headed back down to sea level also known as sliding down the mountain. All of us at some point almost fell down or in may case slid down the trail on my rear end with a child strapped to my back, ouch!  There a no switch backs on this trail, 1,800 feet straight up a mountain.

None of us wanted to go down the extreme steep section near the fire road so we headed down the fire road which eventually dumped us in a residential neighborhood, so we "urban hiked it" to our cars through the streets.  We actually saw an alpaca farm,  Alpacas By the Sea walking through the neighborhood which was nice to see!

Our friends said if we had shown them the mountain we were going to hike in the beginning they would have been very intimidated and I told them if it wasn't for the fog covering the mountain I would have been intimidated too!! Seven hours, 6.3 miles maybe some bumps and bruises but we all made it to Peak Mountain in Rancho Corral de Tierra - Golden Gate National Recreation Area!  It was an adventure.

Related Posts and Links

  1. Rancho Corral de Tierra - Golden Gate National Recreation Area - National Park Service
  2. Rancho Corral de Tierra - Map by National Park Service
  3. Tilden Regional Park - 2013 Trails Challenge Completed
  4. The Ever Changing Point Reyes National Seashore
  5. Curry Chicken Wrap by Backpacker Magazine
  6. Montara State Beach - California State Park

The Excellent Año Nuevo State Park

I must say hiking at Año Nuevo State Park, has been my favorite hike so far this year!  Over Father's Day weekend, I wanted to take my husband to a spectacular hike, as part of his celebration of being a great dad and this was the perfect one.  The California Coast, island ruins, sand dunes, the Pacific Ocean, and did I mention the wonderful elephant seals?! This whole hike was four miles with spectacular views.  

This is very kid/toddler friendly hike with hardly any elevation change.  Portions of the trail are in the sand dunes, so we kicked off our hiking boots and experienced our first time barefoot hiking for a couple of miles, which was quite fun.

Getting There

If you are coming from the immediate SF Bay Area, you have two choices to get to Año Nuevo in Pescadero.  Highway 92 to Pacific Coast Highway 1 through San Mateo/Half Moon Bay or the Southern Route through Highway 17 to Santa Cruz to Pacific Coast Highway 1.  On this occasion we took the southern route and encountered lots of traffic but on the return trip we took the northern route with no traffic at all.

Guided Seal Walks and Wilderness Permit

From December 15 - March 31, hikers can only enter into the Wilderness Protection Area with a park guide (docent) and by reservation only.  For more information about making reservations and fees during this please visit 

Reserve America - Año Nuevo Public Walks and for more general information Año Nuevo's Broucher on Guided Walks

.Since we arrived in the "off-season" reservations were not required, there were no extra California State Park fees other than regular park fees (approx. $10) and a docent was not required to hike.  We did have to check into the Visitor's Center (Marine Education Center) to acquire our Wilderness Permit, which was free.  We didn't have a chance to fully check out the Visitor Center but it did have an impressive interactive information area.

I tried not to get my hopes up about seeing elephant seals just in case they were not there but when we arrived the park rangers informed us that were lots of elephant seals out at North Point.  I finally told our toddlers that we were going to see the elephant seals and boy were they excited, as well as I! Even a month and a half later my kids are talking about seeing the elephant seals.

Beginning of the trek, views of Año Nuevo Island Ruins 

The Trail

We took the Año Nuevo Point Trail all the way to North Point Trail, approximately two miles (one way), four miles round trip.  The hike from the Visitors Center to the Staging Area (which is the at the border of the Wilderness Protection Area), is a little under one mile, partially paved and hard packed dirt trail.  There is a pond near Cove Beach but it could hardly been seen through the tall plants.  My toddlers usually love being near water sources but since they could not see the pond we just skipped hanging out there.

Tall grass...

Entrance to the protected area

Our little adventure began after we entered the protected area!  Not only did we have better views of the ruins on Año Nuevo Island but the trail opened up and there were lots of low bridges on the trail, which is always a great hiking motivation for my kids.  Soon after we entered the protected area there were also large sand dunes and lots of them!

I will let the following speak for itself.....

As well as.....

If that's not fun then I don't know what is!  The only thing that got my kids hiking again is the fact that we still hadn't seen the elephant seals.  We could actually hear them near by as well and see them from the island.  The sand dunes started near South Point trail head but we continued on and headed towards North Point.  As you can see above we kicked off our boots and started our first time barefoot hiking and I don't know about you but I love the feel walking in sand!

The trail after the sand dunes near South Point was a mixture of sand, grass and twigs but there were portions of it near Bight Beach and North Point that were all sand, so we continued hiking barefoot.  With each step we could hear the Elephant Seals barking louder and louder and we eventually saw them at a vista point near North Point.  Of course we wanted to get as close as we could safely get so we continued onto North Point and encountered more sand dunes for my children to roll in!

North Point view from trail

After hearing the elephant seals barking for a while now, we finally made it to North Point!  My kids were so ecstatic to see them...the elephant seals were swimming, sleeping, barking and even fighting.  Even though it was not required to hike out with a docent at this time of year, the docents were still on the trails talking to hikers.  The docent explained to us that the elephant seals were all young males with a few babies still lurking around and even let us touch a piece of their molten fur.  He explained the larger males come back in a few months, so the ones we saw were "teenager" elephant seals.

I could have stayed there all day watching the elephant seals but we had to get out of the protected area by 5 p.m. At our 1 mph hiking rate, we didn't want to risk it so we stayed at North Point for half an hour and started back through all the sand dunes.  I truly never seen my kids so happy on a hike, so I will be adding sand dunes to "kid-friendly" hikes.  Our return trip was the same except we decided to take the Upper Pond Trail near the pond which was quite nicely covered with wildflowers and even some wild strawberries.

I truly loved this hike and it reminded me of how great California is! When we want mountains we head to the east for a couple of hours, if we want spectacular view of the Bay Area we just head up on our local East Bay hills and if we want to see the beautiful Pacific Ocean and California coast we head out west for an hour and find this great California State Park!

So here's to this happy California family enjoying one of its great State Parks, Año Nuevo State Park in Pescadero!

Related Posts:

  1. Other California State Parks

Fall Hiking at Portola Redwoods State Park

After a morning breakfast and packing up our hiking gear, we loaded up our two toddlers and headed to #49 of 

60 Hikes within 60 Miles: San Francisco

, (by Jane Huber), 

Portola Redwoods State Park

, last Saturday.

The kids (1 and 2 year old) both fell asleep on the freeway, and off we went through winding Page Mill Road, past CA 35-Skyline down towards the shady California State Park in La Honda.  Last Saturday was absolutely beautiful and this picture was taken a little after passing Skyline as we descended towards Portola Redwoods State Park.

This is the most well maintained California State Park, based on what I read online and it sure lived up to the hype.  The Park Rangers Station was very neat, looked like a nice cabin and had a little museum inside which my kids were excited and scared to see the taxidermy animals.  We didn't see any mountain lions but we did see some wildlife which is always exciting.

We were aiming to do the exact hike that was listed in Huber's Book, 7.4 Miles crossing from Portola Redwoods to Pescadero Creek County Park.  We weren't able to hike the whole 7.4 miles but we got close.  This was by far the LONGEST hike we have done with our two toddlers.  Overall it went very well, and 95% of the time I was not stressed out that a meltdown was going to occur.

We started at the Ranger Station and started down Sequioa Nature Trail which descended towards Pescadero Creek. Pescadero Creek collected into a calm green pool as you can see above.  We saw a large crayfish that I tried to take a picture but it came out too blurry.  I saw another larger crayfish further down Pescadero Creek, but my camera was tucked away.

We crossed the bridge over Pescadero Creek and headed up to Tiptoe Falls.  My toddlers got really excited when they saw the creek and my son wanted out of my husband carrier.  My son hiked most of this 6 mile hike which was pretty amazing for a 2 year old.  It was a somewhat steep hike up to Tiptoe Falls, but everything seems steep with 20-30 lbs of toddler on our backs.  Thankfully this was a very shaded trail which was great, but we still worked up a sweat.

We took a break to check out the Banana Slugs of the Santa Cruz Mountains.

Sophia, really wanted to be in the water so off she went into Pescadero Creek.

David, I love him so much, look at that smile.  He was having a blast splashing around Pescadero Creek.  This was a little beach cove right before Tiptoe Falls. The beach cove was much roomier than than falls and entertaining than the falls.

Tiptoe Falls, not very impressive at all but it's a waterfall!! It might be more exciting after a rain.  After visiting the falls we started to really hike, back down Iverson Trail, crossed Pescadero Creek again headed on Pomponio Trail which eventually led us into Pescadero Creek County Park.  Something that I learned on this hike is that having creeks or ponds for my kids to play at was wonderful, they got a break from the carriers and had fun splashing in the water.  There was a slightly difference when we crossed into Pescadero Creek County Park, the trails and surrounding environment was overgrown and not well kept as in Portola State Park.  It's not like we had to machete our way through Pescadero Creek Couty Park though.

I love color and Pomponio Trail and Bridge Trail had splashes of red berries hanging off of trees.  I don't know if these are edible but I thought there were very pretty looking.  By this point Sophia had passed out in my carrier and my son was entertained by my husbands Camelback and eating Gummy Bears, so Jesse and I were hiking as fast as we could.  We can hike pretty fast when both kids are in our packs and the trail has no real elevation change.

I don't ever stop hiking when my daughter is sleeping in my carrier, I have this mindset of "I need to cover as much distance as possible".  We crossed our third bridge where my son got too close to an unprotected railing and started up a hill again.  Halfway up the hill Sophia woke up and we had to stop a little later for a break.

It was 5:00 p.m. and we still had almost two miles to go, which is not very far but we average 1 mile per hour when we are hiking with toddlers.  After our break we, started hiking "fast" and Sophia had a little bit of a hard time towards the end but she made it. We actually saw a Racer Snake, which I thought it was a shoe lace at first.  Its a constrictor and not venomous but we still kept our distance.  If I see one more snake on our hikes, I'm nicknaming myself the "Snake Queen".

We cut through the Service Road to get back to the Ranger Station which we were all happy to see.  We finished our hike at 6:30 p.m.and the kids were happy to be in the car.  I really like this park, it had day picnic area, group camping, individual camping, a pretty ranger station and nice trails with lots of little creeks.

What I liked about this hike the most was Pescadero Creek, it was so nice to hike along a little river, it was really refreshing for the kids and for us parents.  I loved that the trail was mostly shaded and that I saw "wildlife", I also saw two dead mouses and plumage of a bird that once was.

Hiking statistics are as follows:

Elevation was up and down, but it was mostly flat other than going to Tiptoe Falls and going up Old Haul Trail, there was 200 ft degree of difference from the lowest point to the highest point.

Over all it was a 6.2 Mile (once again our LONGEST hike to date with our two toddlers), beautiful weather and scenery, relatively flat hike.  We will definitely visit Portola Redwoods State Park again.

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