Boosters of the proposed 1,600-mile-long California Coastal Trail say it will be an urban-rural-wilderness collage. That kind of engaging mix is already open to hikers in San Luis Obispo County, along Estero Bay just north of Cayucos.
The concept of the California Coastal Trail is to piece together a continuous hiking route along the entire state. The segment near Cayucos escaped development, thanks to the Trust for Public Land, which acquired Cayucos Point and the bluffs along the north shore of Estero Bay. The California Coastal Conservancy, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation and private donors funded the 1998 acquisition.
Cayucos has a commercial strip with cafes, a saloon and a drugstore with an old-fashioned soda fountain. South of town lie Morro Strand State Beach and the Guadalupe dunes.
Motorists get a glimpse of Cayucos between billboards for Hearst Castle, but I'd guess few stop to hike the bluffs; I recently hiked along this magnificent coast without seeing another soul.
Birds swooped over the lupine-splashed coastal terrace. Egrets foraged at the mouth of a creek. Red-wing blackbirds zoomed into gullies. Pelicans congregated on rocks. Most amazing were two beach buzzards (turkey vultures) flying over the breakers, two more perched on rocks offshore and another pair that scavenged the carcass of a seal.
The path is mostly flat, except for some dipping in and out of ravines. The sight of Morro Rock looming in the misty distance will make the hike memorable.
Directions to the trail head: From California Highway 1 six miles north of Morro Bay (or 20 miles north of San Luis Obispo), exit on Cayucos Drive and go to its end near Cayucos Pier.
You also can start at the north end of the trail. Continue north on California 1 about three miles past Cayucos. Park in a turnout on the west side of the highway and walk toward the bluffs, meeting the coastal trail via a path that begins near a state park sign. (The northernmost access to the trail is 0.3 mile up the highway, but parking is scant there.)
The hike: From Cayucos Pier, walk up Ocean Avenue to Lucerne Road. Follow the road until it rejoins Ocean Avenue. Continue until just before it crosses the highway. You'll be about three-quarters of a mile from the pier.
Now the hike begins. Squeeze past a fence and join the unsigned path heading northwest. You'll pass a prominent reef and small, sea-battered rocks offshore.
After 1.75 miles the trail descends into a ravine, crosses a small beach, then rises to a stand of eucalyptus. The path soon brings you near the tip of Cayucos Point, then continues across the headlands.
More than three miles out, you'll walk a mile across grassy bluffs. The trail crests on a low dune, then descends to a sandy beach. Walk the beach to the mouth of Villa Creek.
Your return trip will be along the same route, but down-coast panoramas include the pier, Morro Rock, Guadalupe dunes and Montana de Oro State Park.
For more of John McKinney's hiking tips, visit http://www.thetrailmaster.com.
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California Coastal Trail
* WHERE: Cayucos.
* DISTANCE: From Cayucos Pier to Villa Creek is 9 miles round trip.
* TERRAIN: Gently-sloping, grassy marine terrace; sandy beaches.
* HIGHLIGHTS: Surprisingly wild coastline, vistas of Morro Rock.
* DEGREE OF DIFFICULTY: Moderate.
* PRECAUTIONS: Some poison oak in ravines; avoid areas marked as snowy plover nesting sites from March 1 to Sept. 15.
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
State parks district office, tel. (805) 549-3312;
Cayucos Chamber of Commerce, tel. (805) 995-1200.