Some trails are hidden in plain sight. I’ve driven past Cowell-Purisima trailhead’s distinctive yellow gates on CA 1 multiple times. My family remedied our oversight this past weekend. Our two boys under five had an outstanding visit on the trail just south of Half Moon Bay and the Cowell-Purisima Trail. Highlights include:
- Well graded, wide, trail that’s 3.4 miles one way
- Ocean, farm, and Santa Cruz Mountain views
- Stairs to secluded beach – only .5M from the trailhead
- Telescope at an overlook – great attraction for kids
- Harbor Seal preserve
- Great spot for picnics at the beach (Cowell Ranch State Beach)
The 3.4 miles trail follows a U shape. The trail legs run East/West from the two CA 1 trailheads for ~1/2 mile. The ~2.5M middle part flows North to South along farmlands, coastal cliffs, and the ocean. Three impressive bridges span washes flowing to the ocean. The North trailhead is about 3 miles south of CA 1 and 92 intersection.
The trail is excellent for families due to length, moderate grade, and many attractions. We saw many hikers, runners, and cyclists on the trail.
Our recommended route starts at the north trailhead to Cowell Ranch State Beach. Birds, wildflowers, and a working farm created an interesting backdrop. We walked to the ocean, and walking the stairs to the beach provided a good challenge for the kids (and the adults). The sand crystals are larger than other San Mateo beaches making it easier to clean up.
After a short picnic at the beach, we ascended the stairs to the cliffs and enjoyed the San Mateo coast panoramas. We could see north to the Coast Guard station at Pillar Point, the Ritz Carlton, and south toward Ano Nuevo.
We walked a bit South on the trail to the first bridge, but five year old legs encouraged us to retrace our steps back to the trailhead.
Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST), one of the Bay Area’s leading environmental groups, protected the area with the Coastal Conservancy. The trail opened to the public in 2010.
This will certainly not be our last family trip to the Cowell-Purisima trail.